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Urgent Action for emails/faxes - Costa Rican Union Leaders Face Trial August 23, 2006
by Committee for the Defense of Orlando Barrantes
Sunday Aug 13th, 2006 10:27 PM
Costa Rican trade union representative and popular political activist Orlando Barrantes could be unfairly jailed, due to fake charges leveled against him over the last five years, in the wake of a violent police attack on a peaceful march in December of 2000, during strike activity in the Atlantic Region of the country. The conviction and imprisonment of Barrantes and his co-defendant Iván Angulo (a local organizer) would criminalize political and social protest.
[Scroll to bottom for email/fax appeal info]

Barrantes, a social fighter for more than thirty years, is the General Secretary of CONATRAB (National Council of Banana Workers) representing thousands of active and retired banana workers who were exposed to the toxic agrochemical Nemagón (DBCP) in the banana plantations during the 1970’s and who have been waging a difficult struggle for justice for many years. Since November 2004 agricultural workers have been suing transnational companies, which produce Nemagón such as Shell Oil, Occidental Company and Dow Chemical, as well as other companies including Standard Fruit, Del Monte and Chiquita Brand, in North American courts. Nemagón was used as a pesticide to eradicate crop-destroying parasites. It was applied without any type of warnings and banana workers did not use any protection, resulting in sterility, impotence, liver/kidney and stomach cancer, serious eye problems, and permanent skin damage, as well as severe hormonal changes in women and spontaneous abortions and congenital malformations.

Nemgón/DBCP is devastating to the environment, remaining in the soil for an estimated 140 years. This is a persistent and mobile pesticide. It is chemically stable in water even in small quantities, and has seeped through layers of underground water. It was outlawed in Costa Rica in 1979 but its use continued for many years afterwards; approximately five million kilograms were used in ten years. Medical specialists have concluded that the past and ongoing injuries to hundreds of thousands of workers worldwide from this one chemical is the worst tragedy in the history of occupational medicine. DBCP is on the World Health Organization’s Dirty Dozen list as highly toxic.

Barrantes and his organization have filed 1,600 court cases (as of April 2006), which are being processed in North American courts, and are anticipating filing 1,000 more. Nicaraguan banana workers suffering the same ailments won their cases recently in North American courts; this could happen for the CONATRAB litigants. If so, the responsible companies will owe many millions. It is estimated that if all workers exposed to DBCP in 12 countries where it was used present their claims, they will win their cases.

In years past, Honduran banana worker leader Medardo Garcia, who was putting forward similar claims, was murdered. Nicaraguan labor leaders in the same industry reported stalkings and other intimidations. Around the same time, Barrantes received a death threat because of his participation in the conflict. More recently, in July 2004, Barrantes was assaulted and sustained several wounds. Fortunately, he received assistance from bystanders, saving him from further injury. His assailant is now serving a prison sentence for murder and for ties to an armed robbery. The case remains without investigation, though murder for hire is not unusual in that area of the city.

Another well-known struggle by CONATRAB is the defense of small and medium size farmers and landless peasants, who are currently occupying eight land squats.

Barrantes is also national coordinator of forty housing rights organizations comprising Costa Rica’s Coalition on Housing. In 2006, the Ministry of the Interior drastically cut the housing budget from 32 million to 22 million colones. Massive and energetic protests erupted on June 7 and June 22, at which picketers surrounded the presidential residence. These just and pacific popular movements for affordable housing, led by Barrantes, caused the resignation of the Interior Minister at the end of the same month.

Barrantes also heads up a campaign to require the Office of Social Security to supply equipment and medical facilities to poor communities. This popular effort has resulted in, among other achievements, Guápiles Hospital becoming one of the best rural neonatal and pediatric care facilities in the country.

Barrantes is also president of the popular peasants’ and workers’ party, the Movement of Workers and Campesinos (Movimiento de Trabajadores y Campesinos, MTC). The MTC recently achieved ballot status, which could possibly result in Barrantes being elected to Parliament.

The Trial

On July 5 the trial against Barrantes and Angulo began, based on events that occurred five years ago. At that time, anti-riot police, without any warning, violently attacked a peaceful demonstration of landless farmers and banana workers poisoned by DBCP/Nomegón. During a seven-hour pitched battle in which the police used tear gas, demonstrators broke through the police barricades and the police forces retreated. Four of the officers were left behind after the retreat, and were caught up amongst the demonstrators, who surged around them in a protective maneuver. The public prosecutor is distorting the events, claiming that a ransom was demanded for release of the four, and is calling for a sixty-year sentence for Barrantes and Angulo. This, in a case devoid of basic judicial procedure or due process, and use of false evidence by the prosecution.

The District Attorney prosecutor’s main witness is the former chief of the anti-riot police, Orvil Ruíz, who was fired from his position after the events of 2000 for falsifying documents. Ruiz’ testimony was rife with prejudicial bias against the demonstrators and their leaders.

Barrantes’ defense lawyer was recently able to get the case suspended, because of so many irregularities, but a new trial date is set for Wednesday, August 23, 2006.

Request for Solidarity

We urgently call on you to support Orlando Barrantes and Iván Angulo in their demand to have all charges dropped immediately. Please email ins_judicial [at] poder-judicial.go.cr, or send a fax to 011-506-257-5592; please cc your emails to orlandobarranteslibre [at] yahoo.com.mx and cc your faxes to 011-506-710-4834. Mr. Barrantes can be contacted directly at 011-506-366-9009. Also contact the Costa Rican embassy or consulate in your area, and demand that President Oscar Arias intervene to have the Supreme Court drop the case. Time is of the essence – the trial is to reconvene on August 23, 2006.

Sample letter (English and Spanish):

Members of the Judicial Inspectors’ Office
Supreme Court
Republic of Costa Rica
Central America

Dear Sirs/Madams,

The judicial process being carried out against Orlando Barrantes and Ivan Angulo for alleged crimes has all the characteristics of a political show-trial. This trial seeks to criminalize social protest and to incapacitate valid union activity. We wholeheartedly support the struggle of our Costa Rican brothers and sisters against the economic hardship that they are suffering, and we denounce any repressive measures against their struggle, by military or police force, or by judicial processes. We demand that the Judiciary Panel of the Second Circuit of the Atlantic Zone, in Guápiles, immediately drop all charges against Mr. Barrantes and Mr. Angulo.

Your union, local, city,
United States of America


En Español:

Señores Integrantes de la Inspección Judidial
Poder Judicial
Republica de Costa Rica
America Central

El proceso emprendido por autoridades judiciales en contra del luchador social y politico señor Orlando Barrantes y de Ivan Angulo por presuntos delitos cometidos hace casi cinco años y que tramita en el Tribunal de Juicio del Segundo Circuito Judicial de la Zona Atlántica con sede en Guápiles, tiene las características de un montaje para criminalizar la protesta social y para inhabilitarlos politicamente. Las resticciones economicas que padece la población de menores recursos y los consecuentes reclamos populares no deben ser enfrentados mediante la repression judicial. Demandamos que se retiren los cargos contra las personas mencionadas.

Nombre, Cargo, País

Donations can be sent to the bank account of the Artisans’ Association (ASOACA) at account number 2850009476-5, Bank of Costa Rica. Please email orlandobarranteslibre [at] yahoo.com.mx to notify him of the deposit.
Mr. Barrantes is 53 years old, married, with two daughters and two grandsons.
We are grateful for you solidarity.

Fraternally,
NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE FOR THE DEFENSE OF ORLANDO BARRANTES

This article originally published at http://pr.indymedia.org/news/2006/04/15131.php
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