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Nicaraguans want out of pesticide suit

Some former banana workers petition to deal directly with fruit growers. Jury selection is underway in L.A.

July 12, 2007|From the Associated Press

MANAGUA, NICARAGUA — Former Nicaraguan banana workers signed a petition Wednesday to fire their legal team of U.S. and Nicaraguan lawyers and negotiate directly with companies they accused of using a harmful pesticide.

Victorino Espinales, who leads workers exposed in the 1970s to the pesticide known as DBCP, told the Associated Press that they didn't believe their lawyers could win a case soon to be argued in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

"It's certain they will lose the case because similar previous cases in these courts failed," he said.

In Los Angeles, attorney Duane C. Miller, who represents about 50 workers, said he had not been fired, denied that his case relied on questionable medical evidence, and questioned Espinales' motives.

"Every one of my clients has been checked out by a U.S. medical doctor, so comments about adulterated medical documents are beyond nonsense," he said in a telephone interview.

"Victorino is a union leader who has a small following who has been trying to make trouble in hopes that someone will give him money."

At least 5,000 agricultural workers from Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama have filed five lawsuits in the U.S. claiming they were left sterile or suffered other health problems after being exposed to DBCP.

Jury selection for the first of the lawsuits, representing the Nicaraguan workers, began Tuesday in Los Angeles.

The lawsuit, filed in 2004, accuses Dole Food Co. and Standard Fruit Co., now a part of Dole, of negligence and fraudulent concealment in using the pesticide.

On Wednesday, workers in Nicaragua waited in long lines to sign documents revoking their legal team's right to represent them in court.

Espinales accused Nicaraguan lawyers of altering medical documents to make the workers' case stronger.

He also said the workers did not want the lawyers to get a cut of any damages.

Espinales and about 3,000 other former banana workers set up camp in front of Nicaragua's congress more than a month ago, demanding government help that hasn't arrived.

"Only those who could walk came," Espinales said of those who were taking part in the protest.

"The rest are in hospitals or dying in their homes."

Jose Alberto Zapata Montes, 51, was among those in the capital.

"I want someone to take pity on us, before we all die," he said.

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