A major U.S. corporation stood accused of routinely funneling large sums of money to a vicious right-wing Latin American militia that the United States government officially had branded a terrorist organization.
But then the corporation involved, Chiquita Brands International, admitted it had paid $1.7 million to a Colombian paramilitary unit known as "Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia" (AUC) over a six-year period ending in 2004. Suddenly, an episode that had seemed like rabid conspiracy-mongering was recast as unsavory corporate misdeed.
Last month, a U.S. District Court judge formally accepted a settlement of the charges between the Cincinnati-based company and the Justice Department. After pleading guilty to a felony, Chiquita was fined $25 million and required to institute an ethics program to prevent future violations.
Yeah, those “ethics programs” always work well, don’t they? That ought to take care of it!
Western corporations don’t have a good track record in the Third World. In Central America, you just have to look at the United Fruit Co.’s meddling in Guatemalan elections and the Colombian banana massacre to understand that.
Chiquita Brands claimed it needed to pay the AUC to protect their workers from leftist guerillas; of course, those “leftist guerillas” say they are fighting to improve working conditions and address human rights abuses. You know, like giving workers the right to form unions--stuff that major corporations don’t like. Neither side has acted like angels, but Chiquita playing the "poor pitiful me" card stinks like last week's fish.
And who is this AUC which Chiquita supported? According to Wikipedia:
The AUC now asserts itself as a regional and national counterinsurgent force. Former AUC supreme leader Carlos Castaño Gil in 2000 claimed 70 percent of the AUC's operational costs were financed with drug-related earnings, the rest coming from "donations" from its sponsors.
A February 2005 report by the United Nation's High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that, during 2004, "the AUC was responsible for 342 cases of violations of the cessation of hostilities. These include the presumed reincorporation of demobilized persons into its ranks, massacres, forced displacements, selective and systematic homicides, kidnappings, rape, disappearances, threats, intimidation and lootings. These actions took place in 11 departments and targeted the civilian population, in many cases indigenous communities."
Chiquita gave these people money? Why would they even do business in Colombia, if that means making extortion payments to a brutal group using rape, murder and “dissapearances” to intimidation pro-labor activists?
Funny you should ask. According to the U.S. Dept. of Justice:
By 2003, Chiquita's Colombian operations were its most profitable, and the company earned $49.4 million in profit from them between Sept. 10, 2001, when the AUC was designated a terrorist group, and January 2004, when its payments stopped.
More than 4,000 people were killed in the Uraba banana-growing region during the period when Chiquita admits to paying the AUC.
"Chiquita's money helped buy weapons and ammunition used to kill innocent victims of terrorism. Simply put, defendant Chiquita funded terrorism," the Justice Department said last month in court filings.
In this brutal, shadowy war, which drew only episodic attention outside Colombia, the interests of the paramilitaries and big business overlapped, according to labor leaders and critics of the Colombian government. The AUC and similar groups regarded all union organizers not as worker representatives seeking better pay and working conditions but as guerilla allies in a left-wing campaign to topple the government. To the private armies of a fractured society, they were legitimate (if unarmed) targets in the ongoing conflict. And businesses wanted compliant, low-cost labor.
I guess in some cuckoo bananas land, funding a terrorist organization is just part of the cost of doing business. Somehow, the "free hand of the market" wasn't able to stop this company from funding a terror militia, either. I'm shocked.
I’m watching our government continue to support Pakistan’s president, even after Gen. Musharraf has shuttered the newspapers, fired the Supreme Court as it prepares to deliver a ruling on last month’s elections, rounded up opposition leaders and even cut off cell phone service. After all that talk about bringing “democracy” to the world, and we’re still giving this guy F16s and billions of dollars in aid?
And when it's not our government, it's American big business doing the dirty work. Our corporations set up business in Third World countries to take advantage of the cheap labor, and when that labor tries to organize to demand higher wages or better working conditions, they finance terrorist groups who rape, kidnap and murder.
And people still want to know why they hate us? You've got to be cuckoo bananas to ask a question like that.