Over 2,000 Ecuadorean farmers went to trial against U.S. defense contractor DynCorp on Monday over claims that the company unlawfully invaded Ecuador in 2000 and sprayed farms with toxic chemicals.
International Rights Advocates, a small human rights group representing the farmers in court, hailed the trial as a positive step forward. The organization has been trying to take DynCorp to court since 2001, despite numerous attempts by the multinational giant to dismiss the case.
The Ecuadorean farmers are now sharing testimony before a jury at the U.S. District Court of Washington, D.C.
“This is an historic case — a finding against DynCorp will bring justice to the Ecuadorean farmers who have been waiting a long time to have their day in court,” International Rights Advocates Executive Director Terry Collingsworth said in a statement. Collingsworth is also the counsel for the Plaintiffs.
“A jury will finally get the chance to hear the evidence that DynCorp aerially sprayed a toxic poison that was designed to kill hardy coca plants on thousands of Ecuadorian farms and killed their crops, their animals and caused untold misery for the farmers and their families.”
For the Ecuadorean farmers and their supporters, the trial is long overdue.
In 2000, former U.S. President Bill Clinton awarded US$1 billion in military aid to then-Colombian President Andres Pastrana, launching counterinsurgency and counternarcotic program known as Plan Colombia. The military campaign, allegedly intended to combat drug traffickers but that ramped up attacks on leftist guerillas and their suspected sympathizers — including poor rural communities — ushered in a wave of mass violence against campesinos and human rights activists that continues today.
Under Plan Colombia, the country also ramped up a controversial aerial fumigation program aimed at wiping out coca crops with overhead spraying of glyphosate, a herbicide — better known by its Monsanto branded name Roundup — which the World Health Organization has said is "probably carcinogenic."
That’s where DynCorp comes in.
The defense contractor was hired as part of Plan Colombia to carry out aerial spraying of Colombian farms to eliminate coca crops, which can be used to produce cocaine. The plaintiffs claim, however, that DynCorp illegally entered northern Ecuador, spraying toxic glyphosate that caused serious damage to local crops, animals and the health of residents.
Since then, the company has denied responsibility for these actions. But experts say otherwise.
“In Ecuador, I was provided with credible, reliable testimony that the aerial spraying of glyphosate along the Colombia-Ecuador border may damage the physical health of people living in Ecuador,” Paul Hunt, former U.N. special rapporteur on the Right to Health, told reporters in 2007.
“I was reliably informed that military helicopters sometimes accompany the aerial spraying and the entire experience can be terrifying, especially for children, even when the helicopters remain in Colombian airspace.”
DynCorp did not respond to teleSUR's requests for comments.
International Rights Advocates is currently raising funds for finance travel expenses for plaintiffs and witnesses sharing testimony in court.