Friday, April 8, 2011

More Chiquita Revelations

Grown with blood money?
In 2007, Chiquita banana confessed to the U.S. government that it had paid protection money to Colombian guerrillas and later to paramilitaries, and agreed to pay a fine - to the U.S. government. The fine, $25 million, seems like pocket change for a multinational which had $4.6 billion in revenue in 2007. And, the company made the payment to the U.S. government, even though the guerrillas and paramilitaries were kidnapping, killing and displacing Colombians.

Now, the National Security Archives (a project of George Washington University) has released internal Chiquita memos which appear to show that Chiquita's involvement was more self-interested than the company had admitted, as well as illustrating the very close relationship between businesses, the Colombian military and right-wing paramilitaries. 

Chiquita had argued that it had no choice but to pay extortion money to protect its employees, and that there was no other way to do business in Colombia. That may be true, and the newly-released memos indicate that paying off these illegal groups was standard operating procedure in the industry. But even if that's true, does it justify financing terrorist organizations which commit massacres, plant land mines, displace peasants, recruit children and commit so many other crimes - just to export bananas? After all, Chiquita did have an alternative to financing terrorism: pull out of Colombia.

Colombian paramilitaries
The new memos also indicate that the military had urged Chiquita to pay the paramilitaries. For many years, the partnership between the Colombian military and the illegal right-wing paramilitaries was Colombia's best-kept open secret. And it may still be the case in many parts of the country.

This is not the  first controversial chapter in Colombia for Chiquita, which used to be called the United Fruit Company. In 1928 Colombian soldiers massacred striking United Fruit Company workers, an episode made famous by novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez in One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Guerrilla and paramilitary victims are suing Chiquita in U.S. courts for hundreds of murders by these groups. Chiquita no longer owns plantations in Colombia.

Dole banana has also been sued by victims of paramilitaries.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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