THE IMPUNITY OF CHIQUITA BRANDS INTERNATIONAL: FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES
(Colombia) (Author: CCAJAR - Editorial) [10/27/2008]

Martes 21 de octubre de 2008, por Prensa - Colectivo

After the factual proffer was filed in the case against Chiquita Brands International before the US District Court of the District of Columbia on March 14, 2008, in which it was verified Chiquita Brands International, through its subsidiary in Colombia, Banadex S.A., made monthly payments for over six years to the paramilitary structures in the regions of Urabá and Santa Marta, the president of Colombia, Álvaro Uribe Vélez, declared before the mass media that he did not foresee any inconvenience for the Colombian justice system to request the extradition of this company’s board of directors. “Extraditions should be from here to there [USA] and from there to here [Colombia] [...] The decision [to request the extradition] is in the hands of the Attorney General’s Office," the president asserted at the time.

After the factual proffer was filed in the case against Chiquita Brands International before the US District Court of the District of Columbia on March 14, 2007, in which it was verified Chiquita Brands International, through its subsidiary in Colombia, Banadex S.A., made monthly payments for over six years to the paramilitary structures in the regions of Urabá and Santa Marta, [1] the president of Colombia, Álvaro Uribe Vélez, declared before the mass media that he did not foresee any inconvenience for the Colombian justice system to request the extradition of this company’s board of directors. “Extraditions should be from here to there [USA] and from there to here [Colombia] [...] The decision [to request the extradition] is in the hands of the Attorney General’s Office," the president asserted at the time. [2]

Nonetheless, since then, the president of Colombia has not mentioned the case again and much less the eventual extradition of the board of directors for their responsibility in the systematic commission of crimes against humanity and grave human rights violations by paramilitary organizations in these two regions, including forced displacement, homicide, torture, and forced disappearance, among other crimes. [3] This alliance between Chiquita Brands and the paramilitary structures came about during the growth and extension of the private security cooperatives Convivir, among them the Convivir Papagayo, sponsored by then governor of the department of Antioquia Álvaro Uribe Vélez, [4] through which the Chiquita payments were transferred to these paramilitary structures. [5] This same factual proffer, and later the government sentencing memorandum, established that these structures operated in alliance or through these private security cooperatives, [6] a situation that hade been widely denounced previously by human rights organizations.

The chain of impunity also involves the until recently director of the District Attorney’s Office of Medellín, Guillermo León Valencia Cossio, brother of the present minister of Interior and Justice, Fabio Valencia Cossio, [7] who is presently detained due to his alleged ties with the “demobilized” Daniel Rendón Herrera, aka Don Mario, older brother mayor of the former paramilitary boss Freddy Rendón Herrera, aka El Alemán. [8] It should be stressed that the criminal organization of aka Don Mario allegedly continues to use the weapons [9] that entered into Colombia on November 5, 2001, in the port of Zungo, specifically on the docks of Banadex S.A. [10] As if this were little, the prosecutor handling the case against Chiquita Brands, Alicia Domínguez Hoyos, reported she was pressured by Guillermo León Valencia Cossio, after she refused to allow Liceth Mira Álvarez Anaya -former prosecutor in Urabá and alleged ally of Valencia Cossio- to assume the defense of the former board members of the Convivir Papagayo. [11]

In the United States, Chiquita Brands has enjoyed the same fruits of impunity, given that its senior officials and executives move within the most powerful political sectors of the country, as is the case of Roderick M. Hills, one of the board members most responsible for financing the paramilitary structure in Colombia. As a Chiquita Brands board member and the president of the Audit Committee from March 19, 2002, [12] until June, 2007, [13] was intimately aware of these payments to the paramilitary structure. [14] Before joining Chiquita Brands, he was also legal counsel to then President Ford in 1975, and president of the board of the Securities and Exchange Commission from 1975 to 1977, [15] which is the institution in charge of overseeing the New York stock exchange. While Roderick M. Hills led the defense of Chiquita Brands, his son-in-law, Steve Bunell, was appointed senior prosecutor of the criminal division of the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington D.C., which conducted the preliminary investigation against Chiquita Brands. Bunell recused himself from the case only after this evident conflict of interest was widely reported in the US mass media. [16] However, in addition to the support provided by Bunell during the federal investigation, Hills also held a series of meetings with different senior government officials from the Department of Justice in order to hinder the investigation, including a meeting with the then assistant attorney general of the Department of Justice and now secretary of homeland security, Michael M. Chertoff. [17]

On September 17, 2007, Chiquita Brands International pled guilty to the felony of “Engaging in Transactions with a specially-designated Global Terrorist” before the US District Court for the District of Columbia and was sentenced to paying 25 million dollars to the US Department of Justice. [18] In exchange for accepting this responsibility, the Court decided not to prosecute criminal charges or to identify the individual responsibilities of the implicated directors, which also opened the door to move forward the criminal cases in Colombia as well as the eventual extradition of the responsible parties. Throughout this period of time, the defense of Chiquita Brands had the assistance of Eric H. Holder Jr., former deputy attorney general of the US Department of Justice during the Clinton administration and now advisor for the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate, Barack H. Obama. [19]

Another key person in the trafficking of influences has been Carl H. Lindner Jr., president of the board of directors from 1984 until March 2002 and chief executive officer from 1984 to August 2001. [20] According to the magazine Mother Jones, from 2000 to 2004, Lindner was largest private donor to political parties in the Untied States. [21] Presently, Lindner serves as an important fundraiser for the Republican Party presidential campaign of John S. McCain. Specifically, in the month of June, Lindner organized an event where he raised more than 2.5 million dollars for McCain’s campaign and the Republican Party, charging 25 thousand dollars per person to participate in said event. Likewise, Lindner actively participates in the McCain’s campaign in the state of Ohio (where Chiqutia’s headquarters are located). [22] Furthermore, the McCain’s chief political advisor is Charlie R. Black Jr., who has carried out lobby work for Chiquita Brands on at least two occasions in 2001. According to the newspaper The Huffington Post, Chiquita Brands paid Mr. Black 80 thousand dollars to handle issues relating to international commerce. [23]

Lastly, Chiquita Brands also had Joseph Whitehouse Hagin, deputy White House chief of staff from 2001 until July 2008, deputy campaign manager in George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign, and vice president of Chiquita Brands International from 1991 to 2000. [24] Hagin’s possible influence to the favor of Chiquita should not be underestimated, since in addition to handling the daily schedule and logistics of the president, which includes the personal physical security, Hagin is considered to be one of persons most trusted by president Bush, given that he has support the political of the Bush family since George H. W. Bush, the father, was a GOP presidential primary candidate in 1980. [25]

These are some of the principal reasons why the case against Chiquita Brands has not been able to move forward. For instance, despite the requests for information made to the US Department of Justice, this department has not provided the necessary information in order to formalize the extradition request against CYRUS FREIDHEIM JR., RODERICK M. HILLS, ROBERT OLSON, MORTEN ARNTZEN, JEFFREY D. BENJAMIN, STEVEN STANBROOK, DURK I. JAGER, JAIME SERRA, ROBERT F. KISTINGER, JAMES B. RILEY, ROBERT W. FISHER, CARL H. LINDNER, KEITH LINDER, y STEVEN WARSHAW. [26] If the Uribe administration, and specifically Attorney General Mario Iguarán Arana, do not acquire a real commitment -and not merely media-oriented- with respect to the extradition of these alleged responsible parties for the payments or the provision of weapons to paramilitary organizations in Colombia, and as the alleged instigators and sponsors of crimes against humanity and grave human rights violations committed by these same organizations, an effective justice will not be achieved.

Because, if it were not for these friends, Chiquita Brands International most certainly would have found itself in the same situation as John Walker Lindh, who faced charges similar to those implicating the Chiquita Brands board members, namely the provision of services to terrorist organizations and the transport of weapons. But in the case of Walker, although it only involved one specific person- and not the weight of a transnational enterprise with an annual revenue of 4.5 billion dollars that made payments to organizations classified as terrorist by the US government and that supposedly facilitated the entrance of at least three thousand assault rifles into Colombian territory-, when he finally accepted the charges against him in order to achieve a reduction of sentencing (just as did Chiquita Brands), he was sentenced to 20 years of prison with the possibility of parole. [27] Whereas, Chiquita was sentenced to pay the ridiculous punishment of paying a fine of 25 million dollars. [28] These are the advantages of having friends in high places.

Notas

[1Case United States of America against Chiquita Brands. US District Court for the District of Columbia, Criminal No. 07-055, March 13, 2007, paragraph 19, http://www.derechos.org/nizkor/corru/doc/indictment.html.

[2Uribe se Declara a Favor de la Extradición de Directivos de Chiquita Brand. Caracol Radio, March 17, 2007, http://www.caracol.com.co/noticias/403481.asp?id=403481.

[3For more general context, please consult: De la United Fruit Company a Chiquita Brands International, Cincinnati, Ohio, EEUU. José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective. April 2006, http://www.sinaltrainal.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=119&Itemid=64; Una Historia de Impunidad. El Espectador, Editorial, September 22, 2007, http://www.casamerica.es/es/horizontes/zona-andina/una-historia-de-impunidad?referer=/es/casa-de-america-virtual/literatura/articulos-y-noticias/contra-el-olvido.

[4Congreso de la República, debate sobre paramilitarismo en Antioquia convocado por el Senador Gustavo Petro. Abril 17 de 2007, http://www.polodemocratico.net/Uribe-autorizo-varias-Convivir-a.

[5Case United States of America against Chiquita Brands. US District Court for the District of Columbia, Criminal No. 07-055, March 13, 2007, paragraph 82, http://www.derechos.org/nizkor/corru/doc/indictment.html.

[6Case United States of America against Chiquita Brands. US District Court for the District of Columbia, Criminal No. 07-055, March 13, 2007, paragraph 21, http://www.derechos.org/nizkor/corru/doc/indictment.html; United States of America against Chiquita Brands International: Government’s Sentencing Memorandum. US District Court, Criminal No. 07-055 (RCL), September 17, 2007, page 6, http://www.corporatecrimereporter.com/chiquita091607.htm.

[7No avanzan los procesos en contra altos funcionarios del gobierno por sus presuntos nexos con el paramilitarismo. Corporación Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo, Septiembre 24 de 2008, http://www.colectivodeabogados.org/article.php3?id_article=1435.

[8Capturado el ex fiscal Guillermo León Valencia. Revista Semana, Septiembre 25 de 2008, http://www.semana.com/noticias-justicia/capturado-ex-fiscal-guillermo-leon-valencia/115848.aspx.

[9’Don Mario’, Narco Ligado a los Hermanos Castaño, es Ahora el Capo más Buscado del País. El Tiempo, February 8, 2008, http://www.derechos.org/nizkor/colombia/doc/mario.html.

[10Case No. 63.625. 18th District Attorney’s Office, National Unit against Terrorism, Resolution dated from August 1, 2003; Report of the General Secretariat of the Organization of American States on the Diversion of Nicaraguan Arms to the United Defense Forces of Colombia. Organization of American States, OEA/Ser.G, CP/doc. 3687/03, January 29, 2003, http://www.grip.org/bdg/g2052.html.

[11La fiscal del caso Chiquita señala a Guillermo Valencia Cossio. El Tiempo, Septiembre 19 de 2008, http://www.eltiempo.com/colombia/justicia/2008-09-19/la-fiscal-del-caso-chiquita-senala-a-guillermo-valencia-cossio_4538693-1; Piden investigar manejo de casos sobre paramilitarismo durante gestión de Guillermo Valencia Cossio. El Tiempo, Agosto 17 de 2008, http://www.eltiempo.com/colombia/justicia/2008-08-17/piden-investigar-manejo-de-casos-sobre-paramilitarismo-durante-gestion-de-guillermo-valencia-cossio_4451555-1.

[12Chiquita Brands International, Inc. 10-K/A. Securities and Exchange Commission, Washington, D.C., SEC File No. 1-01550, No. 950152-2-3445, April 29, 2002, http://www.secinfo.com/dsvs7.33bq.htm.

[14United States of America against Chiquita Brands International: Government’s Sentencing Memorandum. US District Court, Criminal No. 07-055 (RCL), September 17, 2007, http://www.corporatecrimereporter.com/chiquita091607.htm.

[15Ex-Chiquita Director Faces Legal Jeopardy. Cohen, Laurie P., Wall Street Journal, New York, August 2, 2007, http://siliconinvestor.advfn.com/readmsg.aspx?msgid=23764163.

[16Congressmen eye Chiquita case. Josh Meyer, Los Angeles Times, July 22, 2007, http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-chiquitaside22jul22,1,6310241.story?track=rss&ctrack=1&cset=true.

[17La fiscalía sopesa presentar cargos a ex directivos de Chiquita por otros pagos a las AUC. Terra Actualidad - EFE, Febrero 8 de 2007, http://actualidad.terra.es/articulo/html/av21756632.htm.

[18United States of America against Chiquita Brands International: Government’s Sentencing Memorandum. US District Court, Criminal No. 07-055 (RCL), September 17, 2007, http://www.corporatecrimereporter.com/chiquita091607.htm.

[19The 50 most influential minority lawyers in America. The National Law Journal, May 26, 2008, http://www.law.com/jsp/nlj/PubArticleNLJ.jsp?id=1202421621086.

[20Chiquita Brands International, Inc. 10-K/A. Securities and Exchange Commission, Washington, D.C., SEC File No. 1-01550, No. 950152-2-3445, April 29, 2002, http://www.secinfo.com/dsvs7.33bq.htm.

[21Are we better off: Welcome to Rangerville. Jodi Enda, Mother Jones, May 3, 2004, http://www.motherjones.com/news/special_reports/2004/04/MJ100_201.html.

[22McCain backer’s firm pleaded guilty to funding terrorist group in Colombia. Nico Pitney, The Huffington Post, July 2, 2008, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/07/02/mccain-fundraiser-oversaw_n_110354.html.

[23McCain backer’s firm pleaded guilty to funding terrorist group in Colombia. Nico Pitney, The Huffington Post, July 2, 2008, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/07/02/mccain-fundraiser-oversaw_n_110354.html.

[24Joseph Whitehouse Hagin. Wikipedia.org, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Hagin, last checked 09/27/2008; Who’s Who in the White House. Washington Post, June 22, 2005, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/administration/whbriefing/whoswho.html.

[25Real-life ’West Wing’ drama: Indian Hill native at Bush’s side. Howard Wilkinson, The Cincinnati Enquirer, January 20, 2003, http://www.enquirer.com/editions/2003/01/20/loc_hagin.html.

[26Los directivos de Chiquita Brands International: Totalmente identificados. Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo, 23 de julio de 2008, http://www.colectivodeabogados.org/article.php3?id_article=1365.

[27’I plead guilty,’ Taliban American says. CNN.com, July 17, 2002, http://archives.cnn.com/2002/LAW/07/15/walker.lindh.hearing/index.html.

[28Chiquita to pay fine for deals with militants. Josh Meyer, The Los Angeles Times, March 15, 2007, http://articles.latimes.com/2007/mar/15/world/fg-chiquita15.

Afiliaciones

Afiliado a la Federación Internacional de Derechos Humanos
y la Organización Mundial contra la Tortura
Estatus Consultivo en la OEA

José Alvear Restrepo

Nace en Medellín el 1 de julio de 1913 en el seno de una familia de profundas convicciones religiosas y bajo los parámetros de la ideología del partido conservador. Realiza sus estudios en la Facultad de Derecho de la Universidad de Antioquia, donde se gradúa de Abogado con una brillante tesis titulada: "Conflictos del trabajo: la huelga"

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