The Island of the Widows


Chichigalpa is a small community rarely visited by tourists. Located 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Managua, Nicaragua, it is home to the Ingenio San Antonio, where the sugar cane is industrially processed, and the National Liquor Company, where the famous Ron Flor the Caña is produced.
Chichigalpa copy

Although most of the land in this municipality is covered with abundant green reeds and manzanas of sugar cane fields, there lies a dark, sinister side to Chichigalpa. Nicknamed “The Island of the Widows”, 2,500-3,800 sugar cane workers have died within the past ten years. Of the 250 families living in Chichigalpa, more than 100 women have lost their husbands to chronic kidney failure, a disease that paralyses kidney function by preventing the body from eliminating waste and excess liquid from the blood.

This documentary was produced by La Isla Foundation whose goals are to facilitate research to identify the cause of the CKD epidemic, raise public awareness of this epidemic, and organize a public health intervention to support affected workers, as well as to prevent future generations from becoming ill.

Most of the widows have gone through the pain of watching their husbands, sons, and brothers die in a painful agonizingly slow process. If they are unable to find work to support their fatherless children, they take the machete and enter the cane fields bathed in chemicals that might have killed their husbands.

There is no cure for CKD. Presently, the research indicates the cause may be a result of the accumulation of chemicals from the aerial sprays seeping silently into their water supplies. No one knows for sure.

Below are several links to articles with information about the plight of the sugarcane workers in Nicaragua. If you would like to become involved, please visit the last link, La Isla Foundation. Let’s spread the word. With a concerned and informed international community, we can reverse the plight of the Island of the Widows.

Chronic Kidney Disease: ‘Silent Killer’ may have multiple triggers

In Nicaraguan sugarcane community, workers stare death in the face.

Mystery kidney disease decimates Central America sugarcane workers

Ed Kashi in Nicaragua

A Cycle of Death

La Isla Foundation

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10 thoughts on “The Island of the Widows

  1. At this point in our evolution we have come to know that workers come cheap in this industry and the profits are high. Until we understand that a life is precious and we are all connected, the status quo will remain. I hope the people in power can give back to the workers by assisting with research in order to reduce and one day prevent this deadly circumstance of our modern world.

    • Terry, thank you for your comment. It is such a mystery because no one knows for sure the cause of the chronic kidney failure. Some speculate that it could be severe chronic dehydration. I feel so helpless, thus I wanted to expose this crisis. I do know that the Pellas family owns the Flor de Cana rum factories. They are the wealthiest people in Nicaragua. They contribute greatly to the health of their workers and research. Thanks for your interest.

  2. As I understand it, studies suggest there are several reasons for the epidemic number of deaths among sugar cane workers. Pesticide poisoning could certainly be a major part. But most scientists have leaned toward the incredible heat stress and dehydration faced by workers in the field up to 12 hours daily. It literally burns out their kidneys.
    Obviously this could be prevented by considerate, responsible management. Even worse are reports that workers who are known to be sick are often let go in order to avoid required health benefits and potential embarrassment to employers. Workers thus often feel they must avoid medical attention until it is too late and they literally have worked themselves to death.
    It is a truly tragic situation that has prompted some to urge a boycott of Flor de Cana and other employers who are part of the sugar cane worker problem. The counter argument is that a serious blow to FDC might itself result in a shock wave to the whole fragile Nicaraguan economy. Hard to tell how much hardship or even deaths might result from that impact.

    • Jon, you are right. I wrote a post, I think about 6 mo. ago, about Oral Rehydration Therapy. At that time, studies suggested that the major cause was severe dehydration. But, it could be a combination of environmental issues..lack of water, pesticide poisoning, lack of sanitary conditions of the workers…it goes on and on.
      The plight of the sugarcane workers is deplorable. I feel so helpless in situations like this. If there was a boycott of FDC, maybe it would only last long enough to spread the word? I don’t know. Something needs to be done. So horrible..so tragic for these families.

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