Colombia: rebels and paras provided security for Chiquita

Declassified internal documents from the Cincinnati-based banana company Chiquita Brands International made public on April 7 indicate that the multinational’s Colombian subsidiary, Banadex, had a much closer relation with leftist rebels and rightwing paramilitaries than Chiquita has admitted in the past. Chiquita agreed in March 2007 to pay the US government $25 million in fines for supporting the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), which the US designated as a terrorist group, but the company insisted that Banadex only gave the AUC money to keep it from attacking Chiquita employees; the company said it had also paid off two leftist guerrilla organizations, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), for the same reason.

But the more than 5,500 pages of declassified documents suggest that Chiquita didn’t just pay extortion money to the groups. In 1994, when rebels still dominated the northwestern Urabá region of Antioquia department where Banadex had plantations, the general manager of Chiquita operations in Turbó told company attorneys that guerrillas were “used to supply security personnel at the various farms.” Later, when paramilitaries took over the region, they appear to have done similar work for Chiquita. A March 2000 memo based on a conversation with Banadex managers indicates that paramilitaries in Santa Marta had formed a front company, Inversiones Manglar, whose commercial activities “disguised the real purpose of providing security.” The managers said “all other banana companies are contributing in Santa Marta” and Chiquita “should continue making the payments” since they “can’t get the same level of support from the military.”

Other documents discuss a meeting of Banadex managers with the notorious AUC leader Carlos Castaño and what appear to be donations in 1995 to Antioquia’s rightwing governor at the time, Alvaro Uribe, later a two-term Colombian president (2002-2010).

Chiquita turned the documents over to the Justice Department in connection with the 2007 agreement between the company and the government. The National Security Archive (NSA), a Washington, DC-based nonprofit research group, obtained the documents through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request; it posted them on its website on April 7, as Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos was visiting Washington to discuss a trade deal with US president Barack Obama.

“Chiquita’s apparent quid pro quo with guerrillas and paramilitaries responsible for countless killings belies the company’s 2007 plea deal with the Justice Department,” NSA Colombia documentation project director Michael Evans said on April 7. “What we still don’t know is why US prosecutors overlooked what appears to be clear evidence that Chiquita benefited from these transactions.” (“The Chiquita Papers,” NSA website, April 7; Inter-Press Service, April 7; La Jornada, Mexico, April 8)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 10.

See our last posts on Colombia, the paramilitary terror and Chiquita’s bananagate.