Two years ago, twelve Nicaraguan banana plantation workers traveled to Los Angeles and sued Dole Food Co. Inc. They won $1.58 million. The crime? Continued use of the pesticide dibromochloropropane (DBCP), which has been found to cause sterility and possibly cancer. Now, Dole’s empire is striking back, using its clout to smear a documentary about the case, and working to deny the film the publicity that comes with competing at major film festivals.
Evidence of DBCP’s dangerous effects first popped up in California during the mid-1970s. By 1979, the pesticide was banned in the United States, but thousands of plantation workers are claiming that fruit companies continued to use DBCP in Latin America throughout the 1980s under the name ‘Nemagon.’
Last year’s suit, Tellez et. al. v. Dole Food Company Inc. et. al, was a landmark win; indeed, it was the first time that agricultural workers from a third-world nation were heard in a United States court. But now lawyers for the megacorporation are claiming that the representative for the plaintiffs, Los Angeles attorney Juan Dominguez, has committed fraud, asking non-workers to pose as victims. It should be noted that none of the evidence so far has anything to do with the Tellez case but with Dominguez’s follow-up cases against Dole.
Why discredit Dominguez? Well, a documentary about the Tellez case — entitled Bananas!* — is set to debut at the Los Angeles Film Festival early next week. Dole’s lawyers are now trying to stop all screenings. And some publications, like the Los Angeles Business Journal, are backing them up. Lawyers claim that the documentary uses false information to hurt the image of Dole. The flaw in their assertion? No one, bar the Los Angeles Film Festival and the filmmaker, has actually seen the film.
Bananas!* is directed by Fredrik Gertten, a well-respected filmmaker who serves as the Swedish representative for the European Documentary Network. Gertten has called on the international documentary community to back him up. The Los Angeles Film Festival still plans to screen the film, though they’ve pulled it out of competition and are now labeling it a case study. So far one sponsor, the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, has dropped out.
For more on the case and Dole’s effort’s to suppress it, check out the Bananas!* website at BananasTheMovie.com.