Friday, July 25, 2014

How to Get Away With Financing Terrorism

A mural in Bogotá shows bananas and victims of violence. 
Between 1989 and 2004 the Chiquita banana company paid millions of dollars to Colombian guerrillas and paramilitary groups.

The organizations are or were classified as terrorists by the U.S., Colombian and European governments. And, while Chiquita was paying terrorists millions, the organizations were violating human rights in all kinds of horrific ways: torturing, massacring, kidnapping and driving peasants off of their lands and out of their homes. While Chiquita was paying off the paramilitaries, they murdered 4,000 people in Uraba province and drove 60,000 off of their land, according to the leftist organization COHA.

Chiquita claims that it had no choice but to make these payments in order to protect its workers from murder
and kidnapping. But the companies' critics charge that Chiquita also paid the paramilitaries, at least, in return for the far-right organization's repressing unions and peasants - sometimes with violence.

Read horrific accounts of paramilitary violence here.

The paramilitaries also smuggled at least one shipment of weapons - and perhaps several more - into Colombia thru a port controlled by Chiquita's subsidiary Banadex.

And Chiquita clearly did have an alternative to funding terrorists: it could have pulled out of Colombia.

In 2007, Chiquita, whose annual revenues are in the billions, paid a $25 million fine to the U.S. government for funding terrorists. (If you or I funded terrorists, we'd probably go to prison. But Chiquita's ex-lawyer is U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.)

The Colombian victims of the terrorist groups which Chiquita was funding received nothing.

However, 4,000 relatives of those victims sued Chiquita in U.S. courts - and yesterday their lawsuit got nixed.

The court didn't reject the lawsuit based on the facts of what happened. Chiquita confessed that it paid off the terrorists, and the terror groups' actions are public record. However, the court ruled that the plaintiffs couldn't sue Chiquita in the U.S. because the crimes were committed in Colombia.

But the plaintiffs' lawyers argue that the decisions to fund the terrorists were made in Chiquita's U.S. corporate offices. According to the Associated Press and Wikipedia, a Chiquita executive wrote a note saying the payments were the "cost of doing business in Colombia" and pointed out the "need to keep this very confidential - people can get killed." Chiquita's outside attorneys had also advised the company that the payments violated U.S. anti-terror laws, but the company continued paying until it sold its Colombian interests in 2004.

The plaintiffs' attorneys say they'll appeal.

Perhaps the victims can now sue Chiquita in Colombia - except that the company sold its Colombian subsidiary, Banadex, in 2004, and no longer has assets here the plaintiffs could sue for.

The lesson: If you're going to finance terrorists, it helps to be a rich, well-connected multinational.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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