Mar 13, 2010

The Banana Murders

This is one of those, Not About Laos, posts.

An old climbing buddy stopped by last weekend. I haven't seen him in probably 15 years, but of course he's much the same person he always was, except he is doing something even more necky than running it out far above his gear.

I'd heard he was down in Columbia where all the death squads are, and Baghdad too. Had he taken up war tourism or what?

I talked to Paul for most of the afternoon and into the evening. I'd talked to him at length before, but I'd forgotten what a conversationalist he is. His wide experiences inform his thoughts of course, but he always had a gift for seeing past the BS and laughing about it. It's exactly that ability to see a situation clearly and laugh at life's absurdity that made him a joy to climb with. Eventually the conversation drifted to just what in the heck it is he's doing.

Human rights lawyer, third world ambulance chaser, I'd for sure say making a buck isn't the goal, I could think about ten million easier safer and more lucrative to make a living. Paul goes to unsettled areas where there is ongoing conflict and represents people who are intentionally harmed by American companies. Like killed, you know shot and hacked to death. Now you and I already know this goes on. Any reasonably informed person knows terrible things happen every day, it's a big world, but what after all is to be done? And of course no one likes it that American companies are advocating murder and mayhem, but other than phoning your congressman to end up a footnote on some intern's list, or signing a petition to be thrown away what are you going to do? Paul got a law degree, he takes them to court, that's what we do in America.

He doesn't file suit against the people with the machetes or guns in their hands, but rather the people who pay their salaries.

His big case is Chiquita the banana folks. They've plead guilty, as in copped a plea, in US courts to hiring right wing death squads to act as security for them down in Columbia, and they've killed thousands and thousands of people. Maybe tens of thousands? I don't even want to know. They knew they were breaking the law, it was discussed many times at board meetings, yet they kept on funding the death squads, good for business I'd guess.

Even though Chiquita pled guilty they've never been sued in a civil suit, and that's what Paul does. He signs them up. He becomes their lawyer. Kind of like a third world conflict area litigator. If a case is ever decided I hope he is able to stop living out of a suitcase. Paul still has his sense of humor, he is mentally strong, cause when you think about it, what he does, has to extract some sort of psychological toll. Documenting and quantifying brutal murder torture and disemberment isn't something one does to relax. And then there's the place he lives in Colombia. It's in the middle of the area controlled by the right wing death squads, with lots of activity from the Communist FARC. Who to worry about more?

And bear in mind those folks who have lost family members, most usually the breadwinner, deserve some compensation. Chiquita's hired death squaddies drove down the cost of labor, unions were tossed out, no more collective bargaining. Mass murder, torture, disappearances and torching of whole towns are very effective methods of union busting.

Others have done what they call piggy backing. That's filing similar suits for other people via Colombian Lawyers acting as their proxies in Columbia. But Paul was the guy to just go into the middle of the conflict area and set up an office. And years later he's still alive.

He also works in Baghdad and Kabul now. Paul looks for instances where private US companies kill foreign nationals on purpose for no reason. The world is what you might call a target rich environment these days, as our companies have been allowed, and even encouraged to act in ways usually reserved for armies.

Here he is being interviewed in a story by Al Jazeera, mostly at around minute 4:30 and 12:00, but watch the whole thing. Despite the slight dramatization for effect there's a lot of info packed into a short segment. I guess Al Jazeera is making two follow up pieces in the future.

No comments: