How to Become a Top Banana

  • (8 of 8)

    Three months later, in November 1999, Barshefsky told quite a different story when she testified before the Senate Banking Committee concerning the upcoming WTO gathering in Seattle. In response to a committee member who suggested legislation that would rotate products on and off the tariff hit lists, Barshefsky asserted that "I have discretionary authority as it is to alter a retaliation list if that becomes necessary or advisable. So the authority is already there."

    None of this is any help to Reinert, Kaplan, Dove and the hundreds of other small entrepreneurs like them, some of whom have already been forced out of business. Nor is it any consolation for all those who have been caught up in the ripple effect--the peripheral businesses, from trucking companies to local suppliers, who deal with those on the tariff list.

    For his part, Reinert continues to wage his battle, writing letters to whoever he thinks just might take an interest in his case. "It's been mentioned to me, you know, from all levels of government, [that] you cannot fight the government. Well, I think you can. It's wrong what they're doing."

    The USTR, for its part, insists that the products chosen for high tariffs were intended to "minimize the impact" on Americans and "maximize the impact on Europeans," in the words of Peter Scher, a special trade negotiator. As to how much pressure they have had on Europe, Scher said, "I think it has had an impact. Has it moved the E.U. as far as we want them? No. But it has certainly moved the E.U. to the negotiating table."

    Might the tariffs that have squeezed Rick Reinert and other small businesses remain in place another year or two? "Anything is possible," said Scher. "The ball is in the E.U.'s court." Even Chiquita acknowledges that there is little movement toward a settlement. "There is no end in sight," said a company spokesman.

    So what does the battlefield look like as the Great Banana War's tariffs approach their first anniversary?

    Well, the operators of some small businesses, like Reinert, are limping along from month to month. Other small-business people are filing fraudulent Customs documents to escape payment. Other businesses are doing just fine because their suppliers in Europe agreed to pick up the tariff or it applies to just a small percentage of the goods they sell. In Europe as in America, small businesses have been harmed by the U.S. tariffs. Larger companies have been mostly unaffected. And the European Union has kept in place its system of quotas and licenses to limit Chiquita bananas. Who, then, is the winner in this war?

    That's easy. It's the President, many members of Congress and the Democratic and Republican parties--all of whom have milked the war for millions of dollars in campaign contributions--along with the lobbyists who abetted the process.

    A final note. While Lindner had many areas of political interest beyond his battle with the European Union, a partial accounting of the flow of his dollars during the Great Banana War--as measured by contributions of $1,000 or more--as well as lobbying expenditures on the war, shows:

    Republicans--$4.2 million

    Democrats--$1.4 million

    Washington lobbyists--$1.5 million

    That's more money than a business like Rick Reinert's will earn in a lifetime.

    First in a series of Investigative Reports on campaign finance

    1. 1
    2. 2
    3. 3
    4. 4
    5. 5
    6. 6
    7. 7
    8. 8
    9. Next Page