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With a $25 Million Fine, Chiquita Washes its Hands in Death Squad Case

Chiquita has admitted to making payments to Colombian death squads -- but the death squads' victims won't get any money from the multinational, and none of the company's executives are facing jail time. Marino Cordoba used to live in the town of Riosucio, a small town populated by the descendants of freed slaves in the Colombian department of Choco, in a region called Uraba – a region famous for its banana and palm plantations, its gold, its forests, and its rivers. In recent years the region has also become famous for its death squads – right wing paramilitary groups that terrorize communities that refuse to bend to the will of foreign companies and big investors. These militias are organized under an umbrella group, the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC,) that has strong ties to the Colombian military and government and to cocaine and heroin traffickers. In 1996, Riosucio became the first community in the region to gain legal title to its land under provisions of Colombia's 1991 Constitution that granted Afro-Colombian communities collective rights to the land their ancestors settled. In a 2002 article, Cordoba described what happened next: Seven days later, at 5:00 AM on Dec. 13, 1996, paramilitary groups arrived in my town, Riosucio, intent on murdering the leaders and their families. Many were taken from their beds and paraded naked through the streets. Anyone who resisted was killed. The shouts woke me up. I ran to take refuge in the swamp along with many others. . . .At 8:00 AM, army helicopters started patrolling. The paramilitaries radioed the pilots to attack the swamp, claiming the people were guerrillas. The army attacked us with bombs and rifles, killing many people. Those who survived stayed in the water for three days until hunger and desperation forced us out. Some of us sneaked through the town and reached a rural community across the river. I recuperated there, then fled to Bogota, I thought of Marino Cordoba and the other survivors of the Riosucio massacre the other day when I read that Chiquita (the former United Fruit Company)had plead guilty to charges of financing a terrorist group in federal court after admitting to paying $1.7 million to the AUC over a ten year period. Their punishment a $25 million fine – less than half the money the company made by selling its Colombian subsidiary, a company that could never have grown as big as it did were it not for the role the paramilitaries played in preventing union organizing on the banana plantations and forcing communities off prime farming land. Chiquita Colombia made a lot of its money in Uraba. None of the survivors of the AUC's crimes will ever see a penny of that money. And even though top executives personally approved the payments to the AUC,none of them are facing a single day in jail. A bitter irony for Arab-Americans locked away in federal prison in the name of the war on terror, whose crimes pale in comparisson to Chiquita's: People like Dr.Rafil Dhafir an Iraqi-American who is serving 22 years in prison -- not for giving money to terrorists, but for sending food, medicine, and blankets to needy Iraqis in violation of U.S. sanctions. When Dafir was arrested, then Attorney General John Ashcroft held a [press conference] at which he told reporters that: "As President Bush leads an international coalition to end Saddam Hussein's tyranny and support for terror, the Justice Department will see that individuals within our borders cannot undermine these efforts," and that "Those who covertly seek to channel money into Iraq under the guise of charitable work will be caught and prosecuted." In contrast, the U.S. Justice Department doesn't have single posting about the Chiquita site on its website. Nor has the U.S. Justice Department shown any interest in investigating companies like Coca Cola or Drummond Coal that have even clearer links to paramilitary violence in Colombia than Chiquita. Once again proving that for the U.S. Justice Department, its not really terrorism unless the victims live in the U.S. or the perpetrators are Muslim. By Sean Donahue, March 17th, 2007