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Overwhelming international solidarity for the former sugarcane workers in ANAIRC

by Giorgio Trucchi - Rel-UITA Tuesday, May. 26, 2009 at 12:34 PM

Thousands of protest letters are pouring in...and it’s just the beginning

Overwhelming interna...
boicot_flor_de_ca_a_nuovo_2.jpg, image/jpeg, 440x604

The struggle of the former sugarcane workers of Ingenio San Antonio -property of Nicaragua Sugar Estates Ltd. (NSEL), a Pellas Group company- gathered in the Nicaraguan Association of People Affected by Chronic Renal Failure (ANAIRC) is receiving overwhelming, and somewhat unexpected, support from thousands of people around the world who have joined these workers in calling for the Pellas Group and its sugar companies to heed the demands of CRF victims.

Thousands of letters, cards and e-mails are pouring into the e-mail and postal addresses of NSEL, the Pellas Group and companies throughout the world that import and distribute the Flor de Caña rum, the iconic product of this powerful Nicaraguan consortium. These protest messages are flooding mailboxes in an unprecedented display of solidarity.

This response stands in stark contrast to the silence of the majority of the media and the country’s social organizations, which apparently prefer to shut their eyes as they pass by the campsite set up with great effort by the former sugarcane workers and widows of ANAIRC near the Managua cathedral and the Pellas Building.

The demands of the former workers of Ingenio San Antonio are also spreading throughout the Internet, as they are taken up by hundreds of websites, translated into different languages. The expressions of solidarity multiply as photographs and videos of ANAIRC’s rallies in front of the Pellas Building, the marches in the streets of Managua and the day-to-day struggle at the campsite, where protesters survive thanks to international support, are viewed around the world.

Peuples Solidaires, a French international solidarity organization formed by over 70 local groups and approximately 9,000 members, launched an “Urgent Call” to support ANAIRC’s struggle. So far, more than 1,500 e-mails and hundreds of cards have poured into the mailboxes of NSEL and the Pellas Group thanks to this initiative. The action is backed by the French organization Sucre Ethique and the IUF’s Latin American Regional Office.

This organization invites French citizens to sign a letter asking Nicaragua Sugar Estates Ltd. to “agree to enter into negotiations with ANAIRC, which has been demanding for years that the company take responsibility for its indiscriminate use of agrotoxic chemicals in the sugarcane plantations and for the pollution of the area’s aquifers, and is claiming compensation for the damages caused to the health of workers.”

Fanny Gallois, an activist with Peuples Solidaires, says: “our organization supports men and women around the world who are fighting for their rights, and in particular their labor rights and their rights to land and food. In this sense, we inform and mobilize people in France and put pressure on companies and public authorities to respect these rights.”

“When we heard about the conditions that thousands of victims of Nicaragua’s sugarcane plantations are surviving in -she continued- we decided that it was important to make the situation known, because sometimes the worst enemy in this kind of struggle is silence. We began by informing our network of French citizens and printing out about 7,000 copies of the ‘urgent call.’ We sent some 1,600 e-mail messages, so that our partners would start massively sending protest messages to Nicaragua Sugar Estates Ltd and the Pellas Group.”

“We believe –the Peuples Solidaires activist concluded– that this is an effective way of making NSEL understand that the world is watching, and that it can’t go on ignoring an international public opinion that demands that it respect the dignity of its former workers organized in ANAIRC. Here in France we’ve had a huge response to the news of ANAIRC’s struggle. We’ve received calls and messages asking for more information on the situation in Nicaragua, and we’re going to do everything possible to bring global attention to this struggle, which is part of a greater mobilization of millions of men and women that are demanding respect for their rights and dignity.”

More solidarity

Just a few days ago, the IUF’s Latin American Regional Office sent a letter to the president of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega, announcing the launching of a global solidarity campaign in support of its affiliate ANAIRC, and asking the Nicaraguan government to step in.

Now the IUF’s International Executive Committee approved a resolution officially launching this campaign, which will be global in scope, with the goal of getting NSEL and the Pellas Group to heed the demands of their former workers. Ethanol exports to Europe will be part of this campaign.

The Italy-Nicaragua Association, which has been conducting a small pilot project for some years now, providing health care for CRF victims who are members of ANAIRC, has also been supporting the struggle of the former sugarcane workers through awareness-raising efforts and humanitarian aid for the people at the campsite.

“Our Association privileges solidarity with organizations that work on the field and are able to organize different forms of struggle,” Federica Comelli, member of the National Coordinating Body of the Italy-Nicaragua Association, said to Sirel.

In this case, we also have to take into account the issue of impunity that transnational corporations enjoy, especially in Latin America. These corporations form a very strong power bloc that often acts above the law and disregards national sovereignty.

“We believe -Comelli continued- that ANAIRC’s struggle can’t be seen merely as a defense of these workers’ rights or a claim for compensation, because it is a struggle that questions the economic model. The silence of the Pellas Group and the threats against ANAIRC members are evidence that this struggle bothers a great many people and brings up very important issues, such as the protection of health and the environment, and the high social costs of the indiscriminate use of agrotoxic substances.”

The Flor de Caña Rum Boycott Group is another display of the interest that ANAIRC’s struggle is raising and the solidarity it is receiving.

Almost 500 people from different parts of the world have joined this effort to promote a boycott against this product, and, according to sources close to ANAIRC, the boycott has started to have an effect, causing the company to lose income and forcing it to hold on to product stock it is unable to sell.

During a videoconference on the ANAIRC struggle that was organized by the Center for Health Advisory Services and Information (CISAS) and broadcasted internationally, the young activists behind the Flor de Caña Rum Boycott Group made their position known, denouncing their “outrage at the bad corporate practices of the Pellas economic group, particularly through its Ingenio San Antonio.” For this reason, they will continue promoting the boycott against the emblematic rum as long as the Pellas Group refuses to take action to “revise and change its environmental and production practices, by discontinuing the use of agrochemicals and sugarcane plantation burning methods, allowing independent water, land and air pollution analyses in Ingenio San Antonio and the surrounding areas, and as long as it refuses to listen and give a response to the demands of the former sugarcane workers organized in ANAIRC, acknowledging its direct responsibility in the harm caused to the health of these workers,” the public communication concludes.

Lastly, on Sunday, May 17, during an activity held in Managua to commemorate the birth of General Augusto C. Sandino, the organizing committee “Sandino, luz de nuestra tierra” invited an ANAIRC delegation to explain the reasons for their struggle, make an appeal for solidarity with the former sugarcane workers, and promote the Flor de Caña rum boycott.

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