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Funding terrorism — who, us?
Rob Gowland / Wednesday 4 April 2007

Imagine, if you can, that all the daily newspapers in Australia, and all the nightly TV news programs, gave prominence to reporting how — despite the bold threats by the US to extend the "war on terror" to not only target terrorist groups, but also those who fund terrorism — US corporations that admit to funding right-wing terrorist groups in Colombia, are let off with fines that are a fraction of the profits they made out of their Colombian trade and none of their executives go to jail.

Do you think the Australian people would smell a rat? Or at least become more than a trifle cynical about the sincerity of the US "war on terror"?

Yes, so do I. But that is just what happened to a US corporation, Chiquita Brands International, earlier this month.

The company admitted to providing more than US$1.7 million in funding over some years to a right-wing Colombian paramilitary group, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC).

Somewhat surprisingly, like the left-wing FARC, AUC is on the US State Department’s list of "foreign terrorist organizations", with whom, of course, it is forbidden to do business.

FARC, unlike AUC, is actually a revolutionary guerrilla army.

All the revolutionary forces are fighting to free the country from the grip of the puppet government of President Alvaro Uribe and the drug-funded criminals and landowners behind him — and the death squads and armed goons the government supporters rely on.

Chiquita Brands officials met with AUC leader Carlos Castano in 1997 and the paramilitary leader told them that he intended to drive the FARC from the Uraba region of Colombia and requested payments from Chiquita to fund his operations.

This the company was happy to do, paying by cheque would you believe! However, when the AUC was included on the State Department’s list of "foreign terrorist organizations", Chiquita switched to paying the paramilitaries in cash.

(That’s an example of the ethics of business, isn’t it? Don’t stop what you’re doing because it is illegal; stop only if you are likely to get caught.)

Presumably, the company had reason to think that the US Government would not mind if they continued to support anti-communists like AUC, even if they were on a list of terrorists and were terrorists.

Stated US policy is to "starve the terrorists of funding and shut down the institutions that support or facilitate terrorism". And yet, there can be few right-wing terrorist outfits anywhere in the world that do not receive at least part of their financial or military aid — either open or clandestine — from US agencies.

Whoever formulated the official US policy obviously thought those who would be caught funding terrorists would be foreigners. However, Chiquita Brands International is based in Cincinnati — it’s as American as apple pie.

Of course, it will come as no surprise to those who get their news elsewhere than in the mainstream capitalist media that US outfits, probably even more than those of other nations, fund global terrorism. Unfortunately, the mass of the people do get their news from the mainstream capitalist media.

Although Chiquita Brands pleaded guilty to "doing business with a terrorist group", the penalty was hardly harsh: the company was fined US$25 million.

As Garry Leech, editor of the US-based Colombia Journal wrote following the verdict, "the US$25 million fine amounts to a relatively small portion of the company’s more than US$200 million in profits earned since the AUC was designated a terrorist organisation in 2001.

"Chiquita’s fine also amounts to less than half of the US$51.5 million that the company pocketed from the 2004 sale of its Colombian subsidiary, Banadex."

Under the settlement, none of the company’s executives will face criminal charges. No wonder the company’s Chief Executive Officer Fernando Aguirre announced, "The agreement reached with the [US Department of Justice] today is in the best interests of the company."

The AUC has been responsible for the deaths of hundreds, perhaps thousands of people in Colombia. But since it targets trade unionists, communists and other progressive and democratic forces, the Bush administration is not overly concerned.

Documents tabled during the trial revealed — as Garry Leech notes — that "Chiquita told the US Justice Department about the payments [to the AUC] in 2003 and then continued to fund the paramilitary group for another ten months with the full knowledge of the Bush administration".

As I said earlier, US government policy is to starve terrorists of funds — sure it is.