Thursday, November 20, 2008

Obama AG Nominee Eric Holder Helped Chiquita Banana Beat Charges The Corp. Killed Labor Organizers In Colombia

You don't think labor unions threaten the powerful?

Chiquita Banana bankrolled para-military forces in Colombia which conducted non-judicial assassinations of peasants, and labor and community leaders who opposed the imposition of corporate peonage on the workers.

No, really! Check it out, via Counterpunch:
What is not being discussed too much, and was not even mentioned in today's New York Times report, is Holder's key role in defending Chiquita Brands International in a notorious case relating to the company's funneling money and weapons to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, AUC, the right-wing paramilitary organization on the U.S. State Department's own list of terrorist organizations.

In 2003, an Organization of American States report showed that Chiquita's subsidiary in Colombia, Banadex, had helped divert weapons and ammunition, including thousands of AK-47s, from Nicaraguan government stocks to the AUC. The AUC – very often in collaboration with units of the U.S.-trained Armed Forces - is responsible for hundreds of massacres of primarily peasants throughout the Colombian countryside, including in the banana-growing region of Urabá, where it is believed that at least 4,000 people were killed. Their systematic use of violence resulted in the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of poor Colombians, a disproportionate amount of those people being black or indigenous.

In 2004, Holder helped negotiate an agreement with the Justice Department for Chiquita that involved the fruit company's payment of "protection money" to the AUC, in direct violation of U.S. laws prohibiting this kind of transaction. In the agreement brokered by Holder, Chiquita officials pleaded guilty and agreed to pay a fine of $25 million, to be paid over a 5-year period. However, not one Chiquita official involved in the illegal transactions was forced to serve time for a crime that others have paid dearly for, mainly because they did not have the kind of legal backing that Holder's team provided. Holder continues to represent Chiquita in the civil action, which grew out of this criminal case.

One of the arguments in defense of Chiquita's criminal acts was that the company was being strong-armed by thugs in Colombia, and that it either had to make the payments, or close up shop in the country, which would have resulted in the loss of tens of millions of dollars in profits. Chiquita officials even disclosed to the Justice Department that they were making the illegal payments to the AUC, to see what could be done.

As the Washington Post reported back in 2007, Federal prosecutors had said in court papers that Justice Department officials made clear in April 2003 that Chiquita was clearly violating the law and that "the payments . . . could not continue."1 The Post reported "lawyers at Justice headquarters and the U.S. attorney's office in Washington were incensed by what they considered the flagrant continuation of these payoffs, despite the warnings." At the time, Holder said he was concerned that company leaders who disclosed the corporation's illegal activity to prosecutors were facing the possibility of prosecution.

"If what you want to encourage is voluntary self-disclosure, what message does this send to other companies?" asked Holder, deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration. "Here's a company that voluntarily self-discloses in a national security context, where the company gets treated pretty harshly, [and] then on top of that, you go after individuals who made a really painful decision."2

So in Holder's view, we should feel sympathy for these poor corporate executives, whose identities were kept confidential, and who were forced to make "very painful decisions" about opening up to their own criminality. Never mind that this company was complicit in the above-mentioned human tragedy waged by the AUC. The many victims of this paramilitary terror did not even cross the mind of the well-connected defense attorney now being considered for the Attorney General job.

1 comment:

Michael Z said...

This isn't good news about President-elect Obama's appointment of Eric Holer for U.S. Attorney General. Americans deserve Attorney General's that will punish CEO's and Corporations that get their hand caught in the 'cookie jar.' We don't need the likes of John Ashcroft, Alberto Gonzales and Michael Mukasey, anymore. We need genuine change for the good of our nation, the middle class and poor.