Colombia: lawsuit accuses Dole of funding paramilitaries

A wrongful death lawsuit has been filed against Dole Food Co. on behalf of 73 people, survivors of murdered trade unionists and farmers in the banana-growing region of north Colombia, accusing the company of funding paramilitaries to carry out assassinations and terror tactics in order to protect its banana operations.

The April 28 lawsuit filed in California courts charges that the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitaries received regular payments for more than a decade from Dole in exchange for “security services.” These violent services allegedly included “driving small farmers from their land to allow Dole to plant bananas; driving leftist guerillas out of the banana zones, and in the process murdering thousands of innocent people, including relatives of the 73 plaintiffs; keeping unions out of Dole’s banana plantations by murdering union leaders and using terror tactics to discourage workers from joining unions or from negotiating collective bargaining agreements with Dole.”

In a statement released the day after the suit, Dole “categorically rejects the baseless allegations,” stating “this lawsuit is irresponsible and the allegations are blatantly false.”

Dole Food Co. is one of the top two banana companies in the world and is now the second multinational banana company sued for its ties to paramilitary groups. In 2003, Chiquita informed the US Justice Department that it had for years been paying armed groups in Colombia money to protect its banana operations. Chiquita subsequently sold off its Colombian operations and in 2007 agreed to pay a fine of $25 million for violating a 2001 US law prohibiting payments to terrorist groups, which included both the guerilla and paramilitary groups to which Chiquita had made payments.

In addition to a detailed accounting of murders based upon extensive field research, plaintiffs’ lawyers, from the Florida-based law firm, Conrad and Scherer LLP, also count on the testimony and/or declarations of at least four former senior commanders from the AUC. The now imprisoned and demobilized commanders have stated that all foreign banana companies in the region, including Chiquita, Dole and Del Monte, have made such payments.

José Gregorio Mangones AKA “Carlos Tijeras”—an ex-paramilitary commander who demobilized as part of the Justice and Peace process with Colombia’s government—has admitted responsibility for more than half the killings cited in the suit, according to attorneys for the plaintiffs. The suit also states that Mangones “received 70,000 Colombian pesos per hectare per year from Dole. This was roughly 40% of the William Rivas Front’s annual budget.” It goes on to document that as part of this financial arrangement, through its plantation administrators, Dole allegedly asked the AUC to eliminate leaders of the trade union in Magdelena. Mangones has publicly admitted to the murder of Pablo Pérez, then president of the union SINTRAINAGRO in Magdelena.

The lawsuit does not yet name any U.S.-based Dole employees who visited the plantations. The names of the plaintiffs have been kept private in order to ensure their safety and well-being. (US Labor Education in the Americas Project via Upside Down World, May 19)

See our last post on Colombia and the banana-paramilitary nexus.