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Coke's Crimes in Guatemala

Bob Perillo responds to USLEAP's

Dear labor and human rights activists:

USLEAP has posted a rebuttal to the letter I sent out last week describing the new lawsuit against The Coca-Cola Company on behalf of several victims of anti-union violence in Guatemala; the lawsuit includes a case that was annexed to the AFL-CIO's 2008 CAFTA petition. The rebuttal can be read at: http://usleap.org/files/PalaciosUSLEAPSupport.pdf. My letter can be viewed at: http://www.indymedia.org/en/2010/03/935012.shtml.

USLEAP carefully avoids addressing the main arguments of my letter, sticking instead to self-congratulatory and, in some parts, mendacious rhetoric about USLEAP's selfless assistance to José Armando Palacios.

Nowhere does the name "Stan Gacek" appear, and for good reason: it would be fairly difficult to defend having a consultant for a major transnational corporation on the board of directors of a labor-rights NGO, much less a corporation accused of major labor- and human-rights violations. And defending Mr. Gacek's intervention in Mr. Palacios's case would be impossible. Likewise, nothing whatsoever is said about Coca-Cola's 2005 offer - obviously conditional - to help protect Mr. Palacios's physical security. Nor does the name "Ron Oswald" make it into the document, also understandably: Mr. Oswald's behavior in the case was so cynical that it could make even a Coca-Cola executive blush — though not USLEAP Executive Director Stephen Coats, who welcomed Mr. Oswald onto his board of directors in 2008.

Denial being useless, the only alternative is silence.

Below, I respond to some of what USLEAP does include in its rebuttal:

USLEAP: "Recognizing that Mr. Palacios needed his own legal counsel, USLEAP consulted with labor attorneys, including the assistant general counsel at UNITE HERE, to identify a Michigan-based lawyer willing to provide Mr. Palacios independent legal counsel on his options, including any potential negotiations with Coca-Cola, direct or indirect through the Alien Tort Claims lawyers, and contacted Julie Hurwitz, a respected progressive attorney and outgoing head of the Sugar Law Center for Economic & Social Justice, a project of the National Lawyers Guild, in Detroit, Michigan, who agreed in late February to take his case." (page 2)

Bob Perillo: Readers of my letter will recall that USLEAP board member and Coca-Cola consultant Stan Gacek met with Mr. Palacios in New York on February 9, 2006, and asked Mr. Palacios to send him all the documents he had on his case. Before sending Mr. Gacek those documents, Mr. Palacios consulted with Attorney Hurwitz. Mr. Palacios told Attorney Hurwitz that he did not trust Mr. Gacek, and didn't know if he should send him the documents. According to Mr. Palacios, Attorney Hurwitz advised him not to worry and to go ahead and send the documents to Mr. Gacek.

Mr. Palacios told Attorney Hurwitz about Coca-Cola's offer to help protect his physical security and that he believed it was conditioned on his giving up his struggle for reinstatement. To his knowledge, Attorney Hurwitz did not raise this subject in the negotiations with Coca-Cola. Mr. Palacios can't be sure, however, because the negotiations were conducted in English with only partial translation. According to Mr. Palacios, the interpreter hired by Attorney Hurwitz only translated a small percentage of the conversations. The interpreter also pressured Mr. Palacios to accept the terms that Attorney Hurwitz had negotiated with Coca-Cola, and at one point insulted Mr. Palacios, calling him "stupid," when he refused to sign.

When, at Mr. Palacios's request and before resigning from USLEAP, I told Attorney Hurwitz about the treacherous role played by Mr. Gacek, Mr. Coats and Mr. Oswald in the case, she told me that, although such behavior was unethical, exposing it would not help in the case against Coca-Cola because, in her view, the case depended on preserving "USLEAP's credibility."

In other words, Attorney Hurwitz protected USLEAP's interests, not those of her client. So much for "independent legal counsel."

USLEAP: "Mr. Palacios would not, however, sign an agreement with Coca-Cola until his wife and daughter were safely out of the country. He believed, understandably in USLEAP's opinion, that settling with Coca-Cola before his wife and daughter were out of the country could endanger them further." (page 3)

Bob Perillo: True enough: settling with Coca-Cola while his family was in Guatemala would have been unthinkable - especially since Mr. Gacek, Mr. Coats and Mr. Oswald would not lift a finger to pressure Coca-Cola into providing security for Mr. Palacios's family in Guatemala. Apparently they preferred having Mr. Palacios negotiate with Coca-Cola while under duress. I raised this issue several times with Mr. Coats throughout 2006, but he refused to respond. This was one element of a grievance I filed with the USLEAP board of directors about a month before I resigned, after exhausting mediation and direct negotiations with Mr. Coats.

But there was another reason Mr. Palacios wouldn't sign the agreement with Coca-Cola: it would have required him to maintain permanent silence about what the company and its collaborators had done and were still doing to him. And then the attack on Mr. Vicente's family happened in March 2008, a result of the impunity USLEAP and the IUF helped to foment. Signing the agreement with Coca-Cola after that would have left Mr. Palacios unable to provide public support to his union colleague, something he found unacceptable. Perhaps that kind of solidarity now simply lies beyond the comprehension of Mr. Coats; he clearly can't fathom why Mr. Palacios didn't just take the money and keep his mouth shut.

USLEAP: "In early 2008, there was another violent attack on a Coca-Cola union family in Guatemala, resulting in the murder of the son and nephew and the gang rape of the daughter of Coca-Cola union leader José Alberto Vicente Chávez (the second case in the recently filed lawsuit against Coca-Cola). These horrible acts were denounced by USLEAP to the Guatemalan President and gave further evidence of the need to expedite and grant the visa applications for Mr. Palacios's wife and daughter. USLEAP informed Mr. Palacios's immigration lawyer (Mr. Koelsch) and counsel (Ms. Hurwitz) about the new violence against family members of a Coca-Cola trade unionist in Guatemala and provided supporting documentation, including an April 2008 CAFTA complaint filed by the AFL-CIO with an annex that highlighted the new case." (pages 3 and 4)

Bob Perillo: Yes, Mr. Coats denounced these horrible acts to President Colom, but decided not to denounce Coca-Cola - and not because he didn't understand that Coca-Cola was responsible. In a letter he sent to Mr. Palacios dated April 24, 2008, Mr. Coats tried to justify his public silence: "FESTRAS is in conversations with Coca-Cola about this matter [the violence against Mr. Vicente's family] and they have requested very clearly that no one should begin campaigning against Coca-Cola while they're in the process of negotiating" [my translation from the Spanish]. Did it not occur to Mr. Coats that he should consult with Mr. Vicente? Did Mr. Coats believe that his words would reassure Mr. Palacios?

As noted in my letter from last week, the AFL-CIO's CAFTA petition contained false information, blithely repeated by USLEAP.

USLEAP: "In April 2008, USLEAP learned in a telephone conversation with Mr. Palacios that his house was still being visited and that a colleague who had helped him secure documents incriminating INCASA had been murdered." (page 4)

Bob Perillo: Prior to this, Mr. Coats had ceased communicating with Mr. Palacios for approximately 16 months. Mr. Coats only renewed communications when he learned of the attack on Mr. Vicente's family, probably because he feared that the new violence might convince Mr. Palacios not to sign the settlement offered by Coca-Cola.

USLEAP: "USLEAP then moved quickly to lobby the State Department (e.g. May 22, 2008 letter to the State Department) and secured support from the Teamsters, among others, to persuade Sen. Levin, D-MI, to intervene with Homeland Security to expedite visas for Mr. Palacios's wife and daughter. The visas were granted in the late summer 2008, surprising even the State Department and the AFL-CIO that the interventions had been effective so "quickly." Mr. Palacios was reunited in Michigan with his family before the end of the summer 2008."

Bob Perillo: No one doubts that after the attack on Mr. Vicente's family in March 2008, Mr. Coats used his considerable influence to help get Mr. Palacios's family their visas. The question is why he waited until then to spring into high gear. And why didn't he use his influence to get Coca-Cola to protect the vulnerable Palacios family while they were still in Guatemala, where they languished for two and a half years in hiding? Recall that Coca-Cola had once offered to pay for security for Mr. Palacios. Had he been interested, the diligent and influential Mr. Coats could have figured out how to convert this pledge into concrete security for Mr. Palacios's family. Mr. Coats remains silent on the subject because he didn't even try.

No amount of self-promotion will erase the fact that USLEAP ran interference for Coca-Cola in order to help silence Mr. Palacios and prevent him from suing the company.

For justice,

--Bob Perillo


From: Lopez Henriquez, Gail [mailto:GLopezHenriquez@freedmanlorry.com]
Sent: Friday, March 05, 2010 4:54 PM
To: bob.perillo@gmail.com
Subject: RE: New Lawsuit against Coca Cola

Dear colleagues:

On March 2, 2010 through the CAFTA-talk list serve, you received an email regarding a lawsuit against Coca-Cola from former USLEAP staff person Bob Perillo that attacks among others the integrity of USLEAP, USLEAP board members, and its Executive Director Stephen Coats with respect to USLEAP's response to violence directed against Guatemalan trade unionist Jose Armando Palacios in 2005 and 2006.

USLEAP will not use this platform to discuss the serious misrepresentations that seek to damage USLEAP's reputation and ability to carry out its mission.   Instead, USLEAP has prepared a report summarizing our work in support of Mr. Palacios on our website that you can view at http://usleap.org/files/PalaciosUSLEAPSupport.pdf

Gail Lopez-Henriquez, Esq.
Chair, USLEAP Board of Director