By John I. Laun
Those of us who follow responses in the United States to the paramilitary activities in Colombia are very concerned. We believe evidence clearly shows that the paramilitaries, who have carried out so much death and destruction in the Colombian countryside, were a creation of the Colombian state, or at least acted in concert with state security forces from the beginning. Our question now is how the Obama Administration may view the attempts on behalf of the Colombian victims of paramilitary atrocities encouraged and paid for by U.S. corporations, among them Chiquita Brands and Drummond Corporation.
The reason for our concern: President-elect Obama has chosen Eric Holder as U.S. Attorney General. Besides advising President Clinton that he was “neutral, leaning toward favorable” for the indefensible pardon of Marc Rich, Holder reportedly played a major role as a private lawyer for Chiquita Brands in negotiating an agreement under which the Company paid a $25 million fine and its executives, who had approved payments to the A.U.C. paramilitary organization in Colombia, were relieved of further liability. The Chiquita officials knew the A.U. C. was identified as a terrorist group by the U.S. State Department, having been placed on the U.S. terrorist list by Secretary of State Colin Powell on September 10, 2001. The money Chiquita paid was purportedly to provide protection to Chiquita installations and personnel in Colombia. In fact, the A.U.C. used the money in a generalized campaign to terrorize and murder peasants and workers in the Uraba region of northern Colombia. They have murdered literally thousands of defenseless civilians, the vast majority of whom had no ties whatever to guerrilla organizations.
The idea that a monetary payment to the U.S. Government is sufficient penalty for the knowing illegal acts of U.S. corporations which caused thousands of innocent deaths in Colombia is, in a word, wrong. It is wrong morally, wrong politically and wrong legally. The $25 million fine does not go to the victims of A.U.C. atrocities; it goes to the U.S. Government. And these victims of the Chiquita-financed terrorism receive nothing! And the man who negotiated that disposition is now to be U.S. Attorney General!
The Colombian counterpart to the U.S. Attorney General, Fiscal General Mario Iguaran, has said he is not pleased with a deal that lets Chiquita off the hook in return for a $25 million forfeit to the U.S. Government. He wants to see Chiquita executives answer in Colombia for their willing financing of illegal paramilitary violence. That would be a good step. It would also be good and right for the Obama Administration to permit, and even support, claims in U.S. courts fr damages against Chiquita, and not raise as a defense that these claims have been foreclosed by the settlement negotiated by Attorney Holder.
And what about the $25 million paid by Chiquita as a fine? That money should rightly go to compensate the victims of Chiquita’s hired paramilitaries. If President Obama favors justice, he should provide at least this much toward a just resolution of the claims of the Colombian victims and their families.