Oro Verde



testimonies and stories

Francisca Criollo (known as Panchita)


Rio Culebra, Guayas Province,Ecuador

This interview was recorded in May 2002 during a long strike by workers on the Danish owned Río Culebra plantation. Francisca was employed as the nurse. Since then the Danes have sold the farm and all the workers were on strike lost their jobs including Panchita.


My name is Francisca Criollo, I've been working on the Rio Culebra banana plantation since 8th August 1988. I work as the auxiliary nurse but, as you can see, I don't have what I need to do my job properly. I've spent many years asking them to give the necessary resources for the medical dispensary, but sadly they've given me nothing. My wage is $20 per week; they don't pay my transport, nor do they give me a uniform; no breakfast, only lunch (supper we have at home). We have problems with the company store, because they don't sell us the products at cost price. It seems like a luxury shop and they charge us double normal prices.

I raised the issue of the health problems related to the canteen because I am a nurse and people's health is my responsibility. The canteens do not serve adequate food. As you saw that day you went to Rio Culebra, the pots they cook with, the glasses they use and the buckets that they use to do the washing up are all really old and dirty and we don't have any way of helping the women who run the canteens. They charge the same price for the rice as they would charge outside the plantation - sometimes even more.

I live in Naranjal, some 35kms from the plantation. They don't pay transport and I have to catch the bus to get here and back. From the main road at the entrance to the track that leads to the plantation there is a bus that takes us to the plantation and that one is paid for by the company. If I arrive a little bit late, the bus leaves without me, I have to hire a pick-up which charges me $10 from the main road to the plantation; this is half my weekly wage! Sometimes I miss the express bus and get left behind. If I don't make it to work they sometimes discount as much as 2 or 3 days' wages, and I end up earning nothing when I go to pick up my fortnight's wage.

Is there any medicine on the plantation?

There's no medicine at all on the plantation. When they do buy us medicine it's a small amount. We want to make a proper workplace dispensary, so that the Social Security will bring us the medicine; but nobody has contact with anyone who can help us. The company gives me $40-50 to buy them, but what can we buy with that? That amount only lasts for about a month.

What are the conditions like where you have to treat the workers?

The place is completely inadequate. There's no water or electricity, there are no clean toilets where a person receiving treatment can go, there's no private bathroom. There aren't the basic facilities for anyone to work there.

If one of the workers is injured, what happens then?

Should one of the engineers happen to be on the plantation - and they have a car - then they take the worker and transport them to the medical centre.

So it's a question of luck?

They don't give us enough money, because they are not signed up to Social Security. And the Social Security asks us for up-to-date pay-slips for the person who is ill or injured. If they are not up-to-date then they don't get treatment. We don't have that facility. I know this from personal experience. I had an accident. I fractured my leg, and I have all the prescriptions from a private doctor. I went to Social Security, and they told me that that plantation (Rio Culebra) had not paid into the system so they couldn't treat me. They sent me to Guayaquil, But I didn't go, because I knew they we going to ask me for papers and that my journey would be wasted. So that's why I went to a private doctor because I couldn't walk. The accident occurred on the plantation. I get about by bicycle, and don't have adequate transport there. So I had an accident and I broke my ankle. I was off work for 7 months. They did pay me, but it was the absolute basic. They sent me some money every month to pay for medicines but it wasn't enough to cover them. I've been unable to work for seven months.

Apart from accidents, what other illnesses are common?

Malaria, typhoid, dengue fever... Another problem is that we have snakes here. There is no anti-venom. We don't have a fridge, we don't even have electricity, and the anti-venoms have to be kept refrigerated.
The people who sleep on the plantation sleep on cardboard from the banana boxes. As you've seen there aren't adequate facilities. I hope that these compañeros who've come are going to inspect how our companeros live. People work really hard for between 8 and 12 hours, and it's just not right. In1988, when that man from Denmark started working here, he hasn't sorted out anything or improved the working conditions. Right know we want to see what can be done with these Danes, because we don't have adequate medical attention.













Who lives inside the plantation?

There are both men and women, and families. You'll see for yourself when you go to the living quarters how the people there live. They even sleep in the canteen and there's no way they should have to do that.

Do the children get any schooling?

There is a little school, but it's not good enough. There's' a teacher who takes classes every day. The school is upstairs from the medical room. It's not suitable because the children are running around and playing while there's a person downstairs getting treatment; so people get upset because they're ill and need peace and quiet. There are about 20-25 pupils, the children of parents who work on the plantation.

Does aerial spraying take place?

Yes, of course, they spray with the little plane and this affects the workers' health because there's no protection. There's no protection for the women who work packing bananas in the packing plant. They don't give them gloves, masks, boots... They don't get given anything like that.

What symptoms do those who work in the pack house have?

When they fumigate the bananas there are problems with chemical poisoning, they get really bad rashes from working unprotected. Working day after day in the tanks affects the skin. There's a virus in the water and they don't put any chlorine in it. Everyone says to me, "if you're the nurse...". But what can I do if I ask and they don't give me anything? It's not within my powers… I ask them to treat the water. I know that the water needs treating because it contains so many bacteria and viruses. It's tragic. We're really badly off with these Danish people. We don't have water, electricity, food... They cut off the electricity 2 years ago. I was off work for 7 months, and they cut off the electricity because they hadn't apparently paid their bill in two years.

So the owners owe lots of money to different people?

Yes, they owe lots. There are rumours that other people will take over the plantation because they are so much in debt. So that's where we are in all this: the paramilitaries are threatening to arrive; the police are threatening to come and evict us, and they have taken out warrants for the arrest of some of our compañeros… We don't know how these Danish guys intend to conclude this conflict with the workers here. But we are resolute in our struggle and we're willing to see it through till the end. We have to fight for the rights of all our compañeros, for the parents with children working there…. with the support of our compañeros from FENACLE , and the compañeros from CEOSL (Trade Union Congress) and you (the international organisations) who have come to help. We're really grateful because the truth is that we never thought we'd get the kind of support that you have given. So here we are, living and working in these conditions, carrying on with this strike which we've been on for the last 35 days.

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Interview and Translation: Jan Nimmo