Colombia’s right-wing paramilitaries are terrorists. Washington named them as such in September 2001. But the AUC, as they are known from their Spanish initials, rule the roost in Urabá in northern Colombia. So what should a U.S. corporation have done when much of its annual $4.5 billion income depended upon free rein there?

It was a “difficult dilemma,” declared Fernando Aguirre, head of banana giant Chiquita Corp. Difficult, indeed. The AUC murdered more than 10,000 Colombians over two decades, helping to displace 3 million Colombians and confiscating between 6.2 million and 16.3 million acres of land.

Chiquita ended up paying $1.7 million in 100 installments to terrorists between 1997 and 2004, ostensibly for “protection” against left-wing guerrillas. In 2003, lawyers warned Chiquita executives that U.S. anti-terrorism laws were being violated.

Now Chiquita is off the hook. Federal Judge Royce Lamberth agreed to Chiquita’s proposal to pay $25 million in fines. Federal prosecutors accepted the proposal in March. On Sept. 17, Lambert also relieved Chiquita officials from prosecution, and allowed their identities to remain secret. Chiquita is on probation for five years.

At Colombiajournal.org, analyst Garry Leech makes a comparison. The Danish government charged seven clothing workers with financing terrorism because they had pledged, but not sent, money from T-shirts sales to a FARC radio station. FARC is Colombia’s main left-wing guerilla force. If convicted, the clothing workers face up to seven years in jail.

Colombian prosecutors are not happy. For Justice Minister Carlos Holguin, the plea agreement “gives the idea that impunity can be bought for a few million dollars.” Attorney General Mario Iguaran is considering extradition of responsible Chiquita executives. U.S. State Department official Thomas Shannon said that is allowable.

For former Colombian Attorney General Alfonso Gomez, the principle of reciprocity demands that the 500 Colombians sent to trial in the United States be matched by trials of Chiquita executives in Colombia. U.S. lawyers have launched civil suits on behalf of 173 Colombian victims of Chiquita-sponsored

AUC terror.

The full extent of the company’s crimes is not well known, however. There are reports of a delivery across the Chiquita dock in November 2001 of Israeli rifles and millions of ammunition rounds. But there was more.

Phillip Robertson, writing in the Virginia Quarterly, recounts interviews with an AUC functionary in Uraba designated as “Lorenzo” and with Salvatore Mancuso, a top AUC leader detained under Colombia’s Law of Peace and Justice, under which AUC chieftains confess their crimes in return for reduced

sentences.

Robertson reports that Lorenzo, who helped unload the arms shipment in November 2001, emphasized that “there was not a single shipment but a series of them, and these deliveries occurred at the time when the AUC was taking new territory, killing with impunity, and making millions.”

He learned that Chiquita boats delivering weapons left with bananas and drugs. Lorenzo, who “was there when it happened,” recalled orders that came down from AUC higher-ups: “‘We are going to send this many kilos of drugs and I need this many rifles,” Lorenzo said.

“Without access to the Chiquita port,” Robertson added, “the AUC couldn’t have exported drugs and bought weapons so easily and could not have grown quite so fast.”

The AUC capo Mancuso confirmed this. He “leaned over the desk and said, ‘Phillip, we did it many times. We exchanged drugs for guns. Basically, almost all the arms transactions were made either in drugs or dollars.’”

Robertson says the AUC is “merely a symbiont [a cooperative organism] on the body of a larger corporation that happened to share its interests. It, too, was a kind of corporation. They fed off each other.”

atwhit @megalink.net

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