The Power of Independent Thinking


Stay Connected
Get the latest updates straight to your inbox.

The Lighthouse®

The Lighthouse® is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
Subscribe now, or browse Back Issues.

Volume 9, Issue 33: August 13, 2007

  1. Chiquita Scandal Fostered by Governments’ Double Standards
  2. Free-marketeers Back Immigration
  3. Bush Rhetoric Plays into Public’s Fears of Al Qaeda
  4. National Security Blunders Beget More Blunders

1) Chiquita Scandal Fostered by Governments’ Double Standards

When the United States expanded its list of terrorist organizations in September 2001, Chiquita Brands, the company famous for its bananas, found itself on the wrong side of the law. Since 1997, Chiquita had been paying the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) for protection from Marxist terrorist organizations. The fruit firm, however, didn’t notify U.S. authorities of its business arrangement with the AUC thugs until April 2003. Last spring Chiquita agreed to pay the U.S. a $25 million fine for paying the AUC $1.7 million over the course of seven years.

It’s tempting to view Chiquita as a business too driven by profits to let its conscience get in the way. But as Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa explains in his latest column, there may be more to the case than appears at first glance. Until 2001, at least, Chiquita might have been able to argue that dealing with the AUC, which was encouraged by the U.S.-allied government of Colombia, was patriotic. Or it might be equally possible for Chiquita to argue that it was a victim, rather than an enabler, of the paramilitary group. Complicating matters further, Chiquita representatives say that during a 2003 meeting, U.S. Justice Department officials indicated they would confer with the State Department before advising Chiquita on a course of action but that Justice never got back to them.

Vargas Llosa writes: “Ultimately, this is a story about double standards—those applied by Colombia’s institutions, which encouraged the AUC for many years by sanctifying the very rules of the game they now decry, and those applied by U.S. authorities, who did not hold Colombia to the same legal standards to which they held their own country…. Had there been no doubt as to where the American and the Colombian authorities stood with regard to the laws they were supposed to enforce, Chiquita would have thought twice about continuing the payments and seeking a stamp of approval—tacit or otherwise—from the U.S. government.”

“The Politics of Bananas,” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (8/8/07) Spanish Translation

Liberty for Latin America: How to Undo Five Hundred Years of State Oppression, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa

The Che Guevara Myth, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa

Center on Global Prosperity (Alvaro Vargas Llosa, Director)

Visit our Spanish-language website.

Visit our Spanish-language blog.


2) Free-marketeers Back Immigration

The venerable Financial Times stumbled a bit when it allowed on its commentary page a claim, by Matt Miller of the Center for American Progress, that during the recent American debate on immigration “not a single market-loving economist made the case for unfettered immigration of unskilled workers.”

Replying on the London-based newspaper’s letters page, Benjamin Powell, director of the Independent Institute’s Center on Entrepreneurial Innovation, easily refuted the mistake. Powell writes: “I have personally participated on panels at the Association of Private Enterprise Education conference, the Philadelphia Society meetings, the Smith Center, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and the Independent Institute, all known market-loving groups, where I and others have defended completely open immigration and free markets in labour. If Mr. Miller does not frequent those free-market groups he could have also found me advocating free labour markets on MSNBC and numerous radio shows as well as in the mainstream print press.”

Powell also notes that Miller also overlooked the more than 500 economists who signed the Independent Institute’s Open Letter on Immigration. “Though the letter did not use the words ‘unfettered immigration of unskilled workers,’” Powell continues, “the implication of the letter is clear: the US should move to a free market in labour by allowing much greater immigration.”

“Free-marketeers Back Immigration,” by Benjamin Powell (Financial Times, 8/8/07)

“Open Letter on Immigration,” The Independent Institute (6/19/06) Spanish Translation

Center on Entrepreneurial Innovation (Benjamin Powell, Director)

More on Immigration


3) Bush Rhetoric Plays into Public’s Fears of Al Qaeda

Official warnings that Americans should be vigilant against acts of terror committed by al Qaeda operatives offer no useful advice. What are citizens supposed to watch for— “suspicious behavior”? As Independent Institute Senior Fellow Robert Higgs writes, “Public reports of suspicious persons are likely to present thousands of false positives for every genuine potential terrorist and therefore to inundate the authorities in a flood of worthless information, prompting a multitude of fruitless investigations and diverting attention from any real terrorist who might be afoot.”

Warnings of impending terrorist acts—or sundry other dangers—do serve a purpose, although not necessarily the officially announced purpose. “All governments rely directly or indirectly on the cultivation of fear to prop up their rule,” Higgs continues. Perhaps it’s no surprise then, that in a recent 29-minute speech on Iraq, President Bush mentioned al Qaeda 93 times, but failed to distinguish the al Qaeda that attacked Americans on 9/11 from the group known as al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a by-product of the Iraqi front of the War on Terror. To some analysts, the connection between the two groups is fuzzy at best.

Concludes Higgs: “Even if every terrorism expert on earth regards the president’s statements as misleading, many people will never be exposed to that conflicting view—the average American’s attention span for the fine points of foreign affairs is very short in any event—and therefore the president’s scare stories will always produce the effect he desires to some extent, at least in the short run. Otherwise, he would have abandoned this political tactic long ago.”

“The President Is Trying to Scare Us Again,” by Robert Higgs (8/6/07) Spanish Translation

Neither Liberty nor Safety: Fear, Ideology, and the Growth of Government, by Robert Higgs

Resurgence of the Warfare State: The Crisis Since 9/11, by Robert Higgs


4) National Security Blunders Beget More Blunders

Congress’s passage of the warrantless domestic surveillance bill—which arguably legitimizes an earlier illegal and unconstitutional program—is as counterproductive as rewarding a bad business by giving it more loans, Ivan Eland suggests in his latest op-ed.

“If a restaurant, dry cleaner, or home repair business provided inferior goods or shoddy services, it is likely that the concern would go belly up,” Eland writes. “Yet when the U.S. government makes a blunder, the more its citizens reward its failure with further money and authority.”

Worse, the cycle of failure and reward can be self-perpetuating, such as when defeating a minor enemy (Saddam Hussein) creates a power vacuum that emboldens its rival (Iran), or when aiding foreign governments risks fueling an arms race (the U.S. has recently increased military aid to Egypt and Israel). One blunder sets the stage for a future blunder, and too many seem blind to the vicious circle.

“Most of the U.S. public does not seem to notice that its government’s actions have exacerbated or even created foreign threats, which that same government then says it needs more resources to counter,” Eland continues. “Instead of demanding that their government cease its excessive military interventions and occupations, arms sales, and foreign military assistance, and insisting that Congress cut off funding for such actions, the U.S. public rewards a government that not only performs poorly against those threats, but actually exacerbates them. The public would never stand for such failure from private business.”

“Government Blunders Create More Demand for Its Services,” by Ivan Eland (8/13/07) Spanish Translation

Ivan Eland’s Center on Peace & Liberty

The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed, by Ivan Eland

“The Way Out of Iraq: Decentralizing the Iraqi Government,” by Ivan Eland


  • Catalyst
  • Beyond Homeless