Saturday, November 8, 2008

An interesting piece from the Huffington Post

In continuation from my tongue in cheek post from yesterday, here's some food for thought about the future Obama Administration's commitment to human rights and justice in Colombia from Dan Kovalik in the Huffington Post.

In its recent report entitled, "Breaking the Grip? Obstacles to Justice for Paramilitary Mafias in Colombia," Human Rights Watch (HRW) had specific recommendations for the U.S. Department of Justice. Specifically, HRW recommended that, in order to assist with the process of ending the ties between the Colombian government and paramilitary death squads, the U.S. Department of Justice should, among other things, "[c]reate meaningful legal incentives for paramilitary leaders [a number of whom have already been extradited to the U.S.] to fully disclose information about atrocities and name all Colombian or foreign officials, business or individuals who may have facilitated their criminal activities," and "[c]ollaborate actively with the efforts of Colombian justice officials who are investigating paramilitary networks in Colombia by sharing relevant information possible and granting them access to paramilitary leaders in U.S. custody."

Do not expect these recommendations to be carried forward if Eric Holder decides to forgo his lucrative corporate law practice at Covington & Burling and accept the U.S. Attorney General position for which many believe he is the top contendor.

Eric Holder would have a troubling conflict of interest in carrying out this work in light of his current work as defense lawyer for Chiquita Brands international in a case in which Colombian plaintiffs seek damages for the murders carried out by the AUC paramilitaries - a designated terrorist organization. Chiquita has already admitted in a criminal case that it paid the AUC around $1.7 million in a 7-year period and that it further provided the AUC with a cache of machine guns as well.

According to Mario Iguaran, the Attorney General of Colombia, these payments to the AUC paramilitaries led to the murder of 4000 civilians in the banana region of Colombia and furthered the growth of the paramilitaries throughout Colombia and their violent takeover of numerous Colombian regions. Iguaran, in response to Chiquita's claim that it was forced to pay "protection" to the paramilitaries, stated unequivocally that Chiquita was not paying for protection; rather, "it was paying for blood."

One former paramilitary leader who is in federal custody in the U.S., Salvatore Mancuso, has stated that he has more knowledge about Chiquita's relationship with the paramilitary death squads in Colombia. Mancuso further claims that Dole and Del Monte also made payments to the paramilitaries, just as Chiquita did. Yet, Dole and Del Monte remain un-indicted. Query whether, as Human Rights Watch recommends, a Justice Department under Holder would be interested in pursuing this and other similar leads.

In addition to Chiquita, Holder's firm has also represented such notable corporate wrongdoers as Halliburton and the Southern Peru Copper Corporation. And, while Holder is also known to be actively involved in laudable charitable activities, it should be of grave concern to those, like myself, who hope for change from the new Obama Administration, that the new Attorney General would be involved in defending corporations against serious corruption and human rights charges. That is not the type of Attorney General we need in the wake of the recent economic collapse created by the unfettered greed of such corporate firms