Tuesday, Nov 25, 2008
President-elect Barack Obama’s choice to be attorney general, Eric Holder, represented Cincinnati-based Chiquita International, the banana giant that paid $1.7 million to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a group designated by the United States as a terrorist group. Moreover, Holder, as the attorney for Chiquita, may have been aware of arms and ammunition shipments to the AUC, which was involved in massacring Colombian peasants and union activists.
In 2003, after Chiquita board member Roderick Hills approached his old law firm partner Michael Chertoff, then the head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, and revealed to Chertoff that Chiquita was paying “protection money” to the AUC, Chertoff and Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson reportedly sat on the case. There is now ample reason to believe that Holder, who was well aware of serious crimes being committed by Chiquita in supporting a terrorist group, weighed in with the Justice Department to downplay the investigation of Chiquita. And Holder had a powerful ally in the Bush White House. George W. Bush’s deputy chief of staff, Joe Hagin, had been a Chiquita executive at the time the payments were being made to the AUC terrorists. Moreover, the AUC has been linked to the Colombian government of President Alvaro Uribe, a close political ally of Bush, as well as former President Bill Clinton, Holder’s boss when he was deputy attorney general. One of the charges leveled against Chiquita is that is has paid bribes to politicians in Colombia.
The U.S. ambassador to Colombia in 2003 was Anne Patterson, now the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan and someone seen as supportive of U.S. covert operations that are not always legal.
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Chiquita’s ties to the Bush White House do not stop with Hagin and Uribe. At the time the payments to the AUC were being made, Chiquita’s chairman was Cincinnati’s multi-billionaire Carl Lindner, Jr., a “Super Ranger” donor to Bush and a significant player in delivering Ohio to the Bush column in 2004.
Lindner has always played hardball with the press on reporting on Chiquita’s dubious business practices, including the reported use of its ships to smuggle cocaine from Colombia to Europe. After the Cincinnati Enquirer published an 18-page special on Chiquita’s activities in 1998 based on 2,000 internal Chiquita voice mails obtained from a Chiquita executive insider, Chiquita threatened to sue the paper. With the Hamilton County prosecutor Joseph Deters in its hip pocket, the newspaper and its reporter Michael Gallagher came under criminal investigation for possession of “stolen” Chiquita voice mails.
The Enquirer settled with Chiquita for $10 million to avoid the threatened lawsuit and Gallagher was fired. Later, the paper’s publisher Harry Whipple, defended the story as true, said the voice mails were authentic, and denied that Gallagher fabricated anything in his reporting.
The Enquirer reported that in 1997 at least seven Chiquita ships that sailed from the Chiquita shipping center at Santa Marta, Colombia, were discovered to have shipped more than a ton of pure cocaine to Belgium and the United Kingdom. Holder was appointed Deputy Attorney General by Clinton in 1997.
Chiquita’s record on dealing with agricultural workers is abysmal. Not only has the firm been tied to harassment and killings by right-wing paramilitaries of peasants in Colombia but it has also been charged with aiding the Honduran military in evicting poor farmers in Honduras.
Chiquita was formerly United Fruit Company, the firm that helped the CIA overthrow the democratically-elected government of Guatemala in 1954, a move that gave rise to the term “banana republic.”
This article was posted: Tuesday, November 25, 2008 at 5:01 am