WASHINGTON - Ecuadorian Indians are taking legal
action in federal court here, charging that a U.S. company
contracted to carry out fumigation of illicit crops in
neighbouring Colombia recklessly sprayed their homes and farms,
causing illnesses and deaths, and destroying crops.
U.S.-based attorneys representing 10,000 individuals living in the
Amazon rainforest near the border with Colombia filed a class
action complaint against Virginia-based DynCorp Corporation in
federal court here Sep. 11.
A DynCorp spokesperson said the company has not been notified
about the complaint and declined to comment further.
The legal complaint is the latest in a series of actions brought
under the Alien Tort Claims Act, which allows foreign citizens to
sue U.S. companies in courts here over acts committed abroad.
''The spraying of a toxic herbicide over people and land is a
stupid and reckless action,'' said Terry Collingsworth of the
International Labour Rights Fund here, one of the lead counsels in
In addition to charging DynCorp with violating the Alien Tort
Claims Act, the complaint alleges the company also breached the
U.S. Torture Victim Protection Act, among others. It seeks
millions of dollars in compensation and an immediate halt to
spraying that allegedly affects Ecuador.
The complaint also calls into question 'Plan Colombia', the U.S.-
funded strategy to combat narcotics launched last year by
Colombian President Andres Pastrana.
Plan Colombia involves 7.5 billion dollars for social and economic
development and 1.3 billion dollars, pledged by the United States,
mostly for military equipment and training, and aerial fumigation
of illicit coca, marijuana, and poppy crops.
Colombian politicians and officials have said that although they
favour eradicating narcotics crops, a new strategy is needed
because fumigation with the herbicide glyphosate is causing
illnesses, destroying pastures and food crops, poisoning
livestock, and displacing thousands of small farmers.
In March and July, Colombian legislators and governors came here
and told reporters that fumigation was not hurting the narcotics
industry but severely harming poor farming families. They said
planes spraying the crops blanket entire communities with the
herbicide and cause poor farmers to suffer illnesses and skin
Indigenous leaders in Colombia also have voiced opposition to the
Last year, Emperatriz Cahuache, president of the Organisation of
Indigenous Peoples of the Colombian Amazon, came to Washington and
showed reporters a map illustrating how the areas of coca and
marijuana cultivation overlaps with indigenous territories and the
areas that have been fumigated.
''These fumigations are contaminating the Amazon and destroying
the forest,'' said Cahuache.
Proponents of Plan Colombia said glyphosate, marketed by the U.S.-
based Monsanto company under the trade name 'Roundup', is as safe
as salt. Critics countered that directions on glyphosate labels
warn users not to allow the product to come into contact with
people or water sources.
The lawsuit against DynCorp is the second time that indigenous
communities in the Ecuadorian Amazon have used the Alien Tort
Claims Act to sue a U.S. company in U.S. court for allegedly
endangering human health and destroying crops.
In 1993, a group of Ecuadorian indigenous people filed a class
action suit against the Texaco oil company, charging that during
two decades of drilling in the Amazon, it dumped more than 3,000
gallons of crude oil into the rainforest.
The plaintiffs claimed that the company ignored oil industry
standards and, instead of re-injecting the waste back into the
ground, dumped a toxic cocktail of chemicals into unlined pits
that eventually leached into streams and rivers.
Their lawsuit is still pending in federal court in New York.
Cristobal Bonifaz, a Massachusetts-based attorney originally from
Ecuador, is one of the lead attorneys in the case against Texaco.
He is also a lead counsel representing Ecuadorians in the new
action against DynCorp.
Bonifaz said he became aware of the alleged fumigation in Ecuador
after communication with his clients in the lawsuit against the
''In the same region where Texaco devastated the environment and
caused untold suffering to the people of the rainforest, a new
enemy now comes from the air, poisoning the people, killing their
crops, and destroying their land,'' said Bonifaz.
Copyright 2001 IPS