Friday, October 30, 2015

Might the Corporations Pay Victims?

U.S. corporations which have escaped charges of responsibility for human rights violations in Colombia because the alleged events happened in Colombia might feel a bit more nervous now, thanks to a recent ruling by a U.S. judge.

Multiple U.S. companies, including Coca Cola, the Drummond coal company, Chiquita banana and others have been accused in U.S. courts of financing illegal Colombian organizations, particularly right-wing paramilitaries, which committed severe human rights abuses, including assassinations, massacres and forced displacements.

But U.S. courts have consistently ruled that the alleged victims of those atrocities and their relatives could not sue in the U.S. because the relevant events took place in Colombia. The courts don't even examine the crimes themselves or the U.S. corporations' relationships with criminal groups.

Hernán Giraldo Serna, ex-paramilitary
leader on trial in the U.S.
However, the other week a federal appeals court in Washington ruled that victims of one Colombian paramilitary extradited to the U.S. on narcotrafficking charges can pursue charges against him there. The one-time paramilitary leader, Hernán Giraldo Serna. ex-leader of the Tayron Block of the so-called self-defense forces, was extradited to the U.S. in 2008 on narcotrafficking charges. However, the family of a social activist and ex-member of the M-19 guerrillas named Julio Henríquez, who was murdered on Giraldo Serna's orders in 2001 joined the case.

A district court ruled that the family did not have standing to participate in the case, but a Washington appeals court reversed that ruling and ordered Henríquez's killing be included in the case, according to El Tiempo.

I'm no lawyer and my understanding of these issues is superficial. And this paramilitary has admitted ordering Henríquez's killing, whereas the corporations are generally only accused of financing outlaw groups which committed crimes, perhaps without even the companies' previous knowledge.

Nevertheless, Henríquez's ability to sue in the U.S. for a crime committed in Colombia seems to offer at least a glimmer of hope for other victims.

The most notorious case is probably Chiquita banana company, which in 2005 confessed to the U.S.
Chiquita, worried?
government that between 1997 and 2004 it had paid millions of dollars in what it called 'protection money' to Colombian paramilitary abuses. During the same years, the paramilitaries were committing severe atrocities, including massacres and forced displacement. Chiquita claims it had no choice but to make the payments in order to protect the lives of its workers, altho the company could have sold its operations and withdrawn from Colombia. Chiquita paid a $25 million dollar fine to the U.S. government, but nothing to the paramilitaries' victims.

Victims of Colombian paramilitaries and their families filed numerous lawsuits against Chiquita in U.S. courts under the Alien Tort Statute, but the cases were dismissed because the relevant events had taken place in Colombia.

Might this latest ruling make a difference?


By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

4 comments:

coolcoil said...

Yes, of course Chiquita could have chosen to exit the business. What would you do in a similar situation? Say, for example, a criminal gang takes over your barrio and demands protection money?

I think your choices are these:

1) Refuse to pay and pretty much guarantee that you and your employees will be physically harmed. (New York Times story: American businessman's lack of understanding of the local culture leads to employee deaths)

2) Sell your business for whatever you can get and leave. Your, business, of course, will be bought by somebody who is in league with the criminals, or at least willing to do business with them. Your employees have to deal with it or get new jobs. As there are no jobs available at places not controlled by the criminals, they don't have a lot of options. (NYT: Businessman takes criminal cash and abandons employees to criminals).

3) Abandon your business. Pretty much the same as number two, except you have no money to start again elsewhere. Your assets are taken over by somebody and your employees are in the same boat. (NYT: American businessman abandons employees to criminals).

4) Pay the vacuna and try to muddle along. as did Chiquita. Of course, the criminals now have a vested interest in your success. If they find out an employee is agitating for better compensation and they fear that it may lead to your leaving the business, they are going to take care of it in their own way whether you like it or not. Even if that never happens, the criminals are going to hurt somebody and since you are the only one in the neighborhood that has any money, you are the only one available to sue.

Would the locals have been better off if Chiquita had just packed up and left? Somebody would have taken over those banana farms and paid the paramilitaries.

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