An unprecedented trial took place in Cordoba yesterday to prosecute two agricultural workers for environmental contamination in the area. Two men have been sentenced with three-year prison terms for the use of agrochemicals endosulphin and glyphosate in the barrio of Ituzaingó Anexo. Rural producer Francisco Parra and the person responsible for the chemical application, Edgardo Pancello, were sentenced yesterday in the Cordoba Criminal Court. Producer Jorge Gabrielli was acquitted in the same hearing.
The trial, which began two months ago, brings to a close a ten year struggle against the impacts of spraying in the local community. So far, 200 cases of cancer have been discovered in the barrio, 100 of these fatal. In a survey of 142 children, 114 had traces of agrochemicals in their bodies.
The court deliberated yesterday for nine hours before delivering a verdict of a suspended sentence of three years in prison for both Pancello and Parra. They men are being prosecuted for two cases of fumigation in 2004 and 2008 which contravened Cordoba’s Agrochemical Law Nº 9164.
The law prohibits the spraying of endosulphin and glyphosate within a radius of 1,500 and 500 metres of urban populations. Parra and Pancello are accused of spraying within the barrio of Ituzaingó Anexo, putting the population at risk of severe health impacts.
Both men have had their licences to work with agrochemicals removed as a result of the trial. Parra will be forced to undertake ten hours a week of community service and will have his licence removed for “eight years for the use of agro-chemicals.” Pancella, who was flying the plane spraying the chemicals will be unable to work for ten years and will also be forced to undertake community service.
Parra’s lawyer, Juan Manuel Aráoz said yesterday that they are likely to appeal the decision. He said that while they are awaiting the grounds for the decision, to be released on 4th September, they will probably appeal the decision “taking into account the fact that this crime is authorised by the National Food and Health body as well as other national organisations.”
Pancello’s lawyer claimed he saw “no serious argument which destroys the presumption of innocence of the client.”
The lawyer for the plaintiff group, Miguel Martinez, said yesterday that people should understand that “people had been fighting for twelve years,” though said he recognised the value of the precedent for this type of case. It is the first time that those responsible for polluting the environment with agrochemicals are prosecuted.
“This trial will be punishing as a crime something which was previously only considered a failure,” said Martinez.
The community struggle against the impacts of agrochemicals resulted in the creation of the Madres de Ituzaingó. Founder Sofia Gatica said yesterday she has “nothing to say”
“Who will return us the health of our children?” she said.
The municipal government in Cordoba had already declared the population in the barrio of Ituzaingó Anexo in a health emergency. The case was elevated to the courts when it was discovered the area was contaminated with a lethal cocktail of chemicals.