Via The Guardian: Nicaraguans demand action over illness killing thousands of sugar cane workers. Excerpt:
In the blistering heat of Chichigalpa, the Sandinista heartland of north-west Nicaragua, weary men rest in shaded hammocks gazing at the endless rows of lofty sugar cane. The latest harvest weighs heavy on these communities that are being decimated by a deadly disease.
At least 20,000 people are estimated to have died of chronic kidney disease (CKD) in Central America in the past two decades – most of them sugar cane workers along the Pacific coast.
In the municipality of Chichigalpa, the disease is responsible for almost half of male deaths in the last 10 years. Sick men hasten their deaths by continuing to work in secret to support their families. The town is fast becoming a land of widows.
Walter, 32, will soon become another statistic; his wife another CKD widow. He has worked as a sugar cane cutter for 11 years. He is skinny, strong, affable and about to become a father. Walter knows he is dying, but hopes to see his child at least start school.
For his first nine harvests, or zafras, Walter was contracted to work for Ingenio San Antonio (ISA), Nicaragua’s oldest and biggest sugar mill. Each year, before the harvest, a company doctor would test his blood, urine and blood pressure before declaring him fit for the backbreaking work of cutting cane with a machete in oppressive heat.
But in 2012, his blood test showed the first signs of kidney dysfunction. His annual contract was not renewed and he was left without a medical follow-up, compensation or benefits.
“I was healthy when I started working for the company and sick when they got rid of me,” said Walter, who asked for his surname to be withheld to protect his relatives, 13 of whom work in sugar cane. “Every family here has lost someone, the work is making us sick, but there are no alternatives,” he said. “We are all dying from it, it’s a total epidemic.”