[News] Chertoff, Chiquita and Death Squads

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Aug 2 12:36:58 EDT 2007


August 2, 2007

Chertoff, Chiquita and Death Squads

Banana Republic


As Jonathan Schwarz recently noted, there is a 
deeply discouraging sameness about the outrages 
that dissenting writers must address -- and a new 
front-page story in the Washington Post is a 
perfect example. In fact, it's a piece that could 
have been written at any time in the last 100 
years or more: "Feds Look the Other Way While 
United Fruit Company Peddles Death and Corruption in Latin America"

Today of course, the infamous United Fruit of 
yore (whose machinations in Guatemala led to a 
CIA coup that set off decades of mass-murdering 
chaos) is known by the more perky name of 
Chiquita, and conjures up cheery pictures of 
childhood banana-munching around the family 
table. But while corporations may change their 
spots (or their peels) and their personnel over 
the years, the nature of the beast remains much 
the same, because its raison d'etre remains the 
same: maximizing profit. And United 
Fruit/Chiquita has traditionally been willing to 
push the banana boat way out when it comes to 
ensuring that its exploitation of cheap labor remains undisturbed.

In the case of Colombia, this meant paying an 
officially designated terrorist gang -- the 
vicious killers of the rightwing United 
Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) -- to keep 
Chiquita's operations running smoothly in the 
war-torn nation. A whole sordid history could be 
written about the extensive intertwining of 
American government and corporate interests with 
AUC and the other rightwing Colombian militias, 
but for our purposes here it is enough to note 
that Chiquita not only paid AUC for protection 
from leftwing militias, it also took an active 
and direct role in "in smuggling thousands of 
arms for paramilitaries into the Northern Uraba 
region, using docks operated by the company to 
unload thousands of Central American assault 
rifles and ammunition," as the Post reports. In 
turn, the paramilitaries used these weapons "to 
fund operations against peasants, union workers and rivals."

"I regarded this as a murder investigation," says 
Roscoe Howard Jr., the former U.S. Attorney who 
spearheaded a prosecution of Chiquita for its 
death-squad collaboration, the Wall Street 
Journal reports. "Even though Chiquita didn't 
murder anyone, that's what the money was used for -- to buy weapons."

Earlier this year, Chiquita the corporate entity 
paid a piddling $25 million to wash the blood 
from its gleaming office walls. But now the 
company's human entities are facing personal 
criminal charges for facilitating the murder, 
kidnapping, rape and robbery of innocent human 
beings. To counter this, they are offering a 
modified version of the Nuremberg Defense; it's 
not exactly that they were "just following 
orders" from Der Leader, but they say they did 
receive implicit permission from the Bush Regime 
to carry on funding the Colombian death squads 
after corporate officials notified the Justice 
Department in 2003 of their involvement with AUC. As the Post notes:

"... last week, lawyers for the former Chiquita 
executives sent letters to the Justice 
Department, asserting that their clients did not 
intentionally break the law but believed they 
were waiting for an answer from the highest levels of the Bush administration."

The man they sought out at the Justice Department 
the Assistant Attorney General, one Michael 
Chertoff, now the gut-checking head of Homeland Security. As the Post reports:

"Chiquita, [company officials told Chertoff], 
would have to pull out of the country if it could 
not continue to pay the violent right-wing group 
to secure its Colombian banana plantations. 
Chertoff...affirmed that the payments were 
illegal but said to wait for more feedback, 
according to five sources familiar with the 
meeting...Sources close to Chiquita say that 
Chertoff never did get back to the company or its 
lawyers. Neither did Larry D. Thompson, the 
deputy attorney general, whom Chiquita officials 
sought out after Chertoff left his job for a 
federal judgeship in June 2003. And Chiquita kept 
making payments for nearly another year."

But as we all know, terrorism is in the eye of 
the beholder. And there were many in the Bush 
Regime who did not regard AUC as real terrorists; 
after all, they weren't Muslims, and they were 
only killing a bunch of piss-poor Latinos -- 
along with political opponents of Washington's 
much-favored Uribe administration in Bogata. 
What's not to like. As the Post reports:

"But legal sources on both sides say there was a 
genuine debate within the Justice Department 
about the seriousness of the crime of paying AUC. 
For some high-level administration officials, 
Chiquita's payments were not aiding an obvious 
terrorism threat such as al-Qaeda; instead, the 
cash was going to a violent South American group 
helping a major U.S. company maintain a stabilizing presence in Colombia."

As long as a "violent group" supports American 
policy or corporate interests, they can let rip. 
We see this dynamic in operation all over the 
world at the moment. It is part of a 
long-standing -- and open -- policy of the Bush 
Administration to arm and fund violent militias 
to do its dirty work. As I wrote here in Counterpunch back in 2004:

"Last month, in little-noticed testimony before 
Congress, the Bush Regime unveiled its plans to 
raise a host of warlord armies in the most 
volatile areas in the world, Agence France-Presse 
reports. Bush wants $500 million in seed money to 
arm and train non-governmental "local militias" – 
i.e., bands of lawless freebooters – to serve as 
Washington's proxy killers in the so-called "arc 
of crisis" that just happens to stretch across 
the oil-bearing lands and strategic pipeline 
routes of Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and South America.

"Flanked by a gaggle of military brass, Pentagon 
deputy honcho Paul Wolfowitz told a rapt panel of 
Congressional rubber-stamps that Bush wants big 
bucks to run "counter-insurgency" and 
"counter-terrorist" operations in "ungoverned 
areas" of the world – and in the hinterlands of 
nations providing "sanctuary" for terrorists. 
Making copious citations from Bush's 2002 
"National Security Strategy" of unprovoked 
aggressive war against "potential" enemies, 
Howlin' Wolf proposed expanding the definition of 
"terrorist sanctuary" to any nation that allows 
clerics and other rabble-rousers to offer even 
verbal encouragement to America's designated enemies du jour.

"Any rogue state that countenances such freedom 
of speech within its borders will become a prime 
target for "the path of action," said Wolf, 
quoting Bush's most ringing Hitlerian phrase from 
the 2002 manifesto. To relieve the overstretched 
U.S. military, the "action" will be carried out 
largely by Bush's new hired guns: religious and 
ethnic militias, tribal forces, mercenaries, 
cultists, insurrectionists, druglords, pirates – 
basically anyone willing to slit throats and 
terrorize populations at the order of the Oval One."

Of course, it is very good indeed that, against 
all odds, there remain some honest prosecutors in 
the federal justice system willing to do what 
should have been done a century ago: hold 
corporate chieftains responsible for the crimes 
they beget in their slavering pursuit of profit. 
But it also clear that the Chiquita executives 
were given the same kind of nod-and-wink for 
murky dealings that their illustrious 
predecessors have always received from 
Washington. That they may now be hoist on their 
own petard is their own tough luck; but they are 
certainly not the only ones who should be in the dock.

Chris Floyd is an American journalist based in 
the UK and a frequent contributor to 
CounterPunch. He is the writer of the political 
blog, <http://www.chris-floyd.com>Empire 
Burlesque , and author of the book, Empire 
Burlesque: High Crimes and Low Comedy in the Bush Imperium.

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