Dr. Damián Verzeñassi has been locked out of his office at the Faculty of Medical Science at the National University of Rosario (UNR). Last week, Verzeñassi arrived to find the office had been chained shut.
The office contains 96,800 clinical records from research in communities affected by Monsanto products. Verzeñassi’s team established health camps in 27 locations in the past six years to monitor the health impacts of agricultural chemical exposure. They found that exposed populations began to suffer illnesses that had never been seen before in the communities. Other maladies increased markedly after exposure to the chemicals, including cancer, hyperthyroidism, and miscarriages.
Verzeñassi and his socio-environmental health team were already facing pressure as a result of their research. For several months, they were encouraged to hide their results and discontinue the research. Verzeñassi said that Ricardo Nidd, Dean of the Faculty of Medical Science, had “initiated an ideological and academic persecution”.
Last week, Nidd removed two members of Verzeñassi’s team from their administrative posts in the Faculty. Gastón Palacios was previously the Secretary of University Extension for the faculty; Giovana Bonisoli was the Undersecretary for Student Wellness. The two were involved in publishing the findings and including it in course curricula.
In spite of the pressure, Verzeñassi and his research team released a statement denouncing the office closure: “Teachers, graduates, and students understand the role of the public university: to be at the service of the people, free from pressure from political and/or corporate power. Unfortunately, defending the public university in this way—conducting epidemiological studies from and with the community, publishing the results which are the property of the people and no one else, has put many business and political interests in crisis.”
In October, Verzeñassi was among 30 experts who testified about the health impacts of agribusiness chemicals at the International Monsanto Tribunal in The Hague. During the Tribunal, a case was made against Monsanto for, among other charges, violations of human rights and “ecocide”, a new term to denote crimes that irreparably damage the natural environment and human populations that depend on it. The Tribunal does not have official jurisdiction, but aims to raise awareness and pave the way for other judicial bodies to take action against Monsanto and similar agribusiness interests.
The fate of the documents in Verzeñassi’s office is unclear. For now, he is worried about further punitive measures. “We are scared that the Dean’s next step could be to dismiss more teachers, to not renew their contracts at the end of the year, and to dismantle the Institute of Socio-environmental Health and the health camps.”