JANUARY/FEBRUARY 1994 - VOLUME 15 - NUMBER 1
T H E F R O N T
After NAFTA: Chiapas Uprising
San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico - This January, while walking on the rain-slicked, cobbled sidewalks of San Cristobal de las Casas, in highland Chiapas, I was approached by a well-dressed stranger who had run across the street to ask me about the consequences of the Zapatista uprising. Was it true, he asked, that U.S. corporations had decided to stop investing in Mexico? He was worried that the uprising would put the brakes on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as calls from friends and family in the States had warned him it would.
The man, a clothing store owner named Jose Ramos, spoke highly of the Mexican army and the local governors, but reacted with apparent pride when asked where he had been on New Year's Day, when the Zapatistas took the town. He said that he had been there in the zocalo (town square), and had spoken with the now-famous subcommandante Marcos. Marcos, he said, was a gentleman, and "educated," and his colleagues were well behaved. "They came tranquilly. You could chat with them. They had many very humble, humble people." He said that, as a whole, the guerrillas were "very badly armed," mainly with hunting rifles, though the chiefs had "good machine guns."
"They said that they wanted to overthrow the government and that the soldiers should come along with them. They were saying things just for the heck of it. Everyone was chatting with them -`Que Tal?' There was such an atmosphere there that people were applauding them. A lot of silliness."
Ramos laughed when he said that, and when asked if people had really applauded, he said, "Yes, because they said: `The army should come with us!' Ha! What a joke!"
Ramos parted by saying that he and his friends were, frankly, "a little nervous," but at base "there's no reason for so much uproar."
Another witness, a working man, who was in the square that day and spoke with the rank-and-file campesino fighters, said that they had stressed a number of concerns ranging from repression by local, feudal planters to recent changes in the national economic policy that have been designed to pave the way for NAFTA. The man said they spoke of a little-known rural massacre in which federal police had entered a nearby village and, wielding machetes, chopped up people "picadillo" style. They also spoke of the difficulties of getting and holding land tenure, recent constitutional changes (such as the gutting of the ejido, the communal land system), and the anticipated impact of NAFTA, which took effect in Mexico that day.
The Zapatistas' official communiques said that they had keyed the uprising's start to NAFTA's launch. They also called on foreign corporations "to pay their workers in national money the equivalent hourly salary that they pay in dollars to [U.S.] workers." Though the wood cord fuel of the uprising has been stacking up for centuries, NAFTA and the recent economic policy changes of Mexico's ruling PRI (The Institutional Revolutionary Party) are the sparks that have helped ignite it.
In 1984, William Casey caused a minor crisis within the CIA when he insisted that an intelligence estimate be doctored to say that Mexico might be on the brink of revolution. Casey's argument was based on a wholly different Mexico, at that time under President Miguel de la Madrid, which Casey saw as unfriendly to U.S. investors and also vulnerable from below, because, he thought, bad socio-economic conditions were serving as a breeding ground for radical thought. This view was rejected by most of the intelligence agencies, as well as by the CIA's National Intelligence Officer for the region, John Horton, who ended up quitting.
At the time, the regimes of Guatemala and El Salvador, two of the region's less-defiant U.S. clients, were holding on to power by massacring their civilian populations. Mexico was, by contrast, a model of sophisticated exploitation and control, where dissidents were preferably bought off (rather than shot down), or impeded with various economic, political and legal obstacles; where killing and torture were used more as a last resort; and where the workers and peasantry, though poor and exploited, still lived on a higher level than did their counterparts in Central America due to longstanding land reform and a basic social service infrastructure.
But since then, working hand in hand with Washington and U.S. firms, the Mexican government's basic approach has been changing. The reformed, communal lands and some of the social services are being cut back and privatized. Real wages have fallen and peasant land displacement has grown as Mexico moves toward a neoliberal economic system, capped off by NAFTA.
The week after the uprising began, El Economista, a leading Mexican financial journal, devoted its top front page story to summarizing a two-year-old study by Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), "Investing in Security," by Stanton H. Burnett, a former senior foreign service officer. The Economista story, headlined, "NAFTA, A Matter of U.S. National Security," emphasized the study's comment that: "Initially economic reform may be destabilizing and so difficult politically that only a strong or even authoritarian government is capable of withstanding the years of pain before reform begins to pay off and generate significant supporting constituencies. The economic pain from Mexican economic reform efforts initially caused political support for the PRI to plummet. Although this trend has been reversed, the ultimate outcome is far from decided." The Ecortomista gave special emphasis to CSIS's citation of Pinochet's Chile to make the point that "the most successful cases of economic reform to date have occurred in authoritarian environments."
Asked whether NAFTA had a role in the uprising, Samuel Ruiz, the Catholic Bishop of San Cristobal, replies, "The question has many nuances. Did this happen because of NAFTA? No. But did NAFTA influence it? Yes. NAFTA influences all the circumstances of daily life and in a negative way makes itself felt in a certain deterioration which evidently has shaped this situation."
According to Bishop Ruiz and many other local people, campesino opinion on the uprising is divided. But the note worthy point is the issue on which the split seems to occur: not so much the Zapatistas' basic goals - which have broad support - but rather on a matter of survival tactics.
One man I met in a village south of San Cristobal that had been bombed two days before by the army said with astonishing boldness-since state officials were around - that a third of his village had gone off to join the Zapatistas. As to the question of whether they had also taken up arms, he asked, "How else can you fight a helicopter?" The man, a campesino in a worn, black wool poncho, is a member of the Mayan Tzeltzal community. Like many Mayans, he is multilingual, Tzeltzal being his first language. He spoke Spanish with some difficulty, but he spoke it forcefully, as he walked down a dirt road to his now-deserted house, which had been burned and from which his family had vanished while the army had, he said, been detaining and beating him and questioning him about his neighbors, the Zapatistas and his politics.
Another, very thin man, in an old, red Sunday shirt, says that taking up arms was a chancy thing, since "they have a bigger army than we do."
Jonatan Hernandez Martinez, a Tzeltzal campesino from Nabalam, takes that point and the Guatemala experience and draws what he says is the practical conclusion: "In Guatemala, hundreds of villages have been wiped out, and what has the armed struggle accomplished? If we look at history, since the Spanish Conquest there has been a reduction of population. The indigenous population has been reduced. They say that in history the center of Mexico had a population of 25 million inhabitants, and that has been reduced to 2 million. So, what's going to happen with an uprising of this type, against the power in arms of the army? I would say that they're going to kill us like flies. They're going to finish us off. So, I don't want this for the population. I definitely don't see the solution in the armed struggle."
But he says that, nonetheless, despite such ominous risks, the rebellion has attracted a substantial following within the indigenous community because, at least, it offers a concrete strategy. "If one arrives in the community and says to the people: `Look, our struggle is the way of arms, because the situation is like this, because they won't listen to us,' what will people say? They will say `yes,' because over time, when you don't find a real solution to your problem, then you think that organization and the struggle is what's going to take you forward."
Hernandez, in addition to his farming - he grows mainly corn, beans, and squash on communal land with some other families - is also a member of a local group of 40 Mayan intellectuals dedicated to "retaking" political thought, rethinking the Mayan's "manner of organizing, combating things, how they can get what they want, how they want to work their land, how they want their authority, what our norms should be as a people."
Hernandez has no doubt about the need for fundamental change. He says many indigenous people see NAFTA as "the surrender of our natural resources." But he adds sardonically that indigenous people will suffer relatively less than the ethnically hispanic Ladinos, since though he feels it will mean more land displacement by out side capital and will undercut small corn farmers like himself, "the indigenous person knows how to live without work, without money, without anything. He has learned how to resist with nothing, and subsist in this situation of poverty."
I met Hernandez, a muscular man wearing a denim jacket, when he burst into a meeting of the Mexican governmental human rights commission and riveted the room's attention by calling out: "Sir, I want to speak." His voice trembling, and with tears in his eyes, he said that he hadn't seen his family in 10 days and did not know if they were dead or alive. They were at the farm in Nabalam which was inside the cordoned-off area, where the army had established a de facto state of siege. From scant reports that had filtered out, it was known that the army was bombing the area. Phone calls and outside food had been cut off, and getting safe water was reportedly difficult, since many people usually walked a long way for water, but were now afraid to go outside.
The government Commission executive, Miguel Sarre, listened to Hernandez's plea to get some help in contacting his family. Then, as the audience groaned - it was full of independent human rights people -Sarre told Hernandez to sim ply fill out a complaint form. Afterward Sarre told me that the government Commission was also barred from the zone, and that it relied on the army for information on human rights there.
It is debatable whether, even if it felt the need to, the Mexican regime could politically get away with anything like a full Guatemala solution, But in the first weeks of the Zapatista uprising it seemed to adopt a policy of collective punishment. Villages where many people had joined the guerrillas were bombed after combat and subjected to the state of siege and mass-detention sweeps. There has been a still undetermined number of disappearances and executions. In Ocosingo, witnesses told human rights groups that the army had entered the hospital and executed eight civilians, including two patients sick with tuberculosis. The bodies were dumped in nearby mass graves where bloody hospital bedsheets were left strewn among the victims' remains. At the San Marcos cemetery outside Tuxtla Gutierrez, the provincial capital, I saw 48 new, unmarked, above-ground cement graves. The state prosecutor's office in Tuxtla was housing 21 uprising prisoners, most of whom said they had been tortured (some showed signs of beating) by methods including immersion of their heads in water mixed with urine. They insisted they were civilians and indeed had been separated from 37 other, wounded detainees who had proudly admitted to outsiders that they were in fact Zapatistas. The Tuxtla detainees claimed that a Mexican officer had said of the Zapatistas: "These we are going to burn alive." The Zapatistas had earlier been held in two cramped two-by three meter drunk-tank cells at Tuxtla's "La Galactica" state-run prostitution park, and were later transferred to the Rancho Nuevo army base.
These known dead and imprisoned, though, represent only a fraction of those who are missing, and outside monitors were systematically excluded from the siege zone during the first weeks. After a Red Cross ambulance got special military permission to pick up wounded near the Rancho Nuevo base, it got within 500 yards of the base when troops and an army helicopter opened fire. They machine- gunned and rocketed the clearly marked Red Cross vehicle. Miraculously, none of the medics were killed. One of them, though, Juan Pantoja, a young volunteer, had to have his right leg amputated above the knee due to shrapnel wounds.
The army had set up a machine gun nest outside the door of the San Cristobal diocese, and troops point and cock their guns at diocesan visitors. The PRI Governor of Chiapas, Elmer Setzer, charged the church with "linking [itself] with indigenous groups like those which decided to rise up in arms" and said the church had "even facilitated support to these groups." The national PRI-controlled press has elaborated on the theme, and General Otoniel Calderon, the San Cristobal area commander, has claimed in a threatening way that he happens to know that church leaders stay in touch with guerrillas by short-wave radio. Army interrogators urge suspected guerrillas to confess that Bishop Ruiz is their commandant. Church officials understandably are said to be concerned about the safety of their priests and cathecists.
During the uprising's first weeks, there was much discussion in San Cristobal as to whether Mexico was formally in a state of war. The PRI government had pointedly refused to say it was war, referring to the guerrillas as, rather than combatants, "transgressors of the law." If the Mexican government were to admit that it was a war, it would be subject to the Geneva conventions governing Red Cross access, prohibition on crimes of war and other strictures that it has been violating. The pretense, though, is transparent: General Calderon has said privately that "we are at war," and a sergeant at a roadblock explained to me that the acres ahead were "a war zone." He said, "We are in a state of emergency."
For their part, the Zapatistas have staged a number of kidnappings, and, according to Bishop Ruiz, have engaged in some forced recruitment. Their highest profile target was retired General Absalon Castellanos Dominguez, a land baron and dealer in precious woods, who was Chiapas governor from 1982 to 1988. Proceso, the leading national newsweekly, said (after the kidnapping) that he had a reputation for "enrichment, nepotism, pillage [and] massacres." The abduction, and his rumored execution (the Zapatistas said he would be "tried") were repudiated by those, like the church, who reject violence as a solution, but at the same time seemed to enjoy a certain macabre popularity, even among some who dislike the Zapatistas' politics. Many campesinos nodded their heads and said that General Absalon deserved it. One upper class professional giggled and claimed that he had it coming all along. Late in January the Zapatistas made the announcement that General Absalon was still alive. They said that they had sentenced him to "perpetual imprisonment doing manual labors in the indigenous community of Chiapas and earning, in this form, the bread and means necessary for his subsistence." They added, nonetheless, that they had decided to release him, so that he would live "until the last moment of his days with the pain and shame of having received the pardon and charity of those who he had submitted for such a long time to humiliation, abduction, despoliation, robbery and assassination."
The Zapatista program calls for the PRI regime to step down and permit free elections. And it calls on Mexican soldiers to break ranks with the regime, saying to them "you are poor like us. " When I was talking to Alberto, a young Ladino army private from Oaxaca about recent economic problems in Chiapas, he interrupted to say "Those are the same problems that I had when I was on my rancho." We were standing at an army cordon bristling with 14 new-looking tanks. "Viva EZLN" (Zapatista Army of National Liberation) graffiti marked the roadsigns and some nearby gas pumps. "At times, when I was there, there wasn't enough money to live," he said. "That's the way it is in Oaxaca. But I don't believe in seeking solutions with a rifle in your hand. Work. Work. That's what you have to do. Here, there is no other way out of it."
For Alberto, work came when he joined the Mexican national army. Though that involved, in a different way, taking a rifle in his hand, he did not really expect that he would soon be called upon to use it. He said he thought of Mexico, more or less as a "pacific" place, but that the trouble had surged because "they say they want a government that is on their side."?
- Allan Nairn
After NAFTA: Worker Rights
The Clinton administration had barely finished celebrating its victory on the North American Free Trade Agreement before workers' rights were violated anew in Mexico.
Since NAFTA was approved by the U.S. Congress, more than 21 women workers have been fired from the Honeywell plant in Chihuahua for attempting to organize an independent union. And nine workers have been discharged for the same reason at General Electric's Compania Armadora plant in Juarez. On average, the fired workers had 10 years' seniority.
But the fight against NAFTA has had a positive byproduct - the development of some real international labor solidarity. As a result, unions in both the United States and Canada have joined the campaign to get the firings reversed.
Mexican workers at both the Honeywell and GE plants have been organizing with the support of the Authentic Workers Front, known by its Spanish acronym "FAT." FAT is an independent labor federation with more than 30 years' experience representing workers in small- and medium-sized manufacturing companies.
Independent and democratic union or ganizing in Mexico is a courageous struggle. Entire workforces or key leaders are often fired with little or no recourse. Government-controlled unions which belong to the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM) often fail to represent workers' rights and instead support management actions. Independent organizing means breaking with this government-management control at great cost.
FAT's organizing campaigns at Honeywell and GE are part of a Strategic Organizing Alliance with the United Electrical Workers in the United States. The Alliance commits the UE to help finance, support and publicize democratic union organizing efforts at U.S.-owned plants in Mexico. FAT will develop the organizing campaigns and organize exchanges with U.S. workers.
The Honeywell plant in Chihuahua - a large, industrial city about five hours south of El Paso, Texas - employs nearly 500 workers, 80 percent of them women. The workers, who produce thermostats and filters, make an average of S 3 5 to $45 a week in wages and benefits. They work under a newly instituted "just-in-time" manufacturing system which has speeded up production without a wage increase.
Honeywell workers in Canada, Mexico and the United States have launched joint protests against the firings and in support of democratic union organizing efforts in Mexico. Teamsters Local 1145, which represents over 3,000 Honeywell workers in Minneapolis, initiated a campaign by leafletting all its workers in early December.
Canadian Auto Workers Local 80 in Toronto, and the UE in Chicago, which represent other groups of Honeywell workers, also leafletted. Similar leafletting is being organized by FAT in Chihuahua.
In Minneapolis, Honeywell claimed the firings were nothing but a planned downsizing of its Chihuahua facilities after moving work to Tijuana. But a statement inserted in every Minneapolis employee's paycheck after the Teamster leaflet was distributed said, "Mexican factory employees affected had violated writ [en work rules and these violations had negatively affected the productivity of the factory."
The fired workers have a different story. "[Management] called us into their offices where they spoke to each of us, separately, for four hours," one said. "They accused us of wanting to close down the plant. We know that Mexican labor law allows free unionization. The company is obstructing and preventing us from organizing as a union to better our working and living conditions."
In a letter to President Clinton, Teamster President Ron Carey said the "administration and NAFTA supporters in Congress assured the American people that labor rights will be respected on both sides of the border. These firings provide a clear test of whether the U.S. and Mexican governments intend to carry through on those assurances." Carey also demanded that Honeywell Chairman Michael Bonsignore "act quickly to reverse your campaign of intimidation in Chihuahua; your action there promises to be an international symbol of the violation of human rights."
At GE's Compania Armadora plant in Juarez- across the border from El Paso - the nine workers fired at GE are only the most recent victims. UE International Affairs Director Robin Alexander estimates that about 100 workers suspected of being union supporters - out of 950 in the bargaining unit - have been forced to "voluntarily" resign since FAT began an underground organizing campaign in July. Quietly resigning was the only way the workers could get the severance pay due them under Mexican law.
In early November, the campaign became public when UE-represented GE workers from Erie, Pennsylvania and Ontario, California traveled to Juarez to learn first-hand about plant conditions and to lend their support to the organizing effort.
Within weeks, the nine workers were fired. Manuel Gomez had hosted a meeting with UE members in his home. Apolonia Talamentes had leafletted the plant while on vacation. Fernando Castro had talked to a U.S. television reporter, revealing that chemicals banned in the United States are used in the plant. Others were charged with "insubordination. "
The Teamsters and the United Electrical Workers are filing complaints with the National Administrative Office set up by the labor side agreement of NAFTA, and UE locals at GE plants have met with plant management to express their concerns. The UE expects to organize leafletting and plant gate rallies and collections for the fired workers.?
- -Mary McGinn
Aid for Dependent Corporations
U.S. taxpayers will pay more in 1994 for programs to aid corporations than they will for programs designed to help the poor, according to a survey released in January by Essential Information. Programs to aid U.S. corporations in 1994 will cost taxpayers $104.3 billion, while programs to aid the poor will cost $75.1 billion, according to the survey.
"It is time to reduce the bloated cost of government hand-outs to corporate special interest groups," according to Ralph Nader. "President Clinton ignores corporate America's habitual feeding-off of the taxpayers and focuses on poor people's benefits for the high cost of government, but this nation cannot economically afford further deception regarding the reality of government spending."
The survey, Aid For Dependent Corporations (AFDC), was prepared in advance of congressional debate on President Clinton's plan to reform the current welfare system. The survey is based on spending data obtained from the 1993 edition of the Catalogue of Federal Domestic Assistance, published by the Office of Management and Budget, and Estimates of Federal Tax Expenditures for Fiscal Years 19941998, published by the Joint Committee on Taxation, 1993. The survey reports on direct payments, grants and tax breaks to corporations and direct payments and grants to poor people.
"It is time to significantly reduce welfare payments and tax breaks to our allegedly `free' market corporations," the survey says. "Failure to do so makes a tragic mockery of the current welfare debate."
The Clinton Administration has been promising to overhaul the welfare system since the presidential campaign. Vice President A1 Gore's report on reinventing government, released in September 1993, estimates that welfare costs are $65 billion. On November 5, President Clinton set up a bipartisan entitlement reform commission to conduct a review of entitlement pro grams and tax structures. Senators Bob Kerrey, D-Nebraska, and John Danforth, R-Missouri, have been named co-chairs of the commission. In addition to the co-chairs, the commission consists of five Republican senators, five Democratic senators and five representatives from each party. It also includes members from the private sector and local and state governments. Among the private sector members are William Gray, president of the United Negro College Fund, Robert Denham, chair and CEO of Salomon Brothers, and Richard Trumka, president of the United Mineworkers of America. The commission is scheduled to complete its work by May 1, 1994.
According to Greg Weiner, of Senator Kerrey's office, what the term "entitlements" includes has yet to be worked out, but it will include "welfare, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, those sorts of things. "
Weiner said it had yet to be determined whether programs listed in the Essential Information report as "corporate welfare" programs would be considered by the commission. "It's hard to take anything off the table until the membership has been put together," Weiner says. "All entitlements are on the table, whether that includes all that is listed here [in the survey], we just can't say at this point."
In a letter to Senator Kerrey, Nader called on the Commission to "broaden the politically-acceptable language and discourse of `welfare' to include the vast variety of corporate entitlements." "It would be useful for the commission also to distinguish clearly between social insurance programs, social service (welfare) programs, and the fraud, waste and abuse that prevail," Nader wrote. "Simply to use the word 'entitlements' is to obscure important distinctions and equities."
According to the survey, the General Accounting Office has conducted many reports recently addressing the abuse of federal subsidies by corporations through various government programs. However, there has not been a "systematic assessment of such benefits," the survey said. The survey charges that these corporate benefits, and abuse of benefits, have been largely ignored by welfare reformers.
The survey found that $ 53.3 billion was given to various industries in the form of tax breaks. The agriculture industry was given $29.2 billion - the largest amount of direct assistance to any industry. The savings and loan bailout will continue to cost taxpayers $18.3 billion in 1994. Total direct assistance will cost taxpayers $104.3 billion in 1994.
The social welfare calculations included costs for: child welfare, disabled children, family planning, food-nutrition, homeless-community services, homeless-education, housing-rural, housing-low to moderate income, Native American children, Native American housing, juvenile delinquency, maternal and child health, public assistance, social services and welfare.
The survey excludes $92 billion in Medicaid funding as a form of social welfare "because health is considered a matter of right, rather than an entitlement, by virtually all critics and supporters of welfare."
The survey also excludes many forms of corporate welfare including loans, loan guarantees, bailouts, debt-forgiveness, export-import aid, below-cost timber sales to corporations, interest-free financing of water projects for farmers, giveaways of other natural resources and government research and development, interest subsidies to banks that finance student loans, inflated government contracts, free use of the public's airwaves by broadcasters, protection from competition and other forms of indirect payments to corporations. This information was not included because government data is spread out over different years, making it virtually impossible to calculate a uniform figure of the payments in these categories over a specific period of time.
"While the corporate elite holds cap-in-hand for their annual entitlements from the poor and middle income taxpayers, millions of powerless people are left without the same economic opportunities provided to corporations," Nader said. "Such blatant inequality in the distribution of wealth cannot be tolerated in any civil society."?
- Ben Lilliston
The Chlorine-Breast Cancer Link
The chemical and paper industries face rising calls for the elimination of chlorine-based chemicals, as the evidence linking them to breast cancer and other health problems increases.
Since the 1940s, the incidence of breast cancer has more than doubled in the United States. In the last decade, the breast cancer rate has increased 4 percent annually, making it the most common cancer in women and the leading cause of death among women 40 to 55 years of age. A recent Greenpeace report, Chlorine, Human Health and the Environment: The Breast Cancer Warning, compiles a body of studies linking chlorine-based chemicals with this stunning increase.
Chlorine-based chemicals, or organochlorines, are used primarily in the chemical industry, for making plastics, pesticides and solvents, and in the paper industry for bleaching pulp, with smaller amounts used to disinfect water. Incinerators burning chlorine-containing trash also release organochlorines into the environment.
The Greenpeace report cites studies that show the multiple roles organochlorines play in cancer formation, including suppression of the immune system's defense against cancer, speeding the transformation of chemicals into more carcinogenic forms and causing mutations in genetic material, the first step in the development of cancer.
The World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified 59 organochlorines as causing cancer in humans or animals, with limited evidence for another 58. The latter include atrazine, one of the most highly used pesticides in the United States, which has been linked to mammary cancers and altered estrogenic activity in rodents and to elevated risk of ovarian cancers in women. In addition, the feedstocks for the common plastic polyvinyl chloride (PVC) have been linked to mammary cancer in rodents. Manufacturing facilities emit an estimated 400 million pounds of vinyl chloride into the air each year.
The Greenpeace report cites studies which have found elevated breast cancer rates in women with elevated exposures to organochlorines, including chemists, chemical workers and women living near hazardous waste sites. A 1993 study by the New York University Women's Health Study found that women with breast cancer had higher blood levels of organochlorines than a control group without breast cancer. Other recent studies have shown similar findings.
Further evidence for the breast cancer-chlorine link comes from Israel, where breast cancer mortality declined sharply in the 1980s, Israeli researchers found that during the period of decline, all known risk factors -such as fat and alcohol consumption--had increased. They concluded that the decline is due to government bans of organochlorine pesticides.
The Greenpeace report also highlights the ability of some organochlorines to disrupt the hormone, or endocrine, system, by mimicking or interfering with reproductive hormones such as estrogen. Scientists have linked endocrine-disruptors to breast cancer, declining sperm count, birth defects and other disorders. This was also the subject of a hearing by the House Subcommittee on Health and the Environment in October, where scientists charged that the Environmental Protection Agency ignores the risks of endocrine-disruptors in its assessments of pesticides and other chemicals.
Dr. Ana Soto, a professor at Tufts University School of Medicine, testified that the widely used pesticide endosulfan has estrogenic properties comparable to DDT and PCBs. Soto's research has also found that the estrogenic effects of toxic chemicals are cumulative, even when exposure to each individual chemical is low. This finding challenges EPA's practice of considering only exposures to individual chemicals in its health risk assessments.
According to Richard Wiles, director of the Environmental Working Group's Agricultural Pollution Prevention Project, more than 220 million pounds of endocrine-disruptors are applied to 68 crops each year. This includes the most widely used herbicide in the country, alachlor, an organochlorine.
Wiles acknowledges that environmentalists face a difficult task in trying to phase out toxic pesticides. "Fifteen percent of the economy is against [a phase-out], including all of the chemical and food companies. They're organized and they've got tons of cash."
The various activities and interests of' Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) illustrate the broad reach of the pro-chlorine business sector. ICI, one of the world's largest chemical producers, co-founded and is sole funder of the national U.S. Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The event focuses on breast examinations - and never mentions carcinogens. ICI is also the major producer of tamoxifen, a breast cancer treatment drug which is now being tested by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) for use as a preventative measure.
"We're trying to raise awareness until a cure is found," says ICI's Karen Miller, project manager for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. "I don't think there's been a [breast cancer] cause determined. There's been lots of hypotheses."
"I think the cause of breast cancer is really multi-factorial," says Diane Blum, executive director of Cancer Care Inc., a breast cancer service organization based in New York City that is a co-sponsor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. "I'd like to see breast cancer prevented, but we have to live today." She says that she is "not concerned about conflicts of interest," and notes that "ICI has been a remarkably low-key corporate sponsor."
There is also an institutionalized alliance between the NCI, the American Cancer Society, the cancer research centers and the major pharmaceutical companies, which Dr. Samuel Epstein, author of The Politics of Cancer, calls the "the drug-development industrial complex." Epstein charges that this complex has skewed research to cancer treatment away from prevention and virtually ignored the role of environmental factors in breast cancer, even though the three known risk factors - heredity, reproductive factors and fatty diet - account for only 20 to 30 percent of breast cancer cases. One problem is the prcsidentially-appointed Cancer Panel, which controls NCI priorities and policies. Past Cancer Panel chairs include the late Armand Hammer, chair of Occidental Petroleum, a major manufacturer of carcinogenic chemicals.
Despite industry's resistance, Rick Hind, director of Greenpeace's Toxics Campaign, contends that "getting rid of organochlorines is not a question of whether it should happen, but when." He points out that there are alternatives and substitutes for all major uses of chlorine. He also notes Greenpeace's endorsement of the Worker's Superfund, to provide compensation, education and retraining for workers displaced by shifts in the chemical industry.
The Greenpeace report cites support for a chlorine phaseout from several international bodies. In 1992, the International Joint Commission on the Great Lakes, a binational advisory body to the United States and Canda, determined that organochlorines in the Great Lakes pose a hazard to human health and the environment, and recommended that chlorine use be phased out. That same year, a 12-member European convention to protect the Northeast Atlantic., along with the European Community, agreed to reduce, with the aim of eliminating, discharges of toxic substances, particularly organochlorines.
In addition, in October 1993, the American Public Health Association (APHA) unanimously passed a resolution urging U.S. industry to stop using chlorine. "In the past, we had positions on sub-classes of chlorinated organics, such as PCBs, dioxins and CFCs," says Dr. Peter Orris, a spokesperson for the APHA. "But so many of these chemicals are acutely and chronically toxic, we decided it was time to look at the entire group."
- Eric Weltman