Wilson Borja: “The entire Colombian opposition is in danger” Unity amid polarization
Jul 032007

CIP Intern Gareth Smail attended last Thursday’s House committee hearing on U.S. corporations’ dealings with armed groups in Colombia. Here are his notes.

Though these notes are pretty detailed, here are some general observations that apply overall:

  • None of the representatives, even the Democrats, used language similar to that in the Appropriations Committee’s report on the Foreign Operations bill, which expresses “grave concerns” over the current Plan Colombia assistance package and calls for the U.S. government to rethink security-oriented aid. Instead, the subcommittee members generally thanked President Uribe for progress and refused to criticize his security policy.
  • Despite this consensus, the subcommittee members still managed to find room for partisan bickering. Both Democrats and Republicans balked at the “double standards” of the other side. Human rights abuses could barely be mentioned without a quip about Venezuela or Cuba. Toward the end, Chairman Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Massachusetts) tried to back Rep. Connie Mack (R-Florida) into saying he would support the extradition of U.S. executives to Colombia.
  • Mr. Kovalik, Mr. Guzman, and Mr. Ramirez had difficulty getting their messages across. Mr. Guzman and Mr. Ramirez relied on a translator and were unable to express their arguments against the questioning the subcommittee’s Republicans. Rep. Dan Burton (R-Indiana) undercut Mr. Kovalik by holding up a picture of him with a poster of Che Guevara in his office. The subcommittee members were more attentive to the testimony of Ms. McFarland and Ambassador Reich.
  • In the end, the specific cases of Drummond and Chiquita were left unresolved. With just a few exceptions, both sides (and particularly the Republicans) used this debate to focus on the general relationship between U.S. corporations and security abroad, instead of these cases’ specific policy implications.

Hearing notes
Rayburn 2172

Hearing of the International Organizations, Human Rights, and Oversight Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs: “The problems of U.S. companies in Colombia.”

Opening Statements
Chairman Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Massachusetts):

  • This meeting is to hear evidence regarding allegations that Chiquita Banana and Drummond Coal participated in terrorist activities in Colombia.
    • Chiquita Banana and Drummond Coal will be invited to represent themselves before the subcommittee at a later date.
  • The Chairman met with Prosecutor-General Mario Iguarán this year and they agreed that the U.S. and Colombia “should cooperate” on this matter.
  • The Chairman extends a “thank you” to President Uribe and Ambassador Barco for facilitating this process.
  • The Chairman summarized the recent history of Colombian violence, mentioning La Violencia, the emergence of drug cartels, and the fading of the distinction between criminal and political violence.
  • The U.S. has a vital national interest (and special moral responsibility) to address Colombian violence and criminality.
    • 90 percent of cocaine and 50 percent of heroin in the United States come from Colombia.
    • This precipitates $100s of billions in economic losses.
  • Illegal drug purchases in the U.S. fund killing in Colombia.
  • There has been progress thanks to Uribe and others in the Colombian Government (like Iguarán)
  • The Peace and Justice Initiative is a major step forward.
    • The process is not perfect, but it does offer hope.
    • It requires confessions, which have revealed allegations against these companies in the first place.
  • In that process, Chiquita and Drummond have been mentioned specifically.
    • Chiquita has admitted to paying illegal groups for protection.
    • Drummond has been accused of hiring paramilitaries who subsequently killed 3 union leaders in its mines.
  • If U.S. has any role in these events, even an unwilling one, “we must examine it.”

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-California):

  • The congressman would like to see a more balanced panel, representing more business voices.
    • None of the companies are here to defend themselves. Often they are “advised by lawyers not to say anything, so they don’t.”
  • So far, Drummond has denied all allegations the Steelworkers have made against them. Said they will go to the public debate after the trial.
  • Still, there is a larger point of progress in Colombia to be made.
  • The congressman agrees with the analysis that the U.S. Government is complicit in the violence in Colombia.
    • Perhaps U.S. drug policy has not worked.
      • The Reagan approach of “zero tolerance” dropped drug use 50%.
      • Since then, the moral imperative lost priority.
    • Drug use finances criminal elements in Colombia.
    • The American people should not think that Colombian violence is occurring isolated from their own behavior.
  • Progress has been made in spite of left wing violence and “right-wing” paramilitaries. Throughout this process there is always negotiation. U.S. businesses are caught in the middle.
  • The congressman will approach the hearing with a skeptical and demanding eye.

Rep. George Miller (D-California):

  • The U.S. and Colombia have long relationship with much at stake.
  • Corporate involvement in violence raises troubling, but not necessarily new, issues.
  • The congressman is disturbed by the killing of civil society leaders in Colombia:
    • Uribe is an enjoyable person but policy is not based on personal relationships. Policy is and should be based on the rule of law and the enforcement of law.
  • Military cannot and should not put down labor leaders.

Rep. Dan Burton (R-Indiana):

  • Crimes against union members (or anyone) need to be examined.
  • BUT:
    • Chiquita has already admitted crimes and been punished.
    • Drummond has a case still pending before federal judge.
      • Hopes the subcommittee will not run to judgment before the court has.
      • Disliked Uribe’s treatment when he visited Washington in May.
  • Since 2002 huge progress has been made.
    • Although it has not been perfect, Uribe, as an ally of the U.S., has been diligent about addressing U.S. concerns (like illicit killings).
    • The numbers speak for themselves.

Rep. Robert Andrews (D-New Jersey):

  • With global opportunity comes global responsibility.
  • There is an inextricable link between violence and union activity (and the number of deaths proves this).
  • There is evidence of at least 1 major company participating in financing of this activity (Chiquita).
  • Collective bargaining is a fundamental human right.
  • This assault on human rights will decide the future of the U.S.-Colombia relationship.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-California):

  • Conditions in Colombia have a bearing on the decisions Congress makes.
    • Colombia is the worst country for unionists (and this is a new trend since 1990).
  • This hearing will present gross violations of human rights.

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-South Carolina):

  • The congressman likes Colombia culturally and encourages cultural exchange.
  • Security progress is an extraordinary achievement and should be emphasized.
  • The congressman appreciates and thanks Ambassador Reich for his attendance.

Rep. Connie Mack (R-Florida):

  • This hearing should be viewed through a lens that distinguishes the U.S. from Colombia.
  • Drugs deteriorate societies both at home and abroad.

Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa):

  • Impunity is a hugely important issue.
  • U.S. demand for drugs creates problems in Colombia

Megan McFarland (Human Rights Watch):

  • HR Watch has monitored human rights in Colombia for 2 decades.
  • Before discussing the government of Colombia, the organization officially condemns the FARC for kidnapping.
  • Colombia has the highest rate of unionist killings in the world.
    • The majority are committed by paramilitaries.
    • 400 have been killed since Uribe took office.
  • Yet, the numbers have dropped in recent years. This can be explained by several factors:
    • The FARC have retreated into more rural areas.
    • There has been a shift in paramilitary tactics.
      • Through the 1990’s the paramilitaries were expanding in influence.
      • Since 2000, the paramilitaries began consolidating control and stopped expanding geographically. This means that massacres have declined, dropping the total number of unionist murders.
      • Yet, the number of selective killings remains unchanged.
      • Paramilitaries now employ threats and attacks against victims’ families.
  • There is widespread impunity; most of these murders go unpunished.
  • Meanwhile, unionists are stigmatized as leftist guerrillas.
  • Paramilitaries have political influence (parapolitics scandal, Noguera scandal).
  • In this context, Uribe announces a proposal to release all politicians linked to these groups.
  • Paramilitaries want protection from extradition to the U.S.
  • Though some are in prison, they continue their illicit activities.
  • The U.S. should adjust its policy such that the FTA is contingent on:
    • Colombia producing solid evidence of progress through convictions.
    • Uribe abandoning his proposal to release suspected paramilitary collaborators from prison.
    • Commanders being properly held without access to their networks.
    • Paramilitary leaders being extradited when they can be tried in the U.S.

Daniel Kovalik (United Steelworkers):

  • United Fruit has become Chiquita. There is a history of killing unionists.
  • Iguarán has suggested that companies were knowingly paying for blood.
  • The AUC activities are dreaded by many. Chiquita funding led to thousands of killings.
  • The Administration has not been responsive to this problem.
    • DOJ allowed 10 more payments from Chiquita to the paramilitaries to continue after the first was submitted.
    • Chiquita is allowed to pay over 5 years in a “payment plan.”
    • In 2003, representative sent a letter to the DOJ to investigate companies implicated in Colombian violence but received no response.
  • The witness describes the case against Drummond.
    • In 2001, 2 brothers were pulled off company bus, stopped by paramilitaries, and murdered because of their union activities.
    • Another worker complained that someone tipped the paramilitaries off and was killed quickly afterward.
  • These cases represent a new phenomenon of “parabusiness” in Colombia.
  • The DAS, according to Iguarán’s allegations, submitted a list of union leaders to kill.

Edwin Guzman (Colombian Armed Forces)

  • The witness publicly denounces connections between the paramilitaries and Drummond, the Colombian Army, and Colombian politicians.
  • There were paramilitaries that mobilized themselves in Drummond’s facilities.
    • Army members conducted operations that captured paramilitaries in the Drummond installation.
    • An army colonel provided arms and uniforms to the paramilitaries stationed there.
  • Others to offer testimony have been killed.
  • The witness was charged with arms trafficking.
    • He wrote a book documenting his experience.
  • Drummond was going to pull out of Colombia because the Army could not protect operation. The FARC risk was too high.
    • Instead, it sought the private services of the AUC.
  • Many companies do the same thing.
  • In the army, people are taught to attack the left in any way possible, legally or illegally.
    • Unions are seen as guerrilla fronts.
  • The witness has no evidence of how Drummond gave money to the AUC. But when he entered the AUC, he saw vehicles from Drummond. Luis Ricardo Rodriguez, a retired colonel, was in charge of facilitating interaction.

Francisco Ramirez (Sintraminercol):

  • The witness agrees that multinational corporations (MNCs) need security guarantees.
  • This security should not come through violence or corruption.
  • In Colombia, it is common practice for MNCs (with support of the state) to kill unionists.
  • Companies commit illegal practices from the moment they arrive.
  • Drummond gave out direct payments, materials (gas, cars, motorcycles) and is directly responsible for murders.
  • Elected members of the Colombian Government have pushed to change laws that help MNCs.
    • Sen. Alvaro Araujo (now in jail, charged with helping paramilitaries) introduced law to lower taxes for MNCs and Drummond.
    • The labor code changed in the same way.
  • These companies have been investigated by the DEA.
  • The Occidental Petroleum Company ordered the 18th Brigade to bomb a town, killing many [this is an apparent reference to the 1998 Santo Domingo massacre in Arauca; Colombia's air force - not the army's 18th Brigade - stands accused].
  • The same brigade killed 3 union leaders [in 2004] and is constantly violating human rights.
  • This occurs with U.S. tax money.
  • $98 million goes to the battalion to look after Occidental Petroleum Company.
  • In the area in which BP operates, the brigade killed union leaders.
  • In the area where Exxon Mobil operates, indigenous leaders and afro-descendants face abuse.
  • Personally, the witness has had 10 friends killed, 7 attempts on his life, his office bombed. In most cases, the police, military, and the paramilitaries are all involved.
  • The DAS passed a list to the paramilitaries to kill union leaders. This organization is supposed to protect union leaders.
  • Contrary to Colombian government statistics, on average 1 union leader has been killed every 3 days in the last 5 years. 4,000 have been killed in the last 20 years.
  • 20 years ago things were better.
  • The U.S. should suspend and control U.S. military aid.
  • The U.S. government should control companies’ bad practices.

Ambassador Otto Reich (former State Department):

  • Historically, Colombia has been an important country for its strategic geography.
  • Its enemies understand this: Marxists, terrorists, and drug traffickers.
  • Free labor is a pillar of the free world.
  • Violence has been suffered by more than labor leaders.
  • This violence needs to be put into a regional and historical perspective.
    • In 2002, the question was, “how long will the Colombian government survive?” It was on the brink of being a failed state.
    • Now, so much progress has been made that this is not remotely a question.
      • Uribe now controls all municipalities.
      • Economy has grown dramatically.
      • The AUC has surrendered.
      • Violence against union leaders has dropped.
      • Terror attacks are down.
      • Colombia has been taken off the International Labor Organization (ILO) “blacklist.”
  • This downward trend is impressive.
  • Congress should “give credit where credit is due.” Success can be attributed to:
    • Close cooperation between the U.S. and Colombia.
    • President Uribe.
    • Plan Colombia.
  • The Colombian Government deserves to be rewarded with an FTA.

More opening statements:
Rep. Eliot Engel (D-New York)

  • If these allegations are true, there are gross violations of U.S. law.
  • Terrorist groups are terrorist groups, whether in Latin America or in the Middle East.
    • It is ironic that the DOJ has done so little to stop or investigate the involvement of U.S. companies.
  • It seems that this investigation has only scratched the surface.

Rep. Robert Andrews (D-New Jersey):

  • To Ambassador Reich: When was Colombia taken off the ILO blacklist?

Ambassador Reich:

  • The Ambassador received a letter recently.

Rep. Andrews:

  • The ILO does not keep a black list. It only lists countries and their labor problems.

Ambassador Reich:

  • That could be true, but the ILO still commented on Colombian progress.

Rep. Andrews:

  • To Mr. Kovalik: Are there sufficient tools in U.S. law to prevent companies from funding paramilitaries?

Mr. Kovalik:

  • No, not to prevent the practice. Civil cases can be filed under the Aliens Tort Claims Act. This is costly and takes a long time to complete. In order to pursue injunctive relief, we need more law.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-California):

  • Companies hiring private security to protect themselves is not itself wrong.
    • There are allegations of extrajudicial killings.
  • The congressman questions Mr. Kovalik about his testimony:
    • Were the unionist killings during contract negotiations? (Kovolik responds yes).
    • The congressman requests Mr. Kovalik submit in the affidavit the Miami Herald article that substantiated his testimony.

Rep. George Miller (D-California):

  • The congressman asks Ms. McFarland to clarify her testimony. Does a decline in unionist deaths mean a reduction in union membership/activity?

Ms. McFarland:

  • Through the 1980s violence against trade unionists mirrors the expansion of paramilitary groups. Killings occur where there is union activity.
  • This could be explained by a reduction in membership or an increase in censorship.
  • There are many reasons why killings could happen, but paramilitaries also have other tactics that are being employed.

Rep. Dan Burton (R-Indiana):

  • There seems to be no hard evidence that any transactions took place.
  • The congressman asks Mr. Kovalik and Mr. Ramirez to offer hard evidence of a financial transfer between Drummond and the paramilitaries. He asks about their connections with Cuba (he holds up a picture of Mr. Kovalik in his office with a poster of Che Guevara in the background).

Mr. Kovalik:

  • The affidavit includes the testimony of Rafael Garcia, on which Mr. Noguera was indicted, that claims that money was passed between the mine owners and Mr. Jimenez.
  • With regard to the Che poster, Mr. Kovalik admires certain characteristics of his legacy, but not his tactics.

Mr. Ramirez:

  • With respect to Cuba, he has only visited there for pleasure. He has worked with union leaders from all over the world, regardless of nationality.

Chairman Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Massachusetts):

  • Interaction with Cuba is not all negative. Cuba served as an interlocutor between the ELN and the Colombian government, facilitating peace talks.

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-New York):

  • It is likely that companies must pay all parties, good or bad, to do business in Colombia.
  • The congressman is unsettled that the DOJ did not intervene after the first payment.
  • To Ambassador Reich: Did you know payments took place?

Ambassador Reich:

  • There is no evidence to support the allegations.
  • Contrary to the testimony of Mr. Guzman, Reich claimed that payments to paramilitaries were not an alternative to pulling out of Colombia.
  • Contrary to the testimony of Mr. Ramirez, Reich argued that the purpose of the 18th Brigade was to protect against attacks on the pipeline, which were creating serious environmental and social problems.

Rep. Engel:

  • If we knew what was happening, we should have done more.

Mr. Kovalik:

  • The 18th Brigade killed union leaders and later claimed they were guerrillas by planting guns on them.
  • The witness met with Colonel Medilla (spelling) who said that they considered leftists and unionists to be military targets.
  • Paramilitaries are more effective security for companies because they can kill without due process.

Chairman Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Massachusetts):

  • The Colombian Armed Forces even ambushed a Colombian police unit [in Jamundí, Valle, in May 2006]. Clearly they have problems.
  • The responsibility of the subcommittee is to monitor the American corporations, not the Colombian Army.

Rep. Connie Mack (R-Florida):

  • The congressman asks Mr. Reich and Ms. McFarland why there are such differing perspectives on the same problem.

Mr. Reich:

  • The unionist claims are influenced by leftist ideology.
  • The witness agrees more with a Reagan-style approach to Latin America, not the “Che model.”

Ms. McFarland:

  • Human Rights Watch officially condemns human rights violations in both Cuba and Venezuela.
  • Differences have to do with different perceptions of the causes and solutions.
  • The Colombian government’s approach to demobilization has been ineffective and not actually led to demobilization.

Rep. Donald Payne (D-New Jersey)

  • His memory of Reagan in Latin America is the Iran-Contra scandal.
  • Cuba is not all bad, it has a strong medical and educational facilities. People in Venezuela are getting treatment they needed before but had no access to.
  • To Ms. McFarland: The congressman would like her to comment on FARC and AUC pressure on Afro-Colombians.
  • To Mr. Guzman: The congressman wants to know if he, as a member of the armed forces, did anything to stop the AUC.

Ms. McFarland:

  • Afro-Colombians are clearly a marginalized sector of society.
  • They are subject to forced displacement by armed groups while the Colombian government’s proposals have been to legalize the land taken.

Mr. Guzman:

  • The witness attempted to take action against the AUC but was not authorized by his superior.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas):

  • Congress must look for solutions the problems of U.S. companies in Colombia.

Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-New York):

  • To all: Wouldn’t a failure of an FTA derail recovery in Colombia?

Ms. McFarland:

  • The appropriate course of action would be to delay consideration to make sure that the Colombian government take the necessary steps to clean up and show results.
  • Conditions on an FTA are not enforceable enough.
  • Impunity for political crimes is at 90 percent.
    • A real long term decrease needs to be seen before there is any real justice or recovery.
  • It is true that the Colombian government has made many concessions, but it has not gotten at the money or backers of paramilitary activity.
  • There is a standing proposal to release corrupt politicians from prison.

Mr. Reich:

  • Trade has led to improvement in Colombia, but it has really benefited the U.S. more.
    • Withholding an FTA would not really be a sanction for Colombia.
    • The only result would be to weaken Uribe’s government, which has made progress.
    • Sometimes comparative advantage just leads to bad labor conditions.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-California):

  • To Mr. Kovalik: Were U.S. executives involved in hiring paramilitaries? How long did the unions exist?

Mr. Kovalik:

  • Mr. Jimenez, who is implicated in this scandal, is the President of Colombian Operations with joint U.S. and Colombian residency.
  • The union has existed for 5 to 6 years.

Rep. Rohrabacher:

  • This evidence suggests that the union was just getting started. Perhaps their murders were not specifically linked to union activity.

Chairman Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Massachusetts):

  • To congressman Mack: Will you support the extradition of U.S. executives to Colombia if Iguarán requests it?

Rep. Mack:

  • Anyone who commits a crime ought to be punished.

Rep. Delahunt:

  • The congressman wants to ensure that there will be no double standards with regards to justice or human rights.
  • To Ms. McFarland: The Peace and Justice Law, though “messy,” is responsible for this hearing being called. Uribe is responsible for that law and should be commended.
  • The “pieces are in place,” with Iguarán and Uribe, to move forward in Colombia and work toward a country free of violence.

Ms. McFarland:

  • The witness is pleased with the increase in funding to the Fiscalia and with the limited progress it has made.
  • Still, the original law, backed by Uribe, did not require confession.
    • Only the Constitutional Court added this.
  • Just because Uribe seems cooperative does not mean that his administration has the political will to see the process to its conclusion.
  • Letting corrupt politicians free does not send the right message.

One Response to “Notes from last Thursday’s Chiquita-Drummond hearing”

  1. Johnny Says:

    Che Guevara is a worldwide HERO

    $%&* you Douchebags …

    Hasta la Victoria Siempre !

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