El principal diario Inglés, The Guardian, ha dedicado una página completa en su sección de obituarios del 15 de febrero 2011 a Carlos Arguedas, líder ambiental y sindical costarricense que falleció el 31 de diciembre del 2010.
Durante toda su vida, Carlos luchó por los derechos de los trabajadores bananeros y más recientemente lideró la lucha contra la expansión piñera, denunciando nacional e internacionalmente las terribles consecuencias que esta actividad ha dejado en el Atlántico de Costa Rica, lugar donde residió Arguedas toda su vida.
En noviembre del año pasado, The Guardian difundió el video de una entrevista que le realizara acerca de la problemática de la piña en Costa Rica.
Carlos Arguedas was arrested more than 20 times and suffered abuse at the hands of the police.
The trade unionist Carlos Arguedas Mora, who has died from cancer aged 62, was a key figure in the fight for social and environmental justice in central America. He was one of the leaders of thousands of Costa Rican banana plantation workers in a landmark strike against appalling conditions in 1984. In that era of cold-war politics, with the US pressuring governments in its backyard to curb what were seen as communist tendencies, repression followed swiftly. Carlos was arrested more than 20 times for his union activities and for land occupations, and on several occasions suffered abuse in police custody.
In recent years, and at the time of his death, he was the health, safety and environment secretary of SITRAP, the trade union for plantation workers in Costa Rica. In this role he exposed and denounced the damage inflicted on workers, local communities and the environment by multinational companies' industrial fruit production. He meticulously recorded the accidents and chemical spills, and built networks of activists who protested against the consequences. This work had put him at risk too – he had received anonymous threats of violence and was being sued by a pineapple company for his part in protests at the pollution of local water supplies with agrochemicals.
His resilience in the face of such pressure came in part from his early experiences. He was born in the remote area of Delicias de Turrubares, inland from the country's Pacific coast, to desperately poor parents who struggled to feed their 19 children. He received only elementary education and went to work as a teenage labourer in the banana industry. The conditions radicalised him, and he soon embarked on a struggle for workers' rights that was to span nearly four decades.
Like many fellow plantation workers, Carlos suffered from his daily exposure as a pesticide sprayer to dangerous chemicals. He was made sterile by the notorious nematicide DBCP while working for the multinational fruit company Dole. DBCP was used widely in central America even after it had been banned in the US. As compensation for being made infertile, he received $7,500 from the company.
His ability to strike up a rapport with workers who often felt unable to speak openly for themselves was matched by his passion for the environment. He saw campaigning for social justice and for the protection of Costa Rica's natural capital as part of the same fight. He had bought himself a smallholding near Siquirres, the town that has grown up in Costa Rica's pineapple frontier, and farmed it organically. He was a passionate collector of plants with medicinal properties, which he would share generously, and in the rare time he allowed himself for relaxing would be found wielding his banana-worker's machete and tending his own patch under the eye of visiting toucans. His land teemed with wildlife, in eloquent contrast to the surrounding monocrop plantations that he so opposed.
His long experience in the union movement had given him a clear-sighted understanding of how globalisation had driven a race to the bottom for workers. Despite his lack of education, he was an articulate and sophisticated critic of the neoliberal model that had reversed the hard-won, small gains made for the poorest in central America in previous decades. He argued that like the banana trade before it, the recent boom in pineapple production in Costa Rica for European markets had succeeded only in creating a distribution of profits as unequal as the burden of its environmental impacts.
Asked by the Guardian during the making of a film about the fruit industry last year whether his country benefited from its multinational fruit trade, he said: "All the pineapple production has done is generate money for the multinational companies' foreign bank accounts. It pays wages too low for people to live on and destroys our environment. This is not development. If anything, it is going backwards." He expected the fight for a more sustainable and fairer kind of development to last "until death". And he did indeed die while still actively fighting for his cause. He is survived by his partner and his son and daughter.
• Carlos Arguedas Mora, trade unionist, born 27 July 1948; died 31 December 2010
• This article was amended on 16 February. The plantation workers' trade union name was given as SITAP. This has been corrected.