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Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Pineapple Problem


Costa Rica is a beautiful country with a perfect climate for growing some of the world's most popular plants (both ornamental and nutritious). But does this translate into real economic benefit for the people of Costa Rica? For at least 100 years, foreign agri-business has been attempting to despoil Costa Rica's riches and often succeeding. It began with United Fruit and banana plantations and continued with pineapple and other crops and with first USA and then international conglomerates such as Chiquita Banana, Dole, and others. I was told that "they" came in with huge tractors separated by a kilometer and with a razor sharp blade or wire between them and simply bulldozed huge swaths of rain forest to make pineapple plantations. "They" paid off politicians and government workers to get whatever permits they wanted and then hired the locals whom they paid very little, required long back-breaking work from them, and treated them as sub-human. Then Costa Rica got tougher with them and the labor laws became tougher and more fairly enforced so that "they"had to start paying a minimum wage and pay into the government health and pensions funds. I now that as long ago as 2008, Dole Pineapple was getting around many of these restrictions by hiring workers by the day, trucking them in in the backs of cattle trucks, and then letting them go. So they were only temporary, casual, and part-time workers according to the legal records. They would then send the cattle trucks out again and collect the workers lined up waiting for a job. The work, of course, is seasonal. That makes it easy for Dole and other such companies to get around various labor laws.

I have been told by workers in the banana plantations and in the rice fields that pesticides are sprayed from crop dusters while the workers are in the fields working. The incidence of sterility, birth defects, and cancers among these workers and their families is very high.

The ecological damage done by the clearing of huge areas of forest to plant a single crop is enormous. The on-going damage is still not completely known.

The economic questions is this: Do the losses to the environment and the public health get cancelled out by economic benefits to the people of Costa Rica?

This blog from PoveryMatters Blog, attemps to answer the question. Anyone interested in the Costa Rica left behind by tourists, should be aware of how outside interests and mega agribusiness in particular are affecting the country.

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I live on the Pacific slopes of the Talamanca mountain range in southern Costa Rica. My adult children live in the United States. I have a Masters Degree in Gerontology but have worked as a migrant laborer, chicken egg collector, radio broadcaster, secretary, social worker, research director, bureaucrat, writer, editor, political organizer, publicist, telephone operator, and more. My hobby of photography has garnered some awards.

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