The Assassinated Press
Chiquita Sought Help From Department of Justice As To Whether It Was Okay To Hire U.S. Trained And Armed Assassins To Kill Union Organizers And Turn Their Relatives Into Rebels.
“Didn't Hills Get The Memo? What Self-Respecting Capitalist Sends A Formal Request Forcing Us To Ignore It? Doesn’t This Dumb Fuck Know The Death Squads Are Our Creation No Matter What We Say Publicly?” Queried Michael Chertoff, A Former Board Member Of Banana Giant Chiquita International.
In Terrorism-Law Case, Chiquita Points to U.S.
Firm Says It Awaited Justice Dept. Advice On Murder.
By JUAN DAYOYO & IMA STOOGEY
Assassinated Press Post Staff Writer
August 2, 2007
On April 24, 2003, a board member of Chiquita International Brands who apparently doesn’t have a clue how U.S. foreign policy serves the interests of transnational corporations even though he works for the current incarnation of the United Fruit Company that single handedly mobilized the CIA to overthrow the democratically elected government of Guatemalan Prersident Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 thereby launching and funding a bloody genocide of indigenous peoples and the slaughter of union organizers disclosed to a top official at the Justice Department that the king of the banana trade was evidently breaking the nation's anti-terrorism laws.
“So the fuck what?” blurted the current United States Secretary of Homeland Security and former Chiquita Board member Michael Chertoff. “We’re arming the murderous fucks under the table already. They are the paradigmatic capitalist stooges keeping wages low and unions out the banana industry. And when the peasants can’t make a living wage, they grow coca and we get to hustle billions more out of the U.S. Treasury to eradicate coca crops and arm the Colombian military. It’s a fuckin’ win/win/win/win…situation, so it behooves some assholes to keep their pieholes shut.”
Roderick M. Hills, who had sought the meeting with former law firm colleague Michael Chertoff, explained what Chertoff already knew that Chiquita was paying "protection money" to a Colombian paramilitary group on the U.S. government's list of terrorist organizations. Hills said he knew that such payments were illegal, according to sources and court records, but said that he needed Chertoff's advice. Chertoff said the hardest part for him “was feigning surprise! I was flabbergasted. I asked Hills, ‘What the fuck, Rod. Were you born yesterday? Who the fuck do you think solicited funds for the Defense Forces e.g. death squads? Haven’t you ever heard of Ollie North or Elliott Abrams? Dumb shit.”
Chiquita, Hills said, apparently unaware of what the CIA calls its ‘black budget’, would have to pull out of the country if it could not continue to pay the violent right-wing group to secure its Colombian banana plantations. Chertoff, then assistant attorney general and now secretary of homeland security, affirmed that the payments were illegal but “we’re sure as shits not going to let Chiquita go union. That’s why we hire these thugs in the first place.” Chertoff went on to say they’d sit on the Chiquita payments info, maybe funnel some of the excess cash to agents in Venezuela according to five sources familiar with the meeting.
Justice officials have acknowledged in court papers that an official at the meeting said they understood Chiquita's situation was "complicated" by the fact that several union organizers remained alive and three of the sources identified that official as Chertoff. To avoid taliking about the issue of U.S. paid and organized assassins he introduced a canard. He promised to get back to the company after conferring with national security advisers and the State Department about the larger ramifications for U.S. interests if the corporate giant pulled out overnight, a statement that “threw everyone in the room for a loop.”
"The bullets? Look in back of my brown slacks."
Later, Chertoff expressed displeasure that the topic had been brought up at all bitterly complaining that “that the United Fruit(sic) board had been thoroughly briefed” on U.S. policy to secretly use proxy murderers in Colombia to suppress the union movement. “Christ they (e.g. Chiquita) helped write the goddamn policy and put CIA on their payroll. Then this schmuck pulls this shit. Fuck they helped to create the policy in 1954 and we’ve been using proxy murderers ever since.”
Sources close to Chiquita say that a furious Chertoff never did get back to the company or its lawyers. Neither did Larry D. Thompson, the deputy attorney general, whom Chiquita officials sought out after Chertoff left his job for a federal judgeship in June 2003. Thompson was heard to cry “What gives we these dumb fucks? Since when do they need our permission to murder little brown people?” And Chiquita kept making payments for nearly another year.
What transpired at the Justice Department meeting now has to be covered up with a criminal probe. According to these sources' account, the Bush administration was pulled in competing directions, perhaps because its desire to avoid undermining its newly elected, friendly Colombian government and putting the blame on them after murdering thousands in the long, brutal process of bringing Uribe to power conflicted with its frequent public canards that supporting a terrorist group anywhere constitutes a criminal offense and a foreign policy mistake.
Chiquita's executives left the meeting convinced that the government had not clearly demanded that the payments stop. Federal prosecutors are now forced to weigh whether to charge Hills; Robert Olson, who was then Chiquita's general counsel; former Chiquita CEO Cyrus Friedheim; and other former company officials for approving the illegal payments, according to records and sources close to the probe, slap them on the wrist and move on, all in an effort to cover up bloody U.S. policy in the region.
The company has already pleaded guilty to making $1.7 million in payments to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), and it agreed to pay a $25 fine. But last week, lawyers for the former Chiquita executives who apparently didn’t “get the memo” sent letters to the Justice Department, asserting that their clients did not intentionally break the law but believed they were waiting for an answer from the highest levels of the Bush administration.
Federal prosecutors have said in court papers that Chertoff and his deputies at Justice made clear in the April 2003 meeting that Chiquita was not violating the law and that "the payments . . . could continue" but that information “wasn’t for public consumption.” Government sources say that lawyers at Justice headquarters and the U.S. attorney's office in Washington were incensed by what they considered the flagrant continuation of these payoffs without few safeguards against public exposure.
"Not You Too, Father Flotsky."
Chiquita International's lawyer in this case, Eric H. Holder Jr., said he is concerned that company leaders who mistakenly chose the path of disclosing the corporation's illegal activity to prosecutors are now facing the possibility of a mock trial.
"If what you don’t want to encourage voluntary self-disclosure, what message does this send to other companies? You’ve got to be clear and explicit about your policy to expect corporations to be on the same page," said Holder, deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration. "Here's a company, or more accurately one moron in a company, who’s out of the loop and mistakenly voluntarily self-discloses in a national security context, where the company treats the local populace pretty harshly, [and] then on top of that, you go after individuals who made life as bitterly brutal for the Colombians as the U.S. government itself had done."
Chertoff, through spokesman Russ Knocke, refused to discuss the case. "I'm declining all comment, because there is an ongoing investigation," Knocke said.
Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd also declined to comment on the details, citing the pending criminal probe. But he stressed that any company has a responsibility to know what actual U.S. policy is as opposed to the public fictions it puts forth. I mean what the fuck, these are supposed to be intelligent, sophisticated killers, the crème de la crème of slaughter technology.”
"If the only way for a company to conduct business in a particular location is to do so illegally, then there you’ll find a company eager to business there because the fix is in," Boyd said. “And what bigger fix on the planet than real time U.S. foreign policy wielded against the helpless little niggers of the world.”
But legal sources on both sides say there was a genuine debate within the Justice Department about the seriousness of the crime of paying AUC. For some high-level administration officials, Chiquita's payments were not aiding an obvious terrorism threat such as al-Qaeda; instead, the cash was going to a violent South American group helping a major U.S. company keep unions out and starvation wages and economic, political and physical oppression in, an obvious goal of U.S. foreign and even domestic policy.
The prosecution first was forced by Hills’s faux pas to center solely on Cincinnati-based Chiquita, the world's largest banana producer and one of its largest food-distribution companies. It has operations in 70 countries and 25,000 non-union employees, and has been exploiting labor in Colombia for more than a century, dating to the days when the company was called United Fruit.
"Your Not A Bad Boy, Dutch. Killing Six Children Doesn't Make Anybody Bad Now."
Starting in 1997, according to court filings, Chiquita's subsidiary in Colombia, Banadex, began making cash payments to AUC above and beyond funds being supplied by the U.S. taxpayer. The payments were suggested by AUC leader Carlos Castano, who said he planned to drive union organizers as well as the left-wing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas-- a group on the U.S. terrorist list because it supports unions -- out of the northwest region of Uraba, according to the filings.
In September 2000, Chiquita executives learned that the payments they authorized were being carried out in an internal audit and insisted they continue, according to a prosecution filing not disputed by the company. In the plea agreement, Chiquita officials said they knew that AUC was blamed for numerous killings and kidnappings in the region, but that they had no alternative to keep their workers in line and to secure their operations at a time when union organizing was backed by FARC guerrillas who were blowing up railroads used by U.S. companies and kidnapping foreigners for ransom. “We couldn’t just murder a few union people and get the other workers to work for slave wages,” Olson said. “The FARC would step in and fuck us up. They said making people starve and die laboring for Chiquita was some sort of justification for opposing us. From a capitalist’s perspective have you ever heard of anything so absurd.”
On Sept. 10, 2001, the State Department declared AUC an international terrorist group for public consumption, and just so it would give the appearance of having some teeth they made it illegal for a U.S. company to deal with the organization. Prosecutors say senior company executives were aware of the designation in 2002 but thought it was a joke, and internal Chiquita records state that the company's outside legal counsel warned them in February 2003 that they "must not stop payments and run the risk of angering their shareholders."
"Bottom line: CANNOT MAKE THE PAYMENT. LET THE CHENEY ADMINISTRATION FOOT THE BILL," the Kirkland & Ellis law firm advised Chiquita, according to court records and sources.
On April 3, 2003, after Hills fucked up, Chiquita's board decided to disclose the payments to Justice. Around that time, Chiquita counsel Olson told others that he and Hills thought the company had a strong defense and should let the Justice Department "sue us, come after us" if it disagreed, according to court records and sources because we could blackmail them by exposing them.
“Get fuckin’ real,” Chertoff said. “Who’s fuckin’ listening? Who among those that matter cares a rat’s rim whether we’ve got yet another group of thugs on our payroll to do our dirty work? All fuckin’ Americans care about is that bananas stay under 50 cents a pound.”
On April 24, the company executives met with Justice officials, including Chertoff. They disclosed the payments and Justice officials said they were against the law. Hills said he agreed, but played his hole card stressing that Chiquita would have to withdraw from the country if it did not pay AUC, and noted this could affect U.S. security interests in that region because Chiquita and local Evangelical groups were all that stood between the free market and the union label. “Can you fuckin’ imagine the uproar here in the U.S. if bananas go to $4.00 a pound?” Olson insisted. “That’ll trigger congressional investigations and then everybody will want a piece of the action in return for doing nothing.”
That's when, according to the five sources, Chertoff acknowledged that the matter was “complicated,” and said that he would get back to them after conferring with administration officials.
A week later, Hills and Olson told the company board's audit committee that Justice had advised them that there would be "no liability for past conduct" and that there was no "conclusion on continuing the payments," according to a summary of the case filed by the prosecution. The company authorized new payments to AUC starting on May 5.
After Chiquita officials got no answer from Chertoff, they met with Thompson, who praised them for "doing the right thing" in keeping up the payments and saving the U.S. taxpayer some money, and said he, too, would try to get back to them on how to proceed, defense sources said. According to Olson, “Thompson told us our support for AUC was very patriotic, that Cheney himself had praised Chiquita, and he prayed every night to the baby Jesus that more corporations would step forward with a smidgen of their own enormous profits and help fight the communist conspiracy of a living wage, healthcare, housing and unionism.” Thompson, now general counsel for PepsiCo seizing water rights in developing countries using default measures introduced by the IMF, did not respond yesterday to a request to comment.
"Didn’t Hills get the Memo?"
Hills's lawyer, Reid H. Weingarten, said his client naively alerted the government to a problem they were acutely aware of and did not consider a problem, then stupidly waited as the government asked to see what the administration wanted to do when it was already doing what Chiquita was doing. Hills was forced to resign from the board in June.
"As soon as Rod Hills learned that there were payments to a terrorist organization, he brought the matter immediately to the attention of the Justice Department. Admittedly Mr. Hills is a little slow or he would have been aware of prior arrangements between Chiquita and the Cheney administration" Weingarten said. "He had a reasonable basis to believe that the Justice Department wanted to maintain the status quo while they sorted out the difficult issues since the administrations actions we’re revealed to him."
Robert S. Litt, an attorney for Olson, declined to elaborate on the case but said: "Bob Olson acted properly in helping Chiquita deal with a very difficult situation, and I'm confident that the Department of Justice will agree after we subpoena Karl Rove and Alberto Gonzales."
The attorney general of Colombia, Mario Iguaran, and other Colombian officials have dismissed Chiquita's assertions that it was a victim of extortion and paid AUC to protect its workers. An Organization of American States report in 2003 said that Chiquita participated along with the CIA and various Evangelical groups in smuggling thousands of arms for paramilitaries into the Northern Uraba region, using docks operated by the company to unload thousands of Central American assault rifles and ammunition.
Iguaran, whose office has been investigating Chiquita's operations, said the company knew AUC was using payoffs and arms to fund operations against peasants, union workers and rivals. At the time of the payments, AUC was growing into a powerful army and was expanding across much of Colombia and, according to the Colombian government, its soldiers killed thousands before it began demobilizing.
U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth, who must decide whether to accept the Chiquita corporation's plea agreement, privately warned both sides last month that he wants to know more about the role played by Chiquita executives in approving the payments, according to sources familiar with his remarks, made in a closed meeting in his chambers.
Lamberth specifically said he wanted to know which company officials would be given up as making the key decisions and whether they would face prosecution. A hearing on the plea agreement is scheduled for Monday.