Chiquita Financed Terrorism, Proving Yet Again That Capitalism Has No Moral Center

Economy Capitalism
Chiquita Financed Terrorism, Proving Yet Again That Capitalism Has No Moral Center

Yesterday, a Florida court handed down an historic ruling, ordering Chiquita Brands International to pay $38.3 million in damages to the families of eight Colombian men killed by a right-wing paramilitary group that Chiquita helped fund from 1997 to 2004.

In 2001, the State Department formally designated the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) as a foreign terrorist organization. It was responsible for countless massacres and human rights violations across the country. In 2003, Chiquita told the government about these payments to the AUC, which resulted in a guilty plea and a $25 million fine. Colombia’s attorney general even sought the extradition of eight Chiquita officials, charging them with using its own ship to help smuggle weapons to the AUC.

What makes this so important is the potential precedent this sets. Chiquita will appeal the ruling and we shall see where this goes, but it is the first time a U.S. court has ruled a corporation culpable for its actions outside of America, and it could open the door for more lawsuits like this to follow.

This case is about as good of a counterpoint as you will find to the litany of braindead right-wing and neoliberal arguments that capitalism is inherently moral. The conservative Cato institute perpetuates this lie you hear a lot from Very Serious centrists and right-wingers, as George C. Leef wrote in 2021:

The economic system based on private property, individual rights, and limited government — that is to say, capitalism — did not emerge by chance. It required a certain moral order, one in which most of the people believed in liberty, tolerance, and something like the Golden Rule.

This is an adult fairy tale that many have come to believe as unambiguous fact thanks to decades of capitalist propaganda asserting this economic system is something that it is not. There are two main features of capitalism, and neither are imbued with any kind of moral compass.

The first and most important part: capital rules capitalism. Private property is broadly described as four walls and a picket fence in the idyllic vision of American middle-class life, but as far as the United States GDP is concerned, private property is predominantly about businesses and the executives who control them.

The other side of the capitalist coin is perpetual growth. Executives who own and control these companies are incentivized, and for publicly traded companies, legally bound by their fiduciary duty, to make the number go up. This is sold to us as broad-based societal progress, and it can be, just so long as you’re not a farmer whose land Chiquita and its favored group of human rights abusers want to take for themselves.

Sebastián Escobar Uribe, one of the lawyers in the Medellín suit which claims Chiquita’s payments were involved in criminal activities said, “The name Chiquita resonates in the recent history of the country. When you investigate a corporation with significant financial muscle in a country like Colombia, the judicial system is vulnerable to being co-opted by that company.”

Is co-opting a judicial system to operate on behalf of one organization a moral act? This is not a dynamic solely reserved for poor farmers in the Global South, as one look at our own Supreme Court here in the United States reveals a bias that has always seemed to benefit our economically powerful.

Big Oil’s litany of transgressions in their bid to warm our planet and protect their profits is a great example of this dynamic too. You can also look to Appalachia where Big Coal has both literally and metaphorically hollowed out mountains and towns while poisoning those unfortunate enough to live downstream of their insatiable chase for perpetual profits. How in the world anyone can argue with a straight face that this “is the most moral system because it respects men’s rights” is beyond me.

Capitalism respects capital’s rights. It’s right there in the name. Men are only respected insofar as they can aid capital in its quest for perpetual profits. If men stand in the way of capital’s pursuits, the last thing capital cares about is respecting individual rights, as this Chiquita case helps demonstrate.

Profits can be positive. Growing an economy to produce broad-based prosperity under any kind of economic system is manifestly good, but if that growth is unsustainable and leads to climate and humanitarian disasters, then you cannot help but wonder who the economy is really built for.

One of the central problems with capitalism, as proven by the existence of anti-trust laws and the consolidation of every single industry over the last neoliberal half-century, is that the fundamental pressure it puts on supply and demand benefits the wealthiest and concentrates power. As I wrote at Paste in 2019, the natural trend of capitalism moves towards consolidation at the very top.

While capitalism sells us a decentralized version of itself in theory, look around you. The “mom and pop” stores of lore are mostly gone, and they have been replaced by multinational conglomerates. Entrepreneurship in this country is vanishing, and the excesses of capitalism are to blame. This segment on “corporate consolidation” from Last Week Tonight is one of the best explainers you will find on how we are a country dominated by just a few firms in each and every major industry.

It is not a coincidence that capitalism did not become a global force until around the rise of the transatlantic Slave Trade. Most companies’ largest expense is labor, and the basic logic of profit leads a business to want to reduce its largest costs. The further it can get them down, the more profit it can make. If the business can fund right-wing paramilitaries to kill farmers and steal their land so it can plant more bananas at an extreme discount, even better apparently.

Chiquita is like a country. It controls land and desires to expand its power, and it is ruled by a small executive council which approved an imperial conquest that brutalized an entire region. Big Oil is another example of this same dynamic where capitalism has enabled capital to amass immense power and abuse it for their own purposes at the expense of everyone else. We are sold a moral and decentralized vision of capitalism by our economic overlords, but when I look around the world all I see are self-interested kingdoms stripping the globe for parts.

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