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Chiquita Brands International was ordered to pay a $25 million dollar fine after a guilty plea marked the first time that an American-based multinational has publicly admitted to making illegal payments to a terrorist organization.  

Chiquita began making protection payments in the 1990s to the left-wing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, better known by the Spanish-language acronym FARC. But when the AUC took over areas of the country where the company had large banana plantations, Chiquita switched as well -- making more than 100 payments to the right-wing paramilitary organization between 1997 and 2004.

There is less focus on the fact that the judgment clears executives of any further charges. Even less focus on an accusation that escalates Chiquita from extortion to murder;

In 2001, a Banadex ship was used to unload 3,000 rifles and thousands of rounds of ammunition for the paramilitaries, which were officially listed as a "terrorist organization" by the U.S. government two months earlier.

Chiquita executives feel their conscience is clear and their debt has been paid because they came forth voluntarily and disclosed they were supporting an organization that has been on the U.S. Terrorist watch list since 2001. While this is a morally reprehensible act that supported and financed the murder of hundreds of innocent Columbians, Chiquita claims their hands was forced as a result of trying to operate in a corrupt nation.  According to a May 2 story in Time, Terrorism and Bananas in Colombia;

Chiquita spokesman Michael Mitchell said that the company had felt obliged to make the payments to protect its employees. "We believe they saved people's lives," he said. However, during the time Chiquita was making the payments, thousands of people across Colombia died at the hands of the AUC, which expanded its power. In the banana belt alone between 1997 and 2004, right-wing paramilitaries are blamed for 22 massacres in which 137 people were killed, according to government figures.

Human rights campaigners also complain that the U.S. has not aggressively pursued U.S. financiers of the Colombian paramilitary groups on its own list of terrorist organizations. "It wasn't like this was an aggressive investigation," said Kovalik. Chiquita came forward with information about the payments, and the case "sort of fell in the lap of the Justice Department so they had to do something," he said.

A corporation with an annual revenue of about $4.5 billion worldwide, proposed a $25-million fine and Chiquita officials are very pleased with Justice Lamberth’s decision to accept the plea agreement.

Apparently the corrupt nation in question is having trouble understanding the time honored American tradition of settling murders by rich people with a civil penalty and they are interested in extraditing these Chiquita executives to face criminal charges.  

Carlos Holguin, Colombia's justice and interior minister, felt differently, according to a Colombian radio report last week. The plea agreement "is not worthy of U.S. justice, because it gives the idea that impunity can be bought for a few million dollars," he told Bogota's Radio Caracol on Wednesday.

But the books are closed and a part of the settlement is that the court won’t even reveal the names of the parties responsible for so many innocent Columbians dying a violent death.

Prior to the decision an extensive study of the Chiquita Death Squads named some of those Chiquita executives and they deserve mention.  

Among those being investigated are former Chiquita chief executive Cyrus Freidheim Jr. (now C.E.O. of Sun-Times Media Group) and former Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Roderick Hills, who served on Chiquita’s board and is married to Carla Hills, who served as the United States trade representative under President George H.W. Bush. (Freidheim and Hills declined to discuss the case.) In addition, Colombia’s attorney general, Mario Iguarán, has vowed to extradite Chiquita officials who authorized the payments to face charges in Colombia. "This was a criminal relationship," Iguarán has said, that led to "the bloody pacification of Urabá."

And even less mention is given to the accusations that Chiquita’s "excruciating dilemma," may have a great deal to do with suppressing workers’ rights. Colombia's attorney general, Mario Iguarán wants to dig deeper and get to the truth;

"The relationship was not one of the extortionist and the extorted but a criminal relationship," said Iguarán referring to the Chiquita plea agreement in late March.

The effort to combat these practices in U.S. courts began in the mid-1990s. Dan Kovalik, a human rights lawyer working in Pittsburgh, has led several high-profile lawsuits against American multinationals operating in Latin America. He estimates that there are currently some 24 lawsuits facing U.S. corporations with operations across the world, from Coca-Cola in Colombia and Daimler-Chrysler in Argentina to ExxonMobil in Indonesia and Chevron in Nigeria.

"During the last decade there's been a growing awareness of the globalization of capital and the ill-effects it brings to workers and the environment, prompting a string of lawsuits against American multinationals," said Kovalik. "In the case of Colombia, the prosecution of U.S. multinationals has also come about due to a close working partnership between U.S. labor unions and Colombian trade unions who are now speaking out about human rights abuses committed against their union members."

Most of the lawsuits have been filed under the Alien Torture Statute, a law allowing foreigners, usually the families of victims, to bring suits alleging violations of international human rights against American companies operating abroad in U.S. courts.

But for Chiquita the case is closed. With prosecution agreeing not to name or prosecute the executives, there will be no further investigation. With Columbia standing as the largest recipient of U.S. aid in the Western Hemisphere, Mario Iguarán's inquiries will probably go nowhere.

There is this pertinent fact from Amnesty International, six out of every 10 trade unionists murdered in the world are Colombian.

There is some good news. The United Steelworkers’ may have already failed in trying to bring the Drummond Death Squads to justice but there are other cases to fight and the Democratic majority has been sympathetic to this mistreatment. Back in July there were investigative hearings into that company;

Witnesses ranging from a former Colombian military officer to an American human rights expert testified before Congress today that paramilitary groups are murdering trade unionists in Colombia at a rate unparalleled in the world and on the dime of multinational corporations based in the United States.

Francisco Ramirez Cuellar, president of Sintraminercol, the Colombian mine workers union, and author of, "The Profits of Extermination, How U.S. Corporate Power is Destroying Colombia," told the Congressmen there is proof that Drummond Ltd., the Colombian subsidiary of Alabama-based Drummond Co., Inc., paid paramilitaries to kill three union officials at Drummond. And, he said, several other American companies, including Ohio-based Chiquita Brands International, have been involved in similar practices.

Dan Kovalik, a United Steelworkers’ lawyer who has investigated paramilitaries since 2001, promised to provide the Congressmen with affidavits from witnesses testifying to the connections between Drummond Ltd. money, paramilitaries and the murder of three trade unionists employed by Drummond.

But what a desperate situation.  We need trade unions to force investigations for justice in this nation and the courts are protecting big American companies that seem to be international terrorist organizations themselves.

Originally posted to Eddie C on Tue Sep 18, 2007 at 01:53 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (20+ / 0-)

    International Terrorism has a different definition when corporate America is making money.

    •  I Wish I Could Comment Extensively (6+ / 0-)

      but there's too close an overlap with some things I work on at the office.  Confidentiality, and all that kind of stuff . . .

      But let me just add that Chiquita's liability problems are far, far from over.  After the initial agreement regarding the fine/penalty was announced several months ago, multiple lawsuits were commenced against Chiquita Brands International under the Alien Tort Statute ("ATS").

      The first complaint, on behalf of at least 144 "John Doe" plaintiffs, was filed on June 7 in D.C. District Court.  A second suit (sorry, I don't have a handy link, but the allegations are almost the same) was filed about a week later in the Southern District of Florida, and a third, class action complaint in the District of New Jersey was announced in mid-July (it is unclear whether this last one had actually yet been filed).  Chiquita is seeking to have all the cases transferred to D.C. under the first-filed doctrine.  The company is scheduled to formally respond to the D.C. complaint on October 26.

      Considering that in other ATS cases, there isn't any documentation that the company has admitted to various violations, the litigation against Chiquita is almost certain to flow far more smoothly than other contested lawsuits, including the recently concluded suit against Drummond in Alabama (which is currently under appeal to the Eleventh Circuit).  There's little question that the $25 million Chiquita has shelled out to the U.S. government is just the very tip of the iceberg.  I wouldn't be surprised of, at the end of the day, the company has to pay at least several hundred million -- and quite likely a lot more -- and that's if they manage to settle the actions before trial, even more if they go before a jury.

      •  But it is still just cash (5+ / 0-)

        What they all need is life without the possibility of parole.

        Until white collar killers are treated like the thugs that they are we will just keep getting the same shit over and over.

        This amounts to not only murder but mass murder and the support of terrorist organizations.

        Thanks for all the info. I'm very happy to hear that the get out of jail free card didn’t clear them of tort. I guess I was just reading it differently.

        The BBCNews report led me to believe that this decision would be the end of the problems Chiquita would encounter.

        •  And That's Why (6+ / 0-)

          yesterday's court action was still very much worth getting upset about.  From this point forward, the company and its executives effectively do not need to worry about criminal liability, only private party civil liability.  As you say, it's just cash.

          Of course, if enough people continue to make noise as the civil damages lawsuits proceed, there is a "supplemental" penalty to the company in terms of public reputation (and, believe it or not, corporations really do care about that, since it actually can have a significant impact on their stock price should the company be subjected to constant protests and/or boycotts).

          As I noted above, the fact that Chiquita has admitted making payments (against the repeated advice of counsel) through its former Colombian subsidiary Banadex to the AUC paramilitaries which had been designated as (1) a Foreign Terrorist Organization by Colin Powell as Secretary of State, ironically enough, on September 10, 2001, and (2) a Specially-Designated Global Terrorist on October 31, 2001, means that the company had committed a crime simply by willfully engaging in transactions with the AUC.  Since this has now been established in a court of law, and admitted to, it will be next to impossible for Chiquita to avoid civil liability here.

          And one more thing to note:  it is only through these civil suits that the individuals harmed (or their families) will be compensated.  The $25M penalty here will be paid directly to the U.S. District Court in D.C., and is not deductible for purposes of any federal, state, or foreign tax return (in case you were wondering).

          •  And like I said to Trashy below (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            lulu57, trashablanca, kath25, junta0201

            Nothing will ever change and since it just amounts to a drop in the bucket it will continue to happen.

            You know what pisses me off more than anything else? Those Tobacco scums that stood in front of Henry Waxman and lied through their teeth, under oath, on national television.

            When the states attorney generals got at their interoffice documents years later and proved that they knew tobacco was addictive, they should have gone to jail.

            But they didn’t. It’s a different sort of criminal act when you have money and power.

            •  Again, I'm Not at Liberty (4+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Eddie C, xanthe, trashablanca, kath25

              to comment fully on the tobacco cases, either, but the companies took a very big hit with the $200 billion litigation settlement with the state attorneys general.

              And I know personally that one of the executives who stood before Congress on that infamous day died a truly horrid, painful death not all that long afterward.  It was a very fitting end.

              •  I'm so sorry to say this... (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                xanthe, trashablanca, junta0201

                but the company did not pay a dime. The smokers took a big hit and Congress went partners with Big Tobacco.

                The only hit they took was sales and profits went down. What are the numbers? They killed like around a billion right.

                I can't really see a little change in the profits that a bunch of ganster hit men make as anything but the reply of people who we elected acting just as bad as they do.

  •  Great diary, Eddie (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eddie C, marina, trashablanca, junta0201

    Thanks for doing this, I hadn't really caught up with this story. An abhorrent in the world can the US ask for the rest of the world's help fighting terrorism when shit like this goes on? I'd be more shocked, I guess, if I hadn't already lived through so much other crap (Iran-Contra, Iraq, etc.). But I'm still a bit shocked, really. So blatant.

    •  Thanks LuLu (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      OLinda, lulu57, trashablanca, junta0201

      It looks like it's just you and me here.

      I can’t tell you how good that second comment feels. I always delete diaries that get nothing.

      And I agree, the same shit keeps going on. We are coming up on the Democratic cycle when they will do us less harm and we get to feel good about America for a while.

      The Republican Party will spin nastiness about the Democratic President. The Democratic senators and congress critters will sit on their hands and say nothing just like they did through every administration. Then we get a new republican president to put the present set of criminals back in the White House and start the hurting all over again.

      I guess I’ve just been around too long and watched this too many times.

      Perhaps we can make a difference on the next go round.  

  •  Formerly known as United Fruit (7+ / 0-)

    a company whose history in Latin America needs no introduction here.  Though I understand they've pulled out of ColOmbia precisely to avoid having to pay off the Alphabet Soup Bandits.

    Osama has killed his thousands, and Bush his tens of thousands.

    by Sura 109 on Tue Sep 18, 2007 at 02:36:05 PM PDT

    •  Neruda. Bly translation. (6+ / 0-)

      The United Fruit Co.

      When the trumpet sounded, it was
      all prepared on the earth,
      and Jehovah parceled out the earth
      to Coca-Cola, Inc., Anaconda,
      Ford Motors, and other entities:
      The Fruit Company, Inc.
      reserved for itself the most succulent,
      the central coast of my own land,
      the delicate waist of America.
      It rechristened its territories
      as the "Banana Republics"
      and over the sleeping dead,
      over the restless heroes
      who brought about the greatness,
      the liberty and the flags,
      it established the comic opera:
      abolished the independencies,
      presented crowns of Caesar,
      unsheathed envy, attracted
      the dictatorship of the flies,
      Trujillo flies, Tacho flies,
      Carias flies, Martinez flies,
      Ubico flies, damp flies
      of modest blood and marmalade,
      drunken flies who zoom
      over the ordinary graves,
      circus flies, wise flies
      well trained in tyranny.
      Among the bloodthirsty flies
      the Fruit Company lands its ships,
      taking off the coffee and the fruit;
      the treasure of our submerged
      territories flows as though
      on plates into the ships.
      Meanwhile Indians are falling
      into the sugared chasms
      of the harbors, wrapped
      for burial in the mist of the dawn:
      a body rolls, a thing
      that has no name, a fallen cipher,
      a cluster of dead fruit
      thrown down on the dump.

      •  Wonderful - (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        What a legacy for United, Coke - to be whipped by Neruda - usually the most gentle of poets.  I never saw this poem.  thanks.  

        What's the plan? The plan is I go in and start hitting people in the face hard. (Angel, from the Series)

        by xanthe on Wed Sep 19, 2007 at 12:26:13 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Colombia has (6+ / 0-)

    millions of displaced persons as well. The refugee problem has been going on for years with no end in site, in fact, it seems to be acclerating.

    Two blogs I read daily:

    Plan Colombia and Beyond

    The Latin Americanist which today reports

    The Colombian media has greeted the court’s decision with anger; a headline in El Tiempo notes that the fine against Chiquita "is four times less than the one against McLaren’s Formula 1 racing team", while political commentator Juan Gossain asks if the fine is "the historic price for our dignity?"

    •  The fine is only $15 million more... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Eddie C

      ...than a Cincinnati newspaper paid Chiquita after a reporter listened to their internal voice mail and wrote one hell of an expose about it (that the cowardly newspaper later disowned but that was also widely praised.)

      The reporter went to jail and now has a felony record. Chiquita got $10 million and a Page 1 apology from the cowardly newspaper. It's called Banana Journalism.


      The Cincinnati Enquirer's complete and unequivocal surrender to Chiquita is staggering. Shortly after the paper ran an 18-page special supplement that exposed the pervasive criminal conduct in the Chiquita Banana Company, Chiquita pressured the paper to fire the reporter. Based on the assertions from Chiquita that reporter Mike Gallagher had illegally obtained voice mails, the paper renounced the entire series, published frothing front-page apologies on three separate days, fired Gallagher and place the blame for the entire fiasco on him.

      The paper then agreed to pay Chiquita more than $10 million to settle potential legal claims against the Enquirer and its owners, Gannett. Virtually absent from corporate media reports was the fact that no one has disputed the authenticity of the voice mail and the damaging internal Chiquita documents exposed in Gallagher's series called "Chiquita Secrets Revealed."

      However, this didn't stop the paper from claiming in its apology that, "The Enquirer has now become convinced that the above representations, accusations and conclusions are untrue and created a false and misleading impression of Chiquita's business practices." It should also be noted that Chiquita CEO Carl Linder used to own the Cincinnati Enquirer. Lost in this entire debacle was the truth. ...

      •  The $10 m Chiquita case affected journalism (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Eddie C

        Corporations have also lost the stomach for hard-hitting reports, because of investigative projects that backfired and led to lengthy legal battles, including notorious cases like the Cincinnati Enquirer's expose of Chiquita Banana Corp. and ABC News' undercover look at Food Lion supermarkets.

  •  It's a corporation (5+ / 0-)

    and so the mythical entity pays the price, not the humans who make the deadly decisions.

    Now if an actual, I don't know--PERSON-- committed the same acts, they would be imprisoned for the murders they were complicit in and likely caused, and considered terrorists because of their association with terrorist groups. All of their assets would be seized under Bush's executive order.

  •  I really hate coporations b/c of crap like this (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eddie C, lulu57, kath25, Predictor

    They are sociopathic entities that kill with less conscience than a shark.  Great diary Eddie C.  I forgot my laptop yesterday, so when I woke up in Laguna this am, I saw this article in the LA Times and went, WTF?  I'm not even shocked anymore.  Pathetic.

    "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." John Lennon

    by trashablanca on Tue Sep 18, 2007 at 03:01:41 PM PDT

    •  And you know, when you think about it... (5+ / 0-)

      The further actions pointed out above by The Maven, those actions are meaningless.

      Some lawyers will make some money, some shareholders will lose a few pennies per share and the perpetrators of the mass murders will get a job with a new company.

      Of course it will happen again and again and again.

      What is the difference between these guys and some guy who walked into a s Seven eleven with a gun? Well these guys killed a whole lot more people and the poor bastard that made one dumb mistake will get a lethal injection.  

      It will never change. That’s what America is all about. Murder in a suit is murder by a superior being in America.  

  •  I am so glad (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eddie C, junta0201

    to see this diary get rescued. Dude, your work here is so impressive. You write such astoundingly well-researched diaries. I read them and I feel like I really learned a lot.

    Thank you for all of your efforts, dude. With all of your hard work on display like this, I am proud to call you my friend! :-)

  •  I'm glad you were rescued, Eddie - (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eddie C

    I saw your diary and meant to stop by.  I saw a good movie about this at DePaul, and a union activist from Columbia stopped by to talk with us as well.  Americans don't pay attention to this stuff; they should - it's important and happening to us now.

    I don't drink Coke now for health reasons.  (anyway, if I'm sinning - I prefer Pepsi - sure there's a story there too).  But my eyes were really opened -

    What's the plan? The plan is I go in and start hitting people in the face hard. (Angel, from the Series)

    by xanthe on Wed Sep 19, 2007 at 12:18:25 AM PDT

    •  Wonder what's going on in (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Eddie C

      the touted wine industry?

      What's the plan? The plan is I go in and start hitting people in the face hard. (Angel, from the Series)

      by xanthe on Wed Sep 19, 2007 at 12:26:55 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Cultural Superiority (0+ / 0-)

      Your statement got me thinking;

      Americans don't pay attention to this stuff; they should - it's important and happening to us now.

      Most Americans don’t pay attention to anything that goes on outside our borders because they feel that people outside the U.S. are subhuman. It’s the prejudice that is still considered acceptable and just won’t go away.  

      This very damaging part of American culture can be seen everywhere outside of the liberal community. People just don’t care because they deliberately stay ignorant of other cultures. The fact that Americans don’t know much about geography is a big joke but it isn’t so funny living in a nation with so many centers of the universe.

      It is part of our heritage and dates back to this nation’s beginning. Cultural Superiority made it possible for the settlers at Roanoke to commit mass murder over some trinket because they were "just Indians." I remember my high school history. When we studied wars, the only implication that this nation was killing human beings was the Civil War and the Germans in World War II but not the Japanese.

      In my adult life I’ve seen Americans say the Vietnamese were just "Gooks" and now I hear my fellow Americans call Iraqis "Towel Heads." I don’t think anything will change this short of letting Howard Zinn write our history books.

      The conscience of this nation is a culture of "I’ve got mine." That is why Darfur is meaningless to most Americans with that "what’s in it for us?" mentality. That makes it possible for Bush to sell a war that can be presented as "in the nation’s self interest."

      I know so many Americans who feel that immigrant workers are less human and I hear people say really demented things like "they should not be allowed to go to our hospitals." I come back with "So they should just die?" Often they dance around an answer but I can tell that is what they want.

      And as to the mistreatment of workers in other nations producing products for this nation, Americans are more focused on the fact that the abuse makes our products cheaper.  We almost made some headway when foreign sweatshops were in the news but that all died off.

      While it is far from universal it is a sad fact about many Americans. What if we could extend political correctness to include all humans?

      There are also some positive signs of progressive thinking all around us today and young people are probably getting a better education that my generation. Maybe someday Americans will demand that our corporations treat workers in other nations like human beings.

      I think we are getting somewhere but it is moving very slowly.

  •  Here's something from Water Conserve, a blog (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eddie C

    What's the plan? The plan is I go in and start hitting people in the face hard. (Angel, from the Series)

    by xanthe on Wed Sep 19, 2007 at 08:36:13 AM PDT

    •  Well that’s sounds like a good story (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      A corporation that depends on water trying to conserve water. That sort of thinking, thinking that goes beyond the next quarter is rare in corporate mentality.

      I guess it is because of Coke’s maturity as a global corporation. They have been international much longer than most companies and they would like to have access to their raw materials.  

      Hey thanks for stoping in and letting me know. I have another diary that I'm working on so I'm sort of preoccupied. That other diary is based on a comment of yours that is above this one.

      I'll post a reply to that comment because that other diary will take a great deal of research.

  •  Eddie, your telling of this story and... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eddie C

    links especially to the Portfolio story and photos are invaluable. You've cleared up a very murky subject.


    •  Skywriter, the comments and links... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      that you have placed in my diary are worth far more that my little effort.

      Thanks for stopping in here to explain that Chiquita is far more evil that I ever expected. But it’s really not about Chiquita is it?

      Only in America where we have a constitutional right to freedom of the press would the corporations be able to extort the press for telling the truth.

      Those links seem to clearly explain the insanity that is our media. I hope you diary that incident.

      I vaguely remember a scene in The Insider where that sort of scenario is explained to Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino) by a corporate lawyer.  A CBS lawyer played by Gina Gershon claims that if Jeffrey Wigand’s story is true, the tobacco company would own CBS.

      She quoted a case, I have to rent that movie and see if it was the Chiquita case you referred to.

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