Sugarcane Activist Denied Entry to Nicaragua

27 February 2015

Fairfood International calls on the Nicaraguan government to allow Jason Glaser entry to his home in Nicaragua. Jason is the co-founder and CEO of La Isla Foundation (LIF), a Fairfood International partner.

Upon Jason’s arrival to Nicaragua last February 16th 2015, Jason was informed by Nicaraguan immigration authorities that there was an “official government order” not to allow him into the country. He was immediately sent back to Chicago without a clear explanation.

The denial of Jason’s entry to Nicaragua raises serious concerns as he is not able to access his home and seriously hampers the work he does with LIF. This denial of entry comes at a time of ground-breaking research results from the Boston University on the causes of CKDnT (the chronic kidney disease that a lot of sugarcane workers in Central America are suffering from), as well as heavy media attention on the issue.

 New study from Boston University suspects occupational nature CKDnT

Until January of this year, reports from Boston University upheld that it was inconclusive to say that CKDnT was related to occupational conditions. In line with this thinking, representatives of the Nicaraguan sugarcane industry stated that they were “fully convinced that there is no direct relationship between CKD and the activities conducted in the sugarcane industry”. These statements were challenged by workers, by Fairfood International and by La Isla Foundation.

Fuelled by the compelling stories from the ground and Jason Glaser’s efforts, Boston University released another study in January this year. The new findings clearly state that one or more risk factors of CKDnT are, indeed, occupational. This coincides with LIF putting the country’s largest sugarcane producer, San Antonio under increased scrutiny. In a series of undercover field visits, the organisation found no evidence of shade, regular breaks, adequate water, mobile health clinics or protective clothing necessary to protect the workers from extreme heat and dehydration – all of which are recognised to be among the major causes of CKDnT.

Public attention for CDKnT in Nicaragua is growing

Together with the growing evidence of the occupational nature of CKDnT, public attention to the issue in the Nicaraguan sugarcane industry is increasing. Last week, The Guardian published a feature article on the issue, illustrating (among others) the personal stories of sugarcane workers that are performing back-breaking work in extreme circumstances (heat, dehydration), and are becoming ill from CKDnT. Whole families are being wiped out by the illness, which is why the sugarcane producing region Chichipalga is also known as ‘The Island of Widows’. These stories are also captured in a , made by photo- and videographer Ed Kashi and published by the National Geographic.

Working to prevent further cases of CKDnT

Together with La Isla Foundation, Fairfood International is working closely with workers to prevent new cases of CKDnT in the Nicaraguan sugarcane industry as part of our ‘Treat Them Sweet’ campaign. In June 2014, we published our issue briefing on CKDnT in Nicaragua and we are currently close to finding important links with Western companies sourcing sugarcane straight from producers in Nicaragua and other countries in Central America.

With the important work that needs to happen with the sugarcane industry workers, Fairfood and LIF are gearing up on how to ensure that worker’s rights and their safe and healthy work conditions are recognised and protected. Denying entry for Jason Glaser to Nicaragua at this time raises alarm bells for Fairfood and the international community. We find it unacceptable that Jason is denied entry to Nicaragua, when important work is being done.

The current situation is particularly worrisome in the light of the EU-Central America Association Agreement that was signed by the EU and Nicaragua in 2013. One of the purposes of this agreement is to ensure sustainable development. As signatories, both the EU and the Nicaraguan government promised to ensure that international core labour standards are respected. We therefore call upon the Nicaraguan government (as well as the EU) to respect the agreement and take responsibility to address the CKDnT epidemic effectively, starting with giving Jason Glaser access to the country again so he can continue his much needed quest to end CKDnT.

Fairfood is keen to engage not only with companies but also with governments to uphold workers’ rights and is calling on the Nicaraguan Government to withdraw their order and re-establish Jason’s entry to the country.


If you want to know more about CKDnT in Nicaragua, have a look at our project overview.

If you want to know more about Jason and the work LIF does, read the interview we held with him in October last year.

If you want to make a contribution to the work we do to end CKDnT, please donate.