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Argentina to Maintain Use of Agrochemicals

Teresa Bo

 by Al-Jazeera English

Susana Marquez couldn't stop crying when she heard the sentence in the courtroom in Cordoba. She was hoping that the men accused of spraying the town of Ituzaingo with agrochemicals would serve a prison sentence. But that did not happen.

Two of them were found guilty of environmental contamination and sentenced to three years probation… The third one was acquitted of all charges.

"Nobody went to jail. This trial shows that in this country there is only justice for the rich, for farmers. Nobody cares for the poor", said Maria Godoy who lives in Ituzaingo, not far away from the provincial capital.

'They are murderers'

Susana Marquez has had 15 miscarriages and of the two children she was able to deliver both were born with heart defects. Only one of them is still alive. Lourdes is seven years old and blood tests show high levels of agrochemicals in her system. Susana blames two ranch owners and a pilot who are currently on trial for spraying her town with pesticides and herbicides.

"They are murderers how they sprayed the area indiscriminately. This is no coincidence. I lost 16 babies because [of] those beasts. And I live in fear because my daughter is sick, we have no money to pay for the surgery she needs", she told me.

It all started when the newborn baby of Sofia Gatica, one of the mothers, died of kidney failure in the same town in 1999. That's when women in this poor town started to gather information about what was going on. They realised that cancer rates in their town where at 40 per cent higher than in other parts of the country. A study carried out in 2010 showed that 80 per cent of the tested children here had agrochemicals in their blood.

The ranch that was fumigated by land and air is one street away from many of the houses where people later on got sick.

Argentina is the world's third-largest soybean exporter and its economy has become highly dependent on it... Much of that soybean is grown in Cordoba where farmers use large quantities of agrochemicals like the glyphosate.

Those behind the lawsuits hoped the trial would put industry standards on the stand as well. But Government officials say there is no need for any major policy changes. "I don't think that Argentina's productive system has to be transformed. What they have to do is respect the thousand or fifteen hundred meters imposed when there are people living in the area," said Argentina's Human Rights Secretary, Andres Fresneda.

In spite of the anger and disappointment in the courtroom, lawyers insist that the trial was a milestone. "This is important because it has proved that some types of fumigation are a crime. This means that from now it won't be a mistake if somebody sprays a town and people will know that they can go to jail," said one of the victim's lawyers. He says that the trial will set a precedent as it's the first time that somebody is sentenced to prison for spraying in a banned area.

Scientists had hoped the sentence will set an example in Latin America. "Multinational companies have the complicity of the state but there is no doubt about the damages involved for human health of some types of pesticides. We hope that the sentence of the trial will set a precedent about the consequences of large scale farming", said Andres Carrasco from the Molecular Embryology Laboratory of the University of Buenos Aires School of Medicine. His studies published in the magazine "Chemical Research in Toxicology" have shown the damage caused by glyphosate in amphibian embryos even in smaller amounts than those used in agriculture.

But the lawyers of those accused insist the illnesses of Ituzaingo are not only related to agrochemicals. They also claimed they could also be the consequence of arsenic found in the water and electrical transformers that used to be placed in the town.

"This trial has been filled with ideologies between those who are against large scale farming and those who are not. The mistake is to put on the trial of three people what should be a national debate about agrochemicals and then reconsider Argentina's economic model. Those accused where using approved agrochemicals", said Sebastian Becerra, one of the defence lawyers.

© 2021 Al-Jazeera English

Teresa Bo

Teresa Bo, an award-winning correspondent, reports from across Latin America.

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