Although valley after valley of once-lush rainforest is brown and dead, and Colombian roads are dotted with abandoned homes, US drug warriors still maintain that the sprays are harmless to humans.
Ecuadorian farmers near Colombia’s southern border lost several children, along with food crops and livestock, when the poison sprays wandered over their homes in the winter of 2001. Seeking justice for their dead babies, they launched a complaint against DynCorp, the giant corporation whose pilots fly the planes.
In the politically turbulent Ecuadorian border region, where fervent public demonstrations against oil companies are frequently broken by police, the farmers normally would have gone unheard. But Terry Collingsworth, a courageous and skilled American attorney with the International Labor Rights Fund, took up their cause.
Collingsworth admits that the Ecuadorians’ case is new ground for him: he started out as an international labor lawyer. One of his cases had him working with UNICEF, rescuing children from Bangladesh garment factories and putting them into schools. In another case, he represented Burmese citizens who’d escaped forced labor camps where the military had held them, at gunpoint, to build an oil pipeline.
In Ecuador, Collingsworth’s work exposed the full scope of the farmers’ tragedy and won the support of the Ecuadorian government in seeking compensation from DynCorp.
Children and song birds die
After DynCorp’s sprays, Ecuadorian corn, coffee, and yucca plantations were destroyed, whole townships fell sick with vomiting, headaches, traveling pains, high fevers, intestinal bleeding and festering skin blisters. Chickens and domesticated birds died after developing hideous growths, and several innocent children lost their lives. Local hospitals were filled with DynCorp’s victims.
One of Collingsworth’s clients, Bethy San Martin, was pregnant when the sprays hit her home. According to court documents, “she suffered from heavy coughing, vomiting and diarrhea after the fumigation. Her child was born with serious deformities, constant vomiting, fever, coughing, testicular inflammation and eventually died.”
Two other pregnant mothers also gave birth to children with seriously compromised health, one with bleeding intestines and another with neurological disorders.
According to local indigenous leader Salvador Quishpe, at least three other Ecuadorian children and one adult were also killed by the sprays.
An independent investigation by Ecological Action, an environmental group, found the sprays had caused serious health problems in over 90% of Ecuadorian farmers living within six miles of the Colombian border ? a total of about 10,000 people.
In an exclusive interview, Terry Collingsworth told Cannabis Culture the inside details of how DynCorp plays ball with high-ranking US officials to disguise the slaughter of innocents as patriotism.
Cannabis Culture: What was it like for Ecuadorian villagers when DynCorp’s planes swooped in to spray Roundup Ultra?
Collingsworth: It’s a very poor area, but it is also agriculturally rich. These folks are leading pretty simple lives, don’t have much contact with the outside world, and all of a sudden these airplanes show up and start spraying them with poison. They have these little open-air huts, grass huts. It’s not like you could run indoors and hope your air conditioning filter would catch this stuff. Mostly they are outside working or playing and when the spraying happens, it happens fast.
I know that one family who lost a child are still trying to get their farm in order and get on with life. They haven’t been sprayed recently, but they are struggling like everyone else and they have the added tragedy of losing a child.
They took her to a clinic. Despite medical attention, it was a lingering, terrible death, because they couldn’t really administer any medication. Even if they had the best doctors in the world, there isn’t much you can do once the spray has been inhaled.
Why did DynCorp do this?
We mention a theory in our complaint that DynCorp is directly spraying the Ecuadorian corridor because several oil companies are interested in the area and DynCorp is doing them a defoliation favor.
A lot of the areas that they are spraying are not places where there is cocaine production, but Texaco or Occidental happen to have a plan for an oil pipeline route. One of their concerns is that if the area is heavily forested, they won’t be able to police it, and someone will blow up their pipelines.
We still don’t know for sure what the purpose of the spaying was there, but it is clear there is some reason, since they are prohibited from doing it.
How can DynCorp hope to wash their hands of Ecuadorian lives?
To them the people in Ecuador are expendable. A bunch of ignorant peasants. If they get hurt, it is worth it because the US is involved in the war on drugs.
Didn’t DynCorp accuse you of being a terrorist for helping the Ecuadorian farmers sue the corporation? (see below, Who’s the terrorist?)
Something to that effect. First, Rand Beers, the assistant secretary for the Bureau of International Narcotics, said that there might be an Al Qaeda connection to the FARC [Colombian revolutionaries]. He made the declaration soon after the court case was filed, coincidentally, on September 11, 2001. When the hysteria of the war on terror was quite high, he sought to associate us with terrorism.
How does that connect with your case?
Well, afterward, the president and CEO of DynCorp, Frank Lombardy, wrote a letter to my board of directors asking if they knew my lawsuit had been filed and if we were seeking to protect drug dealers and shelter terrorists in Colombia. We are absolutely certain that 100 percent of our folks are peace-loving farmers.
Our president, Bishop Jesse DeWitt, wrote a letter back, saying that the war on drugs should acknowledge that it is terrorism to spray innocent people from the air.
Shortly thereafter, Rand Beers signed a document saying that the Ecuadorian peasants were likely involved with Colombian terrorists and coca traffickers.
Didn’t Beers later admit that he hadn’t even read the document before signing it?
This is true. Beers signed a declaration prepared by DynCorp’s lawyers. They wrote what they wanted him to say and he signed it. When I got the chance to take his deposition and cross-examine him, I found that he was incredibly ignorant of the basic facts that supported his declaration. He had signed something without personal knowledge about its contents. He also later had to formally retract the implication that the Al Qaeda had somehow been implicated in Colombia after he swore on oath that it was true.
What could motivate a high-ranking American official like Rand Beers to sign a document that blindly points the finger of terrorism at simple Ecuadorian farmers?
Beers is protecting his employees. If the program goes down it is his program. He, ultimately, is the public official who would be held responsible if we can prove that DynCorp is intentionally poisoning people. It would not be a good thing for him.
DynCorp claimed that your case would seriously endanger Plan Columbia, the multi-billion dollar US-sponsored drug war against FARC revolutionaries. They said you were a traitor against your own country’s foreign policy. Are you?
Absolutely not. Plan Columbia, as the name implies, only allows DynCorp to spray in Colombia. There is an informal agreement that DynCorp should not spray within six kilometers of the Ecuadorian border because of wind drift. We argue that we are specifically upholding the terms of Plan Columbia in this lawsuit, because DynCorp is unauthorized to spray in Ecuador.
If we could [challenge Plan Columbia]? and we certainly would like to ? then we would be suing on behalf of Colombians. However, because Plan Columbia is, however foolishly, a plan approved by Congress and signed by the president, we are essentially precluded from challenging it in court.
How accurate are DynCorp’s pilots? Is it important for them to spray no closer than six kilometers from the Ecuadorian border?
There are a couple of funny stories. (The late) Senator Paul Wellstone, a principled opponent of Plan Columbia, was down there on a trip, and DynCorp put on a show for him, saying they use the latest technical and computer equipment, so they know exactly where they are spaying. During their demonstration they sprayed him. He was not amused.
The US government claims the sprays are harmless to people.
The commercial version [of DynCorp’s spray]is Roundup, but Roundup is a much weaker version, and still its label says ‘caution, do not spray people, animals or crops… other than those you intend to kill.’
We have a medical expert who has examined the Ecuadorians, and we are going to prove what any fool could tell you: this stuff will hurt you! If the Ecuadorian people who are not supposed to be targets of the spraying are experiencing a high degree of reaction, then we can imagine that the real targets are having at least the same level of impact.
Once we prove that it hurts people in Ecuador, it is going to be very difficult to keep spraying in Colombia.
What are you asking for as a settlement?
First, an injunction to prevent DynCorp from further spraying that would possibly affect people in Ecuador.
Second we are going to seek money damages for the losses people have suffered to date. I expect it will be very large, in the hundreds of millions of dollars. It could sink them, or have a significant effect on their viability. The entire leadership of the corporation will hopefully be scrutinized.
We want the same politicians who are skeptical about corporate accounting to take an interest in other corporate crimes. I count accounting scandals as minor compared to poisoning whole villages full of people.
Who’s the terrorist?
On November 27, 2001, DynCorp’s lawyers dropped a document on the desk of Rand Beers, the US Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics, which they hoped would end Collingsworth’s case against them. The document speculated a connection between Colombian terrorists and the Ecuadorian farmers suing DynCorp. When he laid his pen to paper, Beers hadn’t even read the document he was signing, which stated:
“It should be noted that the putative class [the group of Ecuadorians sprayed by DynCorp]is drawn from a region [Northern Ecuador] adjacent to one largely controlled by drug traffickers and international terrorists [Colombia]. The possibility that plaintiffs have been intimidated or co-opted by those hostile forces should not be overlooked.”
Salvador Quishpe ? an indigenous leader in the Ecuadorian regions hit by DynCorp’s spray campaign ? was infuriated by Beer’s statement, calling it “insulting to our people, and patently false,” adding that it “represents the worst of colonial patronizing.”
“It is as if Mr Beers believes that my people deserve to be poisoned because of who we are or where we live, or that harm to us is an acceptable cost to Mr Beers in his war on drugs.” continued Quishpe. “We have not consented to be poisoned from the air.”
Meanwhile, DynCorp’s CEO Paul Lombardi sent a letter to United Methodist Bishop Jesse DeWitt, president of the International Labor Rights Fund, the organization that employed lawyer Terry Collingsworth, asking Bishop DeWitt if he understood that Collingsworth’s lawsuit would protect terrorists. Bishop DeWitt responded:
“If there is any further spraying done that causes similar harm, we will amend the legal complaint and name you and other DynCorp decision-makers as defendants in your personal capacities, and will charge you with knowingly conducting aerial attacks on innocent people. Again, based on well-established principles of international law, that would be terrorism.”
DynCorp: drug war killers for hire
America’s premiere drug war mercenaries accused of murder, torture and rape.
Many people believe the US military is an institution of patriotism, a revolutionary army fighting as the vanguard of democracy and liberty. Buried within this euphoric national delusion is the drug war ? a bloodbath in which patriotism is exposed as colonialism, and the torch of liberty has become a raging inferno of violence and death.
Where idealistic, freedom-loving men once fought and died for their liberty, now stalks DynCorp, a private army of mercenaries called in by the US government to do their dirty work when the military can’t get directly involved.
Now Dyncorp employees working in a number of foreign countries stand accused of abusing the locals, using children as sex-slaves, trafficking in illegal weapons and other abuses of their power.
DynCorp was founded in 1946, by US military pilots returning from World War II. Originally an air-shipping company called California Eastern Airways, the company was immediately involved in contracting to the US government, helping with the military airlift for the Korean War.
The company expanded steadily during the 1950’s, moving into export sales of commercial aircraft, defense and aerospace engineering, commercial electronics and data management.
In 1961 the company was renamed “Dynalectron Corporation” and during the next 25 years made a series of 33 major acquisitions, expanding into energy services, construction, and extended government contracts.
By 1986, Dynalectron Corporation was one of the largest defense contractors and independent aviation service companies in the United States. They changed their name to DynCorp the next year.
During the 1990’s, DynCorp bought out a dozen more companies, including many in the areas of information technology. The company now has over 23,000 employees and major contracts with more than 40 US federal agencies, including the departments of Defense, State, Agriculture, Energy, and Justice, as well as the Center for Disease Control, NASA, the Defense Information Systems Agency, the FBI, the DEA, and the Bureau of Prisons.
Multinational secret army
DynCorp has become the primary agent for the US government to conduct quasi-military operations in other nations without the direct involvement of the American armed forces.
Many thousands of DynCorp agents worked for the US government during conflicts in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq, plus most recently in Colombia and Afghanistan.
DynCorp receives about $1 billion from the Pentagon each year, making up about half of its total annual revenues. DynCorp is also poised to sign a $1 billion contract to work for the UK government, creating further infrastructure for a swiftly congealing multinational army answerable to no single government.
As Myles Frechette, the former US Ambassador to Colombia once told the press: “It’s very handy to have an outfit not part of the US armed forces, obviously. If somebody gets killed or whatever, you can say it’s not [by]a member of the armed forces.”1
Drug war is a DynCorp specialty; they play an integral part in the American government’s international anti-drug operations. DynCorp employees fly high-tech crop-dusters over Colombian coca, poppy, and marijuana fields, delivering a defoliating payload of Roundup Ultra, a deadly Monsanto product, to kill the happiness-inducing crops.
DynCorp brags that it handles worldwide air operations for the US Department of State’s International Narcotics and Law Enforcement program, which would include spying out new cannabis, coca and opium plantations in foreign countries, notably in Canada, the Caribbean, and a host of Central and South American nations.
DynCorp and Enron
Herbert Winokur is one of DynCorp’s most notorious shareholders. The former chair of Enron’s finance committee, he resigned in scandal when it was discovered that Enron was involved in one of the biggest corporate accounting frauds of all time, a shock that blasted the stock market and prompted President Bush to call for new accounting standards and laws for all US firms.
Winokur’s involvement with Enron began in 1986, while from 1989 to 1997, Winokur was DynCorp’s chairman of the board, and he still remains chair of DynCorp’s executive committee. Winokur personally owns 3.5% of the massive corporation, and manages investments in a larger, undisclosed, amount.
For over a decade, Winokur simultaneously held high-level executive positions at Enron and DynCorp, leading to speculation about how these organizations may have served each other on the sly.
Drug war investigators like the Organization Geopolitical Drugwatch and lawyer Terry Collingsworth have found that US drug war activity in South America targets oil-rich communities, relieving them of inhabitants and opening them to oil corporations.
Enron owned vast oil holdings in Colombia, Bolivia, Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina that are all currently the target of exhaustive probes by the US Congress. These same countries are sprayed and drug war policed by DynCorp. Are DynCorp’s spraying operations part of a process to clear inhabitants from the land for further oil acquisition? The evidence against Winokur points to a need for a more thorough examination of his activities.
Catherine Austin Fitts, former Assistant Secretary for the White House’s Department of Housing and Urban Development, has followed Winokur’s career long enough to dub him “The Cancer Man.” Fitts’ investigation of Winokur turned up some astonishing facts. When Enron collapsed, for example, Winokur blamed it on his auditor, Arthur Anderson, who Winokur claimed had mislead him and the board of Enron.
While pointing the finger at Anderson, said Fitts, Winokur shuffled Enron dollars to a Swiss bank account where they are now safely protected from US congressional investigators. Finally, Fitts revealed that both Winokur and Anderson still work for DynCorp.
Will US investigators ever look into DynCorp’s own accounting methods, or is the company too well protected by friends in Congress? Despite the fall of Enron, there’s been no media investigation of the Enron/DynCorp connection.
DynCorp’s sex slaves
Average Americans would recoil in horror and disgust at the activities of DynCorp’s employees overseas, say the company’s harshest accusers. In fact, that’s exactly what Ben Johnston did when he got to Bosnia in 1999 as part of a DynCorp team helping the US military during the Kosovo crisis. According to Johnston, “the vast majority of DynCorp employees” were purchasing women and children, and forcing them to engage in perverse sexual acts.
In a January 14, 2002 interview with the reputable weekly newsmagazine Insight, a sister publication of The Washington Times, Johnston recalled the one DynCorp employee who “weighed 400 pounds and would stick cheeseburgers in his pockets and eat them while he worked… and owned a girl who couldn’t have been more than 14 years old.”
When Johnston tried to alert his supervisor, he was fired for bringing “ill-repute” upon the company and the US military, and forced into protective custody by the US Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID). Later, said Johnston, he learned that the company supervisor he filed the complaint with had been videotaped raping a young girl who screamed “no! no!” and that the CID was holding the tape as “evidence.”
The CID eventually decided that DynCorp employees were immune from prosecution under Bosnian Law, and that US federal charges wouldn’t apply. Red-handed DynCorp employees got off scott free.
Johnston told Cannabis Culture that the apathetic response from DynCorp execs and the CID made him sick and shook his faith in America.
“It was Sodom and Gomorrha… the way Americans act overseas,” he said. “Normally, I’m red, white and blue. I talk the best about our country and I love it with all my heart. But there is nothing good you can say about that over there. My wife went from thinking Americans saved the world, which we did, but it turns out a few years later [the world]would do anything to get rid of Americans. The employees over there are the worst diplomats we could want.”
DynCorp settled out of court with Johnston for an undisclosed amount after he sued the company for wrongful dismissal. During his investigation, Johnston’s lawyer, Kevin Glasheen, discovered that five DynCorp employees had been investigated by Bosnian police in 1999 for buying sex slaves.
Another lawsuit, brought against DynCorp by former UN policewoman Katherine Borkovik, alleges that DynCorp employees and UN cops engaged in forced prostitution and child sex slavery while in Bosnia. DynCorp is currently appealing the case.
1. DynCorp In Colombia: Outsourcing the Drug War. Jeremy Bigwood. www.CorpWatch.org. May 23, 2001