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Chiquita Lauded for Human Rights Abuses

In its most recent edition, the magazine, “Super Lawyers,” gave its cover story to the General Counsel of Chiquita Brands International, praising him for navigating the complex and difficult waters of Colombia. What it failed to mention is the trail of tears in Latin America left behind by Chiquita (formerly United Fruit, the architect of the 1954 coup in Guatemala as well as the 1928 massacre of striking banana workers in Cienaga, Colombia memorialized in One Hundred Years of Solitude). The following letter, by union labor lawyer, DAN KOVALIK highlights the contradictions in the applause given to Chiquita. We note that, just after this letter was written, Chiquita also received (quite ironically) a “sustainability award” for its business abroad.

Re: Super Criminals

Dear Mr. White,

I just had the unfortunate experience of reading the cover story of your recent publication, “Super Lawyers,” which lauded the atrocities of Chiquita (formerly, United Fruit) — a company with a laundry list of atrocities to its name, to be sure.

Your publication, which purports to highlight “not just the ‘Usual Suspects,'” actually did focus on one of the “Usual Suspects” for war crimes in this issue. In this particular issue, you chose to applaud the General Counsel of Chiquita for what he claimed to be Chiquita’s “extra-difficult decisions to save lives” by paying murderous paramilitaries over $1.7 million over a 7-year period. Nothing is said of the lives lost due to these payments, nor is there mention of the cache of arms provided to the paramilitaries by Chiquita’s Colombian subsidiary (another count Chiquita pled guilty to).

According to Colombia’s Attorney General, Mario Iguaran, Chiquita’s payments to the paramilitaries were “not paid for protection, but rather, for blood; for the pacification of the Uruba banana region.” Iguaran, hardly a liberal, having been appointed by President Alvaro Uribe, estimates that around 4,000 civilians were killed as a result of the assistance Chiquita gave to the paramilitaries. Moreover, Iguaran has opined that the very phenomenon of parmilitarism which has gripped Colombia for years and which has led to countless murders, rapes and other atrocities, would not have been possible without this assistance by companies like Chiquita.

Yet, notwithstanding these facts, you chose to give Chiquita’s General Counsel your cover story to spew his apologies for his company’s support for war crimes. Of course, I should not be surprised, the law, after all, being an instrument created and maintained to protect the rich and strong from the poor and oppressed. I might just suggest that, to keep up the facade of a justice system blind to the pocketbook of the parties coming before it, you might not want to be so obvious in your publication in highlighting the legal profession as a guardian of those who amass profit through acts of massive violence.

I guess Bob Dylan said it best when he wrote, “All the criminals in their suits and their ties, are free to drink martinis and watch the sun rise . . . .”

I could end my note here, but a bit more is worth saying. Thus, even if we take Chiquita and Mr. Thompson at their word, their conduct hardly warrants congratulations. First, even by their own admissions to the Justice Department and to your magazine, it allegedly took them over 2 years to realize that the paramilitaries they were paying and providing arms to were designated by the U.S. State Department as “terrorists.” Is this a mark of great lawyering? Most of us would be fired for taking so long to realize our client was engaged in such a high crime. Indeed, what you call “super lawyering” would simply be called “malpractice” by most reasonable observers. And, even if they were paying “protection” to these killers to grow and profit from bananas as they claim, is that also a reason for praise? The Justice Department, which certainly let these folks off quite easily (they should all be in jail), certainly didn’t think this excused them from punishment.

I will end this by asking that you please refrain from ever sending me your publication again. You should be ashamed of yourself and your magazine. But, of course, we live in a world largely without shame, where petty criminals spend years in jail and the big criminals rule the world, thanks to the law you claim to be so dedicated to.

Sincerely,
DAN KOVALIK

DAN KOVALIK is a labor lawyer. He can be reached at: DKovalik@usw.org.

 

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Daniel Kovalik lives in Pittsburgh and teaches International Human Rights Law at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

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