Francisca Criollo, a nurse on the Rio Culebra banana plantation, Ecuador - This interview was recorded in May 2002 during a long strike by workers on the Danish owned Río Culebra plantation. Source (interview and translation): Jan Nimmo – www.greengold.org.uk
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).
Q. 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.
Q. 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.
Q. 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.
Q. 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. 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.
Q. 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.
Q. 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 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.