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July 24, 2007

Underwriting Terror In Colombia Corporations, Globalization

US corporation have been violating US law by underwriting Colombian death squads and drug traffickers, while the US government looks the other way. LAT:

For more than a decade, leftist guerrilla and right-wing paramilitary groups in Colombia have kidnapped or killed civilians, trade union leaders, police and soldiers by the hundreds and profited by shipping cocaine and heroin to the United States.

In that time, several American multinational corporations have been accused of essentially underwriting those criminal activities — in violation of U.S. law — by providing cash, vehicles and other financial assistance as insurance against attacks on their employees and facilities in the South American nation.

But only one such company — Chiquita Brands International Inc. — has been charged criminally in the United States. Now, a showdown is looming that pits some members of Congress against the Justice Department and the multinationals — including an American coal-mining company and Coca-Cola bottlers.

The lawmakers say that, in the cases of U.S. corporations in Colombia, the Justice Department has failed to adequately enforce U.S. laws that make it a crime to knowingly provide material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization — and they have opened their own investigation.

Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.), who is leading the effort, has questioned whether the Bush administration is putting the interests of U.S. conglomerates ahead of its counter-terrorism agenda.

Even the plea agreement reached with Chiquita in March — in which it acknowledged making the illegal payments — has been criticized as far too lenient by many outside legal experts and some high-ranking Justice Department prosecutors.

"I think they've escaped any kind of appropriate sanctions," Delahunt said in an interview last week. [...]

"Do our economic interests trump the war on terror? Are we making trade-offs?" Delahunt asked. "If we are, at the very least the public should know about it."

Lance Compa, an international trade specialist at Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations, acknowledged that there were many competing priorities in Colombia.

"But the general proposition that gross human rights violations should be weighed against trade policy and foreign policy is a mistake," Compa said. "The paramilitaries have infiltrated the highest levels of the [Colombian] government, and the Bush administration is looking the other way.

"It makes it all the more incumbent on U.S. policymakers to put a stop to any corporate dealings with paramilitary death squads." [Emphasis added]

A particularly glaring example of a general and fundamental problem: it is the essential nature of corporations to pursue their own selfish interests, but what's good for an individual corporation is very often bad for the rest of us. Which is another way of saying that the market cannot, all by itself, lead corporations to do what's good — or at least not harmful — for the country and for humanity. Like it or not, extra-market constraints are required — which is to say, government regulation. That assumes, of course, that the government is willing to enforce its own regulations, something that it no longer seems willing to do given the pervasive influence of corporate money in US politics.

It's not an inconsequential matter. We're talking about death squads here.

Posted by Jonathan at July 24, 2007 08:48 PM  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb