Eric Holder, Chiquita defender and Obama pick for U.S. Attorney General.
I've gotten dozens of emails in the 48 hours since Eric Holder emerged as President-elect Barack Obama's choice as U.S. Attorney General. To summarize: Holder is a former deputy U.S. attorney general in the Clinton administration who has been described as a "long-time Obama advisor." He was part of the committee that helped Obama choose Joe Biden as vice-presidential nominee. Holder would be the nation's first African-American attorney general. He's currently in private practice with the law firm of Covington & Burling, which is where the banana trouble begins.
Here's the key part of the Wikipedia page on Holder that explains it (I urge you to read the whole entry, which summarizes his entire career.)
"In 2004, Holder helped negotiate an agreement with the Justice Department for Chiquita Brands International in a case that involved Chiquita's payment of "protection money" to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, a group on the U.S. government's list of terrorist organizations. In the agreement, Chiquita's officials pleaded guilty and paid a fine of $25 million. Holder represents Chiquita in the civil action that grew out of this criminal case."
The civil action mentioned in the article is a lawsuit on behalf of the families of seven missionaries who were murdered by Colombia's United Self Defense Forces (AUC). The suit alleges that since Chiquita was funding the AUC at the times the killings occurred, the banana company bears some responsibility for them.
I agree, and I've blogged about the issue numerous times. Here are links to some of the previous entries:
- In May, the CBS News program "60 Minutes" did a segment on the Colombia-Chiquita story. It included an interview with Chiquita CEO Fernando Aguirre. Read (and view the interview) here.
- Here's the entry about the lawsuits that Holder and his law firm, Covington and Burling, are defending Chiquita against.
- The families of U.S. victims of the AUC aren't the only ones suing Chiquita. Similar cases have been brought by 400 Colombian families. My November, 2007 entry on is here.
So what to do about this?
Silence isn't an option. Anyone who reads this blog knows where my political sympathies lie. I was, and remain, and Obama supporter. I know that the Washington merry-go-round - and especially when it comes to attorneys - makes for strange bedfellows. I don't know if I'd excuse the fact that Holder represented Chiquita in negotiating the terms of the fine it paid to the Justice Department. But I know that representing the company against the families of the AUC victims is inexcusable. As my colleague Jason Glaser - whose upcoming documentary, "The Affected," directly illustrates how dangerous the lives of banana workers in Latin America are, even when they don't have to deal with terrorism - notes, "isn't it about time we have a lawyer in [the U.S. attorney general's] position from a plaintiff's firm [italics mine], someone who may have at one time served the interests of a mammal as opposed to a corporate entity?"
The liberal/progressive community is going to do a lot of hand-wringing about this. It needs to do more. We elected Obama - and we need to keep him honest. To fail to do so would be to write him the same kind of blank check that supporters of the previous administration handed over to the officials they elected. Holder owes us an explanation, though I don't see how any words from him could be convincing - especially to those in Latin America whose trust we have already lost. Getting Chiquita to agree to agree to full disclosure and restitution would be an appropriate way for Holder to spend his remaining weeks in the private sector - and a good start.
So here's what to do.
First, learn about Holder - not just about his actions regarding Chiquita, but his entire career. Decide for yourself whether he deserves a pass. Then, use the network - the one we used so successfully to get Obama elected. Blog, Twitter, and email the links about Holder that you think are most important, good or bad (my Twitter handle is "soulbarn", if you want to follow my posts.) The point is to make sure the information gets out there. The most important thing we can do right now is establish, early, that transparency is one of the things we voted for on November 4th. Our ability to spread this information quickly, and spark a public debate about it - rather than use this information simply in a destructive way - is key.
Here are some good places to find out more about Holder, and to discuss the nomination. I invite you to add more links in the comment thread.
- Dan Kovalik, in the Huffington Post (11/18/08), not mincing words. Headline: "Lawyer for Chiquita in Colombia Death Squad Case May be Next U.S. Attorney General."
- Discussion thread at Democratic Underground forums.
- Slate's "Bananas of Mass Destruction" (2007), including Chiquita's court filings.
- "The Trouble With Eric Holder," from The Nation, 11/18/08. Not just bananas - Holder, according to the story, also has some Patriot Act issues.
- "Preliminary Facts and Thoughts About Eric Holder," from Salon, 11/18/08. A still-being-updated, roundup on Holder's dealings, positive and negative.