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Were Peasant Farmers Poisoned by the U.S. War on Drugs? A Jury Has the Case

The Washington Post

April 19, 2017

After a 15-year legal battle, a U.S. jury will begin deliberations Wednesday over whether a U.S. security contractor must pay damages to as many as 2,000 Ecuadoran farmers who say they were poisoned by the U.S. and Colombian governments’ years-long, coca-eradication campaign.

During a two-week trial in Washington that ended Tuesday, a lawsuit against McLean, Va.-based DynCorp probed one of the bitter legacies of America’s long war against Latin American cartels and its own insatiable drug appetite.

The mostly peasant farmers in the case, represented by International Rights Advocates, say their families, animals and crops were collateral damage in recklessly executed aerial spraying efforts using glyphosate, the active ingredient in the popular weed killer Roundup, when aircraft or clouds of fumigant drifted south over the Colombia-Ecuador border.

The human rights groups say the American corporation should be held liable for its role in alleged abuses by an element of Plan Colombia, a sweeping, $10 billion U.S. counternarcotics effort launched in the 1990s that became the government’s largest foreign policy initiative in South America and is credited for helping a democratic U.S. ally end a bloody civil war.

In a first test trial involving six farmers before U.S. District Judge Ellen S. Huvelle , the plaintiffs have suggested giving each farmer damages of $50,000 to $500,000, plus potential punitive damages.

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 plaintiffs attorney and International Rights Advocates Director Terrence P. Collingsworth. “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.”“For DynCorp to deny its role is for it to stand up and refuse — refuse — to take responsibility,” fellow lead counsel Theodore J. Leopold told the 10-person jury in closing arguments.

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