"Yo no tengo un rótulo fuera de me casa que diga que mi conciencia está en venta!"
"I don't have a sign up outside my house which says my conscience is up for sale"
Carlos Arguedas Mora July 27th 1948 - December 31st 2010
Carlos Arguedas Mora was one of the first banana workers I met. I was contacted to interpret for Carlos at a series of awareness raising meetings here in Glasgow about a campaign against fruit giant, Del Monte. Carlos stayed at our house. From the very onset I was impressed and inspired by Carlos's commitment to his cause, and his dogged determination in spite of all the obstacles he faced - he was put in prison 22 times for trade union activities and land occupations and even up until the year he died he was squaring up to the big pineapple and banana companies who are trashing Eastern Costa Rica’s fragile environment and who exploit its people, be they workers or simply families who have the bad luck to live next to the plantations. I’ve met many inspirational Latin American trade unionists and activists so why was Carlos so special? Not just because he had that trade union fire in his belly, no, it was more than that. He saw trade unionism and the environment that surrounded him as being inextricably linked – and both worth fighting for.
Carlos started work on the Dole plantations in Valle de Estrella in the 70’s. Shortly afterwards he, like thousands of other banana workers all over Central America, came into contact with Nemagón (DBCP), a pesticide made by Dow Chemicals in the USA. Carlos was made sterile by the chemical. Now known to be a highly carcinogenic product, it has caused numerous health issues for both men and women and in many cases has proven fatal. Carlos, through his trade union activities, was involved in the struggle to have Nemagón banned in Costa Rica (1979, three years after it was banned in the US). He won a little compensation (if you can be compensated for being made sterile?) which he invested in a pulpería (a wee corner shop) which gave him a wage and which meant he could dedicate his time for free to his trade union activities at SITRAP in Siquirres. As the TU officer for occupational health and the environment he was able to marry both his passions, speaking to workers and community members and inspecting the fish kills at Matina and Pacuare.
“Me di cuenta de que si un agroquímico recorre mi cuerpo y me hace daño a mí, que también recorre mi país y estará haciendo muchísmo daño al aire, al agua y la tierra – if an agrochemical running through my body was doing me damage then I knew it was also doing the same damage to my country, to the air, the rivers and the land…”
On the occasions that I went to Costa Rica I stayed with Carlos and I had the pleasure of working with him on my second film, Pura Vida. It couldn'tt have been made without him. Carlos from around that time was heavily involved in the campaign to stop the unregulated expansion of pineapple production in Costa Rica’s Atlantic Zone so he was 110% so committed to making the film and did everything he possibly could to help score off things on my long wish list of things to film. And although the documentary looked at the grim social and environmental impact of the agrochemicals being used to grow bananas and pineapples, Carlos made the work truly joyous and interesting with his generosity of nature and his spontaneity, which meant we never lost an opportunity – we’d stop to film the pineapple booms or crop spraying planes overhead, gate crash primary schools to film the kids, we’d go by launch down the Río Pacuare or have gratuitous visits to places where I could film kinkajous and sloths because he knew I was an animal lover.
I fee so, so privileged to have known Carlos. I’ll keep safe lots of memories of Carlos; his office at SITRAP full of banana paraphernalia from his various campaign journeys, the house at El Pochote, riding on horseback to the Reventazón River in the pouring rain, on my husband, Paul’s, birthday, and the three of us sitting eating oranges on the banks, all soaking wet…..
Carlos; generous, warm, irreplaceable and principled “luchador” and friend.
woodcut portrait of Carlos Arguedas Mora by Jan Nimmo ©