Were Ecuadoran Peasants Poisoned During the War on Drugs?

A 15-year legal battle has been brewing over whether a U.S. security contractor should pay damages to some 2,000 Ecuadoran farmers who say they were poisoned when the U.S. and Colombian government doused them glyphosate, during their persistent yet largely unsuccessful coca-eradication campaign.

Since 1994, more than 7.8 million square miles of coca was sprayed with glyphosate that drifted south over the Colombia-Ecuador border.

The active ingredient in Monsanto’s weed killer Roundup, glyphosate is widely suspected of being carcinogenic.

Jury deliberations are finally underway to decide whether the Virginia-based defense contractor, DynCorp International, poisoned Ecuadoran farmers and should pay punitive damage because it acted with “an evil motive,” plaintiffs told a Washington, D.C., court Tuesday, according to Law 360.

The mostly peasant farmers in the case, represented by International Rights Advocates, say their families, animals and crops were collateral damage.

Only one farmer had the means to obtain a visa and travel to Washington to testify in person; the rest testified via video.

“This is a historic case,” said the plaintiffs’ attorney and director of International Rights Advocates, Terrence P. Collingsworth, per the Washington Post. “A jury will finally [decide whether] DynCorp aerially sprayed a toxic poison…on thousands of Ecuadoran farmers and killed their crops, their animals, and caused untold misery for the farmers and their families.”

In court filings and testimony, farmers said the spraying caused severe health problems in northern Ecuador, including the deaths of four infants and incidents of high fever, vomiting, diarrhea and skin problems.

Ecuadoran authorities, at one point, reported that spraying prompted at least 60 percent of farmers on the border to abandon their farms and stop planting most of their essential crops.

“The spraying was getting into the house and it was touching them…like rain. That’s how it was getting to my children,” said Laura Sanchez, whose farm was about a mile from the frontier, according to a summary of testimony in court files.

Others described clouds of pesticide making it impossible to see and sticking to their skin.

Attorneys for the Ecuadorans say DynCorp should be held liable for its role in these alleged abuses when it participated in Plan Colombia—the $10 billion U.S. counter-narcotics effort launched in the 1990s as part of the War on Drugs.

Plan Colombia, the U.S. government’s largest foreign policy initiative in South America, was created to combat drugs and contribute to peace, mainly through military means. The vast majority of the over $5 billion U.S. aid to Colombia has gone to the military and police, according to Amnesty International.

DynCorp, of course, says the peasants’ health problems were not caused by their glyphosate spray missions, and that they never sprayed close to the border of Ecuador.

Thankfully, with the support of current Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who received the Nobel Peace Prize last year, the Colombian government declared an end to spraying with glyphosate, in 2015, citing concerns of a cancer link.

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