COLOMBIA: PARAMILITARY SCANDAL AND CORPORATE POWER

from Weekly News Update on the Americas:

On March 19 the Cincinnati-based banana company Chiquita Brands International formally admitted that its wholly owned Colombian subsidiary Banadex paid a total $1.7 million to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a rightwing paramilitary group, between 1997 and 2004. The company agreed to pay the US federal government $25 million in fines for supporting a terrorist group; the AUC is on the US State Department's list of terrorist organizations. On March 20 Colombian attorney general Mario Iguaran announced that he would seek the extradition of eight Chiquita officials to face trial in Colombia.

Chiquita officials claimed the company paid the paramilitary group to keep it from attacking Chiquita employees; the company said it had also paid off the two leftist guerrilla organizations, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), for the same reason. But Colombian prosecutors indicate that Chiquita's ties to the AUC are more extensive. They plan to ask the US Justice Department about a November 2001 incident in which a Banadex ship was used to unload 3,000 AK-47 rifles and more than 2.5 million bullets; these were bought by the paramilitaries from arms dealers who got them from Nicaraguan police. Colombia held Banadex's legal representative, Giovanny Hurtado Torres, in jail for a year in the investigation of the arms smuggling, but finally released him for lack of evidence. (Reuters, March 20 via Yahoo en Espanol; Houston Chronicle, March 25 from AP)

On March 16 Sun-Times Media Group Inc., publisher of the Chicago Sun-Times, said the US may investigate its chief executive, Cyrus Freidheim Jr., who headed Chiquita from 2002 to 2004. (Reuters, March 17)

Meanwhile, a suit is proceeding against the Alabama-based mining company Drummond Co. Inc. in connection with the 2001 murder of three unionists representing workers at Drummond's coal mine in northern Colombia. The suit, filed in US federal court in 2002 by the Colombian miners' union, Sintramienergetica, and the United Steelworkers of America, is now set for trial on May 14.

On March 14 the 11th US Court of Appeals ruled that US District Judge Karon Bowdre had exceeded her authority by sealing the documents in the case. These documents included sworn testimony by Rafael Garcia, a former Colombian security official now in prison in Colombia, that he was present at a meeting where Augusto Jimenez, president of Drummond Ltd, the company's Colombian branch, handed "a suitcase full of money" to a representative of paramilitary leader Rodrigo Tovar Pupo to have the three union leaders murdered. The sealed documents also showed that Drummond attempted to lobby the US State Department, apparently to get its help to have the lawsuit dismissed. The lobby effort included working with Baker Botts LLP, the law firm of James Baker, secretary of state in the 1989-1993 government of former US president George H.W. Bush.

On March 22 Drummond officials denied Rafael Garcia's allegations. But Jose Miguel Linares, a local Drummond vice president, acknowledged that a Drummond Ltd. director, Alfredo Araujo, is a cousin of Senator Alvaro Araujo, who was jailed in February on charges of working with the paramilitaries to kidnap a political rival; Alvaro Araujo's sister, Maria Consuelo Araujo, resigned from her post as foreign minister in the resulting scandal. On March 20 Colombia announced that it was starting a formal investigation of Drummond's possible ties to paramilitaries. (Forbes, March 14 from AP; Associated Press, March 16; Houston Chronicle, March 22 from AP)

Army Kills Peasants on Eastern Plains

According to information provided by the Foundation of the Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners (FCSPP) and the Social Corporation for Community Advising and Training (COS-PACC), troops from the Colombian Army's 16th Brigade executed two campesinos, Daniel Torres Arciniegas and 16-year-old Roque Julio Torres Torres, in the rural hamlet of El Triunfo, in Aguazul municipality, Casanare department. The army then presented the victims as "subversives killed in combat." Torres Torres had been a witness to the earlier execution of Hugo Edgar Araque Rodriguez and Freddy Alexander Cardenas by members of the same 16th Brigade; several soldiers were under judicial investigation for that crime.

Since 1996, 13 campesinos from Aguazul have been executed, another 26 have been disappeared, and there have been multiple cases of torture, forced displacement, arbitrary detention and other abuses in the municipality. The community has reported the abuses and fears retaliation. (Agencia Prensa Rural, March 20)

At least three other campesinos have been murdered in Aguazul since the beginning of this year. On Jan. 18, Angel Camacho was murdered in the hamlet of Plan Cunama las Brisas by individuals who appeared to be from a unit of the GAULA, a national anti-kidnapping force, based in Yopal, capital of Casanare. Witnesses said that after killing Camacho, the assassins placed a gun in the victim's hand and took photos of the body before taking it away.

On Jan. 29, two young individuals in civilian clothing who appeared to be leftist guerrillas murdered Reinaldo Zea in the hamlet of Retiro Milagro. After killing Zea, the assailants threatened his wife, warning her to stay quiet or face the same fate. On Feb. 12, a heavily armed group of men dressed in camouflage, accompanied by others in civilian clothing, stopped a bus transporting British Petroleum contract workers in the hamlet of La Florida; the men took Jaime Palacios off the bus and murdered him. (Message posted by FCSPP/COS-PACC March 20 on Colombia Indymedia)

On March 15, troops from Battalion 29 of the army's 16th Brigade, based in Yopal, took campesino Carlos Guevara from his home in the village of Ocove, in Labranzagrande municipality, Boyaca department (just northwest of Casanare), and forced him to accompany them. Hours later members of the army told the community that they had killed a guerrilla; residents recognized the body as that of Guevara. Several months earlier, the army had detained Guevara and accused him of being a guerrilla; the courts had freed him after finding no evidence for that claim. (Message from FCSPP/COS-PACC, undated, received March 23)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 25, 2007

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Weekly News Update on the Americas
http://home.earthlink.net/~nicadlw/wnuhome.html

See also:

WW4 REPORT #126, October 2006
http://ww4report.com/node/2577

More on Drummond at WW4 REPORT #43:
http://ww4report.com/static/43.html#andean3

From our weblog:

Colombia rejects CIA report on army-para ties
WW4 REPORT, March 26, 2007
http://ww4report.com/node/3445

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Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, April 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution