Agent Orange A handout for the victims of the biggest ecocide in the history of humanity

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Temps de lecture : 4 minutes  

On August 10, 2010, it will be 50 years since the United States spread the first chemical agent containing dioxin over Vietnamese forests and crops. This was when so-called “rainbow” defoliants (Agents Orange, White, Blue, Pink, Green and Red…) started being used. The army’s aim: to destroy the vegetation cover sheltering the Vietnamese fighters and starve resistance and the population.

An action plan to eliminate the after effects of Agent Orange in Vietnam has just been published (link: Aspen Institute). This plan proposed by a US-Vietnam dialogue group (made up of 10 personalities from each country: citizens, scientists and elected representatives) sponsored by the Ford Foundation, recommended that the USA pay Vietnam 30 million dollars a year for 10 years. I am happy about this initiative which highlights the need for a fresh start, 35 years after the end of the war but it has to be considered in relation to the United States’ undertaking in January 1973. Indeed, article 21 of the Paris Peace Accords signed by the two belligerent nations included 5 billion dollars in war compensation for Vietnam (not to mention Laos and Cambodia)… But the Vietnamese did not receive any of the compensation they had been promised: on the contrary, an economic embargo was put on them for almost 20 years!

The media (see newspaper article in Le Monde , June 16) which was fascinated by the 300 million dollar figure, showed absolutely no discernment. Firstly, it gave the impression that the decision to allocate this sum had been ratified by the American government. However, this was not the case. Because even if the 20-page document stipulated that a third of the funds would be used for the decontamination of dioxin in the ground and the remaining two thirds would be used to build structures and set up medical help for the Vietnamese victims, it was only a declaration of good intentions: it did not explicitly state who the debtors would be and what role NGOs could play.

Also, this recommendation which was expressed by an organisation with no decision-making or financial power, has to be viewed in relation to the declaration made by the vice-president of the Vietnamese National Assembly: one week earlier, Mrs Tong Thi Phong announced that there were currently 4 million victims who had been contaminated by Agent Orange. It doesn’t take long to work out that this offer only grants each victim 5 dollars a year ! How can such a figure allow them access to intensive medical treatment or psychological and material aid ?

The dialogue group’s wish is positive as it multiplies the previous administration’s financial commitments by 100. However, the US Department of Veterans Affairs announced supplemental funding of over 13 billion dollars for the hundreds of thousands of American veterans, who weren’t sufficiently taken care of, in 2010 alone. 300 million dollars over 10 years therefore seems unfathomably obscene considering the millions of Vietnamese people who were infected.

At the end of June, I found out that as part of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the UN was putting 5 million dollars towards the decontamination of Bien Hoa, a former American base – one of the 28 main « hot spots » that require urgent action – whereas the Ford Foundation estimated that it would cost 60 million dollars to decontaminate the three bases. During my speech to the UN to obtain « urgent, substantial and adapted aid » from them for the Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange and the decontamination of their soil, I reminded them that there were 11 « Peace Villages » in Vietnam that cater for the needs of the victims of Agent Orange. However, 1 000 (and perhaps even double that number depending on the capacity) were needed for the children alone! Even if the promise of aid from the main international institution constitutes a first form of worldwide recognition of this environmental and human disaster, I must denounce the lowness of this allocation of funds. I also want to denounce the indignity in the fact that neither Dow Chemical nor Monsanto* (nor any other American chemical company that made the poison) have any intention of paying the Vietnamese victims anything – even though they reached an out-of-court settlement in 1984 with the Associations of American Veterans for 180 million dollars (this allowed them to get off very lightly and avoid a trial).

The will to destroy inland tropical forests, the semi-flooded forests of the Mekong delta, coastal mangroves as well as crops on a permanent basis resulted in a crime that remained nameless until now: ecocide. This chemical war, the greatest in the history of humanity, remains virtually unknown in spite of its immense impact. The domino effect of the devastation of all vegetation is Dantean, firstly, for the plant kingdom itself, of course, but also for the animal kingdom to which Man belongs, and the soil.

Indeed, a minimum of 72 million litres of the chemical agents were dumped over almost 3 million hectares in Vietnam … This represents about 300 kilos of the dioxin’s most toxic form. However, the logic of repeated spreading over the same surfaces, sometimes up to 10 times, actually means that the real volume is probably closer to 350 million litres ! The dioxin enters organisms through any form of contact, inhalation and especially through ingestion (it thus works its way up the food chain). It is liposoluble, and fixes itself in fatty tissue through bioaccumulation, and has almost no way of escaping, except semen in men (resulting in teratogenic effects in newborn babies) and breast milk in women (which poisons the infant).

Before it was even used, scientists working for the producers had clearly identified the secondary effects of this poison. And yet, the law has still not taken the principle of intentionality that it usually holds so dear into account. Whilst you are reading these words, the victims of Agent Orange keep dying, not only in Vietnam but also in the United States, in all the countries whose citizens fought this colonial war and in territories where trials took place and where the product was stored …

Others have just been born. These victims need everyone’s support, especially in Vietnam. Now !

Agent Orange une aumône pour les victimes du plus grand écocide de l’histoire de l’humanité

byr André Bouny

text courtesy of the author

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