Almost 12,000 former banana workers and their relatives are set to receive compensation from the Costa Rican government for damages caused by DBCP, a chemical that was sprayed on plantations more than three decades ago and has been linked to cancer, sterility and genetic malformation.
A law designed for this purpose has actually been in place since 2001, and since then the National Insurance Institute (INS) has paid CRC14 billion (US$25.86 million) to 13,974 victims, newspaper La Nacion reported.
There are still tens of thousands of people waiting for their claims to be processed, but the new government under Luis Guillermo Solís appears willing to put the matter to bed.
Late last month a Constitutional Court ordered action on some 11,792 claims presented by the Ombudsman, which led to a landmark announcement this week of commitment from the government to "vulnerable populations that have been relegated to the past".
"This is really an historic debt that the State has. This administration is committed to resolve the situation once and for all for the affected families," Vice President Ana Gabriel Zúñiga said in a release.
Zúñiga made the announcement after hosting spokespeople for the claimants, along with Minister for Labor, Victor Morales Mora, and representatives of the Ministry for Health, the Joint Institute for Social Aid (IMAS) and the INS.
The Ministry for Labor plans to speed up the process of drafting regulation to help determine moral damages, identify those who have really been affected, and define a process to attend to each individual case. the IMAS will receive lists of the people affected and determine which claimants continue to live in extreme poverty and could be eligible for social assistance programs.
The chemical is the active ingredient in a nematicide called Nemagon and was banned by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1979, after being mostly prohibited for domestic use in 1977. However, sales to banana companies with operations in the developing world continued even after DBCP's carcinogenic and sterilizing effects were known.
The government's compensation will apply to those affected by the chemical's use between 1967 and 1979.