Friday, August 3, 2007

Another Sordid Chapter in the history of Chiquita

In the annals of business history, it's hard to top the corruption and brutality of Chiquita, formerly United Fruit. There are a lot of resources out there if you want to learn more about it, starting with Wikipedia, but I just wanted to talk about the newest development. In Colombia, Chiquita has been funneling money to a right-wing paramilitary group that is on the U.S. terrorist watch list. These cash payments are to ensure protection against the FARC, a left-wing paramilitary group that is also on the terrorist watch list. But wait, a major U.S. corporation funding terrorism is just one wrinkle in this story.

When a board member of Chiquita decided to disclose this matter, for whatever reason, he went to an old friend of his who was working at the Justice Department. That friend, Michael Chertoff, is now the nation's head of Homeland Security. Chertoff acknowledged the payments were illegal, but also understood the "complicated" nature of the situation and that he'd get back to Chiquita. He never did. Read into that what you will, but here is Chiquita's lawyer:

"If what you want to encourage is voluntary self-disclosure, what message does this send to other companies?" asked Holder, deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration. "Here's a company that voluntarily self-discloses in a national security context, where the company gets treated pretty harshly, [and] then on top of that, you go after individuals who made a really painful decision."

I'm probably being a cynic, but I don't buy that for a minute. I believe that Rod Hills, the man who approached Chertoff at the Justice Department, was looking for a wink and a nod to continue making payments to the terrorist group. And why didn't Chertoff take immediate action when he knew a big U.S. company was funding terrorism? To go into Holder's statement further, we should really entertain the notion of "oh, we knew these guys were funding terrorists, but since it was really a 'painful decision' for them, we should take it easy." Are you kidding me? In previous statements, George W. Bush saw no distinction between terrorists and those who feed them and provide them safe harbor. If you fund a terrorist and provide aid to a terrorist, you're a terrorist. That's the perspective of this administration. So is Bush willing to get in front of a camera, and call Chiquita terrorists?

Read the article in the Washington Post here

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