We just received a letter today from the Field Office of International Rights Advocates (IRA) with new evidence linking even more strongly Dole Food Company to the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitaries. The following is an excerpt from this letter urging those involved in the campaign to bring justice to the victims of Dole and Chiquita to step up their efforts. In addition to shedding light on Dole’s complicity with the paramilitaries, IRA is asking that the campaign advocates do more to publicize Dole’s egregious labor rights record in Colombia where an alarming number of union activists were brutally assassinated:
… José Gregorio Mangones Lugo, alias “Carlos Tijeras,” who commanded the William Rivas Front of the AUC’s Northern Block, has provided a sworn statement which sheds new light on the nature of Dole’s relationship to the AUC paramilitaries. The William Rivas Front operated in the banana zone and surrounding areas in the Colombian province of Magdalena, until it demobilized in 2006. Mangones is currently in jail in Barranquilla, Colombia. Both Dole and Chiquita have for many years exported bananas from this area. To read an English translation of the affidavit, click here.
In the affidavit, Mangones, who has already confessed to hundreds of murders as part of the “Justice and Peace” process in Colombia, asserts not only that both Dole and Chiquita regularly paid money to the AUC, but that they did so in return for certain “services,” including the murder of unionized banana workers and others who it was suspected could potentially interfere with the two companies’ profitable operations. Though Chiquita confessed to criminal charges that it violated U.S. anti-terrorism laws, the company has claimed that it was a victim of extortion. Dole, for its part, has denied ever making payments to the AUC.
The new revelations by Mangones will make it more difficult for Dole to deny the truth, and for Chiquita to continue portraying itself as a victim. International Rights Advocates and the Conrad & Scherer law firm have filed civil lawsuits against both Dole and Chiquita, representing the heirs of approximately 2,000 victims of the AUC in Magdalena and adjacent provinces. The lawsuits can be viewed at (Dole) and (Chiquita).
Given that the Magdalena banana zone was the William Rivas Front’s primary area of operation, one of the Front’s “main functions … was to provide security for the banana plantations,” according to Mangones. “The income that the William Rivas Front received from Chiquita and Dole was essential to our operation. In a normal month, 80% to 90% of the income for the William Rivas Front came from the banana companies.” “The AUC even had an open public relationship with the heads of the plantations, whether it be Dole or Chiquita. The AUC moved like fish in water in the banana plantations, because we liberated the banana zone in northern Magdalena [from the FARC guerrillas] and had military control of the territory.” As part of its provision of security to the banana companies, the AUC “guarded the plantations and trucks that carried fruit to the port so that they were not attacked by the guerillas, looted, or robbed by common delinquents, protected their managers, assets, and employees and we made sure that the workers and unions collaborated with the company and would not demand unjust or exaggerated labor claims or be manipulated to carry out banana strikes.”
Not all employees were protected, though: “My men were contacted on a regular basis by Chiquita or Dole administrators to respond to a criminal act or address some other problems. We would also get calls from the Chiquita and Dole plantations identifying specific people as ‘security problems’ or just ‘problems.’ Everyone knew that this meant we were to execute the identified person. In most cases those executed were union leaders or members or individuals seeking to hold or reclaim land that Dole or Chiquita wanted for banana cultivation, and the Dole or Chiquita administrators would report to the AUC that these individuals were suspected guerillas or criminals.”
Mangones has provided especially chilling details of Dole’s responsibility for murders in Magdalena: he lists the names of 16 of his victims whom, he states, the AUC murdered because Dole “managers, administrators, supervisors or plantation heads” fingered them as guerrilla “collaborators” or “militiamen.” These 16 are just “a few of the most representative” among “countless examples.” Among the victims were Dole employees, some of them members of SINTRAINAGRO, the banana and agricultural workers’ union. Some other victims listed were members of a peasant association that had invaded land that Dole wanted for banana production. After listing the names of the victims and the places/dates of their extra-judicial executions, Mangones adds, “As I stated earlier, most of the work of the William Rivas Front in the Zona Bananera was on behalf of Chiquita or Dole. Likewise, a large number of the executions we performed can be linked directly to either Dole or Chiquita or both companies.”
Another crucial “service” involved “pacifying” the Magdalena section of the SINTRAINAGRO trade union. In the Urabá region of Antioquia province, Colombia’s larger banana zone, by the mid 1990s SINTRAINAGRO’s came to be firmly controlled by former EPL guerrillas who demobilized in 1991, and then entered into a strategic alliance with banana growers and the paramilitaries against the Left. But the leadership of the Magdalena section of SINTRAINAGRO remained more politically diverse until the AUC violently imposed its control in 2001.
According to Mangones, “We also helped Chiquita and Dole by pacifying the labor union that represented banana workers in the [Magdalena] region. When I became Commander of the William Rivas Front, the union that represented banana workers was SINTRAINAGRO. This was an aggressive, leftist union. I believe they were sympathetic to the FARC. I directed the execution of SINTRAINAGRO’s leftist President, Jose Guette Montero. On January 24, 2001, in Cienaga, near the Olympic supermarket, between 17th Street and 18th Street, we shot Jose Guette Montero and killed him. I then installed Robinson Olivero as President of the union, and to this day, the leaders of SINTRAINAGRO are people the AUC has approved. Once we put our people in charge of SINTRAINAGRO, the union paid me 10% of the union dues it collected on a monthly basis. This union represented workers for both the Dole and Chiquita plantations.”
For more information about these lawsuits, contact International Rights Advocates.
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