Thursday, November 20, 2008


Kevin Gray, Portfolio, October 2007 - For years, Chiquita Brands secretly paid off death squads in Colombia. Now the U.S. Congress is asking questions. . .

In northern Colombia's lush banana-growing region. . . Chiquita Brands International, the $655 million fruit giant, slipped into a blood-soaked scandal. Between 1997 and 2004, Chiquita gave $1.7 million to the A.U.C., whose death squads destroyed unions, terrorized workers, and killed thousands of civilians. Chiquita's top officials admit approving the payments but say they thought that if they didn't pay up, the A.U.C. would kill its employees and attack its facilities. Because the U.S. State Department has labeled the A.U.C. a terrorist organization, federal prosecutors charged Chiquita in March with engaging in transactions with terrorists. In an agreement with the Justice Department, Chiquita pleaded guilty and will pay a $25 million fine. . .

The firm's lawyers have struggled to explain publicly that Chiquita had to make a choice between "life and law" and that it chose the "humanitarian" route of protecting its workers. "This company was in a bad position dealing with bad guys," says Eric Holder, a Washington attorney representing Chiquita. "There's absolutely no suggestion of any personal gain here. It's not a case like Tyco, where someone is squirreling money away. No one is out buying great shower curtains."

As a corporation, though, Chiquita stood to benefit greatly from the lethal cleansing that Castano delivered. At the time, the Marxist guerrillas routinely kidnapped U.S. executives, blew up railroads, and sabotaged oil pipelines. Chiquita says it became increasingly difficult to protect its workers and their families. Castano's death squads, however, were squarely pro-business. They were not just ridding Uraba of guerrillas; they were killing leftists and eradicating unions. . .

During the A.U.C.'s reign of terror, according to the federal complaint, the region would become Chiquita's most profitable farming operation in the world.

While the A.U.C. was murdering thousands of Colombians, "to our knowledge, the paramilitaries never touched a hair on the head of a U.S. citizen or company," says Adam Isacson, director of the Colombia program at the Center for International Policy, in Washington. In fact, Isacson says, the A.U.C.'s stranglehold brought "a strange form of peace to the region through terror. It created a much more friendly business environment."

But for Eric Holder, Chiquita's lawyer, that argument falls flat. "It's like saying a shopkeeper feels safe because the Mob is extorting him for protection payments," Holder says. "You're not paying these guys to protect you from someone else; you're paying them to protect you from them."

Scott Creighton - Barack Obama, the man who spoke so eloquently in the last debate about not passing the Columbia Free Trade Agreement until more was done to bring the killers of the union workers to justice, has just announced that he is going to make the lawyer for one of the companies responsible for these killings, his Attorney General. You can't make this stuff up.

There are also allegations from a French NGO that Chiquita is exposing it's workers to a dangerous pesticide. So the workers that don't get killed by their Chiquita Death Squads, will slowly wither away from horrible illnesses.

There are also criminal charges pending facing some Chiquita executives, in Columbia.


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