September 25, 2007

IN 1979, NICARAGUA'S GOVERNMENT OF National Reconstruction initiated a bold new experi- ment in environmental policy to combat decades of ecologi- cal destruction. The Sandinistas quickly nationalized the country's forest, mineral, and aquatic resources. Further- more, they nationalized the banking and export/import sys- temns, thus establishing an effective means to regulate pesti- cides entering the country. Between 1979 and 1981, the government banned DDT, BHC, endrin, dieldrin, Phosvel, and DBCP, replacing these extremely dangerous chemicals with more expensive, but less harmful synthetic pyrethroids. To prevent high winds from blowing away valuable topsoil, some 3,000 trees a day were planted over a two-year period in the Pacific region of Le6n, to build 1,200 kilometers of windbreaks in cotton-growing areas. The Sandinistas also moved to implement a test program in Integrated Pest Management (1PM) in 1980. Based on the. philosophy of using naturally occurring predators and other biological control agents, IPM proved highly successful in reducing pesticide use on cotton. In 1981-1982, the volume ofpesticideimports felby45%, lesseningthe environmental impact of insecticide use, while simultaneously bolstering the economic value of the country's cotton crop. The effort to safeguard environmental and human health also increased economic productivity and independence, making the Sandinista government's early pesticide policy a model for "productive conservation" in the Third World, and focus of attention for the international environmental move- ment. The U.S. economic embargo and contra war, however, gradually undermined experiments in revolutionary ecol- ogy. In 1983, a CIA-coordinated attack on the port at Corinto destroyed $7 million of organophosphate pesticide just un- loaded on the docks. The attack occurred during a critical moment in the pest cycle, forcing the Nicaraguan govern- ment to remove impounded insecticides from warehouses, and dealing the IPM program a serious setback. Currently, the Chamorro government is pushing for a lifting of pesticide bans and the redistribution of 250,000 acres to large landowners, one-third for cotton, which would more than double the cotton land currently under cultivation. The return of the cotton plantation will undoubtedly mean a renewed dependency on foreign loans and the consolidation of anew economic elite. But most lamentably, it would return Nicaragua to thepesticide treadmill and the ecological disas- ter that implies.

Tags: Nicaragua, Sandinistas, environmentalism, pesticides, nationalize

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