Bananas! re-tells in thorough, first hand detail the landmark and highly controversial case brought against the Dole Food Corporation for the mistreatment of Nicaraguan plantation workers. The alleged willful use of a banned pesticide DPCP caused generations of disease and, what this case specifically concentrates on, infertility.
Using film and audio from the court case conducted by LA based personal injury attorney Juan ‘Accidentes’ Dominguez and his colleague Duane as a basis, Bananas! layers its narrative with personal testimonies and damning footage. It is both shocking and involving as we are taken through the twists and turns of the trial and hear from all those affected in this First World capitalism versus Third World farmer clash.
Duane and Dominguez are hoping this to be a bellweather case – for the dozen workers involved to set a mould for the thousands of other workers affected to follow in gaining compensation. Indeed, this is the 1st legal case where foreign farm workers were allowed to testify against US multinational corporations before a full jury on U.S soil – so Duane and Dominguez are under a lot of pressure.
The damning evidence against Dole is a letter sent to them by Dow chemicals which says DCPC is dangerous and should not be used. Dole proceeded regardless, citing breach of contract, and a further 500,000 barrels were delivered and used.
Just when we think the case is closed, the mood of the film changes. We watch in heightened tension as the opposing lawyers portray the workers as drunkards and liars with some success.
The effect Dole has clearly had on the lives of the workers is horrifying, but what I was ultimately to make of the film is troubling. We constantly see shots of Dominguez’s gaudy face plastered over Latin America as an advert for his services whilst he smokes cigars. He talks over the radio to Nicaragua with overly slick precision, reassuring them about the case. Of course – his intentions are good, but just when you think the Nicaraguan workers have their victory, the film ends with retrospectively altered title cards which cast doubt over his whole purpose and credibility.
Meanwhile plenty of people go unnoticed. We see interviews with workers who suffered other diseases at the hands of the chemical, but because of the nature of the trial (focussing on fertility to increase Dominguez’s chance of success) – they do not get a look in. Duane, the acting lawyer of the Nicaraguarans, accuses Dole of ‘predatory capitalism’, which certainly sums up the macabre actions of the huge corporation. Dominguez, however, may well be guilty of a distorted version of that.