Colombia’s prosecutor probes Chiquita

The Technical Investigative Corps (CTI) of Colombia’s FiscalĂ­a General has opened an official probe of Chiquita and the local banana companies Probán, Unibán and Sunisa-Del Monte for their links to paramilitary groups in the conflicted banana-growing zone of Urabá. Those named in the investigation include current and former Chiquita officials Robert Fisher, Steven G. Wars, Carl H. Linder, Durk Jaguer, Jeffrey Benjamin, Morten Amtzen, Roderick Hills, Cyrus F. Freidheim (ex-general director), and Robert Olson (ex-corporate lawyer). (El Tiempo, Bogotá, Dec. 20)

Paul Wolf, an attorney representing paramilitary victims in a suit against Chiquita writes:

Six months ago, when news of the deal struck by the Chiquita executives with the US Dept of Justice hit the press, the Colombian public was justifiably outraged that none of the managers of the North American company would personally pay any penalty. The Colombian media—notably, Caracol, RCN, and W Radio—generously granted me air time to call for the extradition of the Chiquita executives. Although this point of view was quite popular in Colombia, the concept of extraditing North Americans to Colombia met with a great deal of skepticism. Nobody thought it was possible. After all, no gringo has ever been extradited to Colombia before. But now it’s a real possibility.

To support the extradition of the corporation’s executives, [Fiscal General Mario] Iguaran need look no further than the judicial admissions made by Chiquita’s own lawyers. Iguaran has said to the press that his job is to determine whether Chiquita was paying extortion, or financing terrorism. In my mind, this is a strange way to analyze it. It’s illegal in the US, and should also be illegal in Colombia, to make monthly payments to a terrorist organization for seven years without reporting it to the authorities. Extortion is not a defense. Especially when the organization is murdering thousands of people on your own property, or on the property of your business associates. After many years of this, it looks more like a business arrangement and less like extortion. Mr Iguaran should have no trouble determining that after seven years, the practice had become illegal. If not, then he will have determined that extortion payments to the AUC and FARC are legal under Colombian law. I doubt that is the result he wants to achieve.

As for Dole and Del Monte, and the various Colombian bananeros, I doubt that Chiquita was the only company making these kinds of payments. I hope Mr. Iguaran can do for the bananeros what he did for the paramilitary sponsors of Uribe’s campaign. Good luck to him. His work is really an amazing example of the independence of the Colombian fiscalia. I hope he succeeds.

See our last posts on Colombia and the banana scandal.