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What is it about tropical fruits lately? First Bush trades nukes for Indian mangos, and now Chiquita is paying a $25m fine for funding a Columbian terrorist organization. I'm almost afraid to even ask what kind of trouble guavas are stirring up.

I feel a bit silly posting about bananas on the same day so many revelations in the Plame case came out. Also, I'd like to take this opportunity to say that I want to have Henry Waxman's babies. Who the hell needs reality TV when there are Congressional hearings to follow? But, alas, I think the bananas are important.

A previous diary by ReEnergizer talks a bit about the latest news in the world of bananas. I'd like to go into the history of Chiquita a little bit, since I'm uncomfortable with their cozy relationship with the Democrats under Clinton in addition to the bad behavior they are in trouble for now.

I receive a weekly newsletter called The Agribusiness Examiner which rounds up and emails out the week's food news. The most current edition included a commentary about Chiquita, which I assume the sender of the newsletter (A.V. Krebs) wrote, but I have no proof. For the background info on Chiquita, I'll be quoting from that commentary.

Chiquita International was previously known as United Brands and, before that, as United Fruit Company. A notable previous CEO was Carl H. Lindner Jr.

Utilizing the CIA and the U.S. Marines the company was able to establish a host of "banana republics" in the region throughout the 20th century.

Not only has the company maintained its historically cruel tradition in its treatment of its foreign workers, but efforts by ex-president Bill Clinton to express his gratitude for a generous Lindner campaign contribution has in recent years precipitated in all-out trade war between the European Union (EU) and the U.S., acting on behalf of Chiquita, over banana imports abroad.

According to a March 31, 1997 report by Michael Weisskoff in Time Magazine two years prior "Lindner wanted U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor to help him pry open European markets, which rely on various tariffs and trade barriers effectively to shut out Lindner's bananas. Though hundreds of companies ask Washington to investigate unfair trade practices, the U.S. Trade Representative accepts only about 14 cases each year. Even fewer are taken to Geneva for resolution by the World Trade Organization. And only rarely do such cases make the cut when hardly any U.S. jobs are at stake; Chiquita employs most of its 45,000 workers in Honduras and Guatemala. And yet Kantor took the case."

Did Chiquita buy off the Clinton administration? Well, at a first glance, you'd say "If so, then the Clintons' support came pretty cheap!" - for a total of $15,000 to the DNC during the 1996 campaign. But look again:

On April 12, 1996, the day after Kantor asked the WTO to examine Chiquita's grievance, Lindner and his top executives began funneling more than $500,000 to about two dozen states from Florida to California, campaign officials told Time."

As noted before, most of Chiquita's employees live in Honduras and Guatemala. The Honduran workers, which are mostly women (70%), have a history of striking - 40 times in the company's history. Obviously, Chiquita takes real good care of its workers, so it comes as no surprise that they wanted to protect them.

Specifically, Chiquita plead guilty this week to charges of paying $1.7mil from 1997 to 2004 to the "United Self-Defense Forces of Columbia," a group the U.S. identifies as a terrorist organization. As a result, Chiquita will pay a $25mil fine.

The $1.7mil went to "protect employees" according to Chiquita, which is also why they paid even more money (as early as 1989) to two other groups that were designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations in 1997. Chiquita claims that at least one of its employees in Colombia was killed. It sold off its operations in Columbia in 2004.

The charges make it clear that the government is trying to send a message to other multinational companies that it will prosecute them for doing business with terrorists, said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond School of Law who has written about the federal courts.

From the article "Chiquita International Pays Off Terrorist Groups" by Cliff Peale, Cincinnati Enquirer, March 14, 2007

Interesting thought, on the same week Halliburton relocated its headquarters to Dubai...

Hopefully the $25mil fine will catch companies' attention, but notice that no Chiquita execs were individually charge. No human being is going to jail or coughing up cash for his or her part in this.

Chiquita's PR spin?

"The payments made by the company were always motivated by our good-faith concern for the safety of our employees," Aguirre said in a statement late Wednesday. "Nevertheless, we recognized and acted upon our legal obligation to inform the DOJ of this admittedly difficult situation. The agreement reached with the Department of Justice today is in the best interests of the company."

From the article "Chiquita International Pays Off Terrorist Groups" by Cliff Peale, Cincinnati Enquirer, March 14, 2007

Originally posted to OrangeClouds115 on Fri Mar 16, 2007 at 04:52 PM PDT.

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