Posts Tagged ‘bananas’
Once upon a time there was a very sad banana.
“Why was he so sad,“ you might ask.
Well maybe, it’s because although many people appreciated him for his golden yellow color and his sweet, yummy flavor, they never took the time to get to know him. Really get to know him, that is. Don’t get me wrong; he was flattered when people walked down the aisles of the supermarket and they remarked on his looks, made comments about his flavor, and how good he would taste in their morning cereal. It’s not that he didn’t like hearing these compliments and all. But, he couldn’t help thinking that the chatter was, well, you know, kind of superficial. I mean there was A LOT more to the banana than just what met the eye. (more…)
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.
The Banana Land Campaign
“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.” –Carlos Tijeras, 2009
For Immediate Release: (New York City, NY)
December 6th, 2009 will mark the launch of the Banana Land Campaign at the Harlem School of The Arts on Sunday, December 6th, 2009 at 6:30 pm. This event will provide new details regarding payments made to a Colombian terrorist organization by Chiquita and Dole. Speakers will include leaders from the Colombian community in NYC, filmmaker Jason Glaser, lawyer Terry Collingsworth and special guest Dan Koeppel, author of the book Banana.
The world’s largest producers of bananas, Chiquita (formerly United Fruit Company) and Dole, are in US courts defending themselves against allegations of payments made to AUC (United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia) paramilitaries who murdered, displaced and maimed their workers in the interest of global business. The AUC was officially designated a terrorist organization by the US State Department in 2001.
Copies of a breakthrough declaration by former AUC Commander Carlos Tijeras will be available at the event. This affidavit provides definitive proof that Chiquita and Dole used the AUC, a designated terrorist organization, as a mercenary force that murdered thousands of innocent people in and around the banana plantations.
We are launching the Banana Land Campaign to build a bridge between the consumer and the Colombian communities affected by this continuing tragedy. By linking mothers with mothers and workers with workers the campaign will provide concrete information that will educate banana consumers in both their hearts and minds, inspiring them to make sure that justice is served in both US and Colombian courts and that meaningful reparations are made.
I just learned about a new documentary, “Bananas” that is supposed to be released this Saturday at the L.A. Film Festival. I say “supposed to be” because even before its official release, the film has hit a nerve for the Dole Food Company, the largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the world. And they are trying to prevent the Los Angeles Film Festival from showing the film. Read about the controversy in the article, “Dole Food Company dislikes “Bananas” in the June 16th edition of the Los Angeles Times.
El Dragón, our friend over at Fair Food Fight has written a great piece with a lot of interesting comments on the subject so I think I will just take the liberty to share his post with all of you here. Do check out Fair Food Fight for more information and commentary on today’s food industry because what’s going on in front of us and behind our backs is affecting every last one of us and in no uncertain terms.
In the eyes of Dole Food Co., [Fredrik] Gertten’s film [Banana’s] is an egregiously flawed document based on what Dole lawyer Scott Edelman calls “a phony story” that has been discredited by the allegedly fraudulent conduct of the L.A. attorney, Juan J. Dominguez, at the film’s center. Dole, the world’s largest producer of fruits and vegetables, is vowing to sue both the filmmaker and the Los Angeles Film Festival for defamation if it screens the movie this week.
Them’s fightin’ words, and one can see Dole’s point of view. After all, Dominguez managed to score a number of court victories against Dole, only to have two of those rulings overturned when it came to light that Dominguez had concocted evidence and testimony.
In a 2007 jury trial before Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Victoria G. Chaney, Dole lost and was ordered to pay $1.58 million to four of the dozen Nicaraguans claiming injury in that case, several of whom are depicted in Gertten’s film. Dole is appealing that case.
Then this spring, in a dramatic reversal of events, Chaney threw out two other lawsuits against Dole after being presented by Dole investigators with evidence gathered from Nicaraguans who said that they had been recruited and coached by lawyers, outfitted with false work histories and falsified medical lab reports, and promised payouts to pose as pesticide victims.
In her April 23, 2009 ruling on the case, Chaney said that “the actions of the attorneys in Nicaragua and some of the attorneys in the United States, specifically the Law Offices of Juan Dominguez, have perverted the court’s ability to deliver justice to those parties that come before it.”
“What has occurred here is not just a fraud on this court, but it is blatant extortion of the defendants,” i.e. Dole, the judge said in her ruling. The “plaintiffs’ fraud,” the judge said, “permeates every aspect of this case.”
Goal scored for Goliath.
But while that disclosure taints one lawyer’s legal arguments (and the principle character of Bananas!), it doesn’t undo the reality of the sad situation that Dole and other fruit companies created — or the larger truth of this film. Namely, it doesn’t undo the fact that Dole acknowledges that it used a devastating pesticide (called DBCP and known by friends as “nemagon”) in banana planations in Nicaragua, the Philippines, Honduras, the Ivory Coast, Costa Rica, and other banana-growing countries, and that that pesticide in all likelihood caused sterility in thousands of male banana plantation workers, miscarriages in women, and other serious health effects back into the mid-seventies. Nemagon is an organophosphate and a hormone disruptor and was banned in the United States in 1979, though its use continued in banana-producing countries well into the nineties. It also does not undo the fact that Dow Chemical, the producer of DBCP, said it wouldn’t sell the pesticide to Dole anymore because the chemical was too dangerous, or the fact that Dole threatened Dow Chemical with a breach-of-contract lawsuit if it didn’t keep selling the chemical to the fruit company (from the book Banana by Dan Koeppel). It also ignores the fact that Dole has settled quite a few of these farm worker cases out of court.
Dole is trying to control and create truth by threatening filmmaker Gertten with legal action (and frankly, given the years of bad press generated by these lawsuits, I don’t think it’s a mere threat). Dominguez was just one lawyer, representing some workers in one country. The fact is, there are thousands of farm workers in each of the countries mentioned above who’ve stepped forward to file allegations against Dole. If the company succeeds in shutting down this documentary and preventing it from circulating in film festivals and theaters, the experience of all those farm workers, a generation of them across the planet, and the indignities they suffered for the sake of a fruit company, will also be prevented from being witnessed in America.
(On a side note, the revelations about Dominguez also fail to answer other disturbing allegations against Dole. Please read up on Fair Food Fight’s Screw the Tallyman initiative, and call for an investigation into Dole for allegedly funding Colombian paramilitary groups and driving small banana farmers from their land.)
I don’t worry that America underestimates the gravity of the economic situation in which we find ourselves. I do worry that Americans will be content looking to the government to “bail us out”. Barack Obama, even with the sharpest team of economists and thinkers of our time, cannot solve our problems without the support, and actions, of the American people. We, Americans, need to see this economic crisis within the context of a greater global disaster, and open our eyes to the world at large and our role in it. “Fixing” our economy can be only one prong in an unprecedented effort to save our souls. Even in its current state, we are the most prosperous country in the world and yet we hesitate to flex our muscles in a way that would benefit the most desperate of the world’s population. Iraqis do not hate Americans because they are jealous; they resent our empirical role in the global reality.
Even while our struggling economy leads more shoppers to Wal-Mart, to ship more of their money to China and oil-producing theocracies, examples like Fair Trade coffee inspire me to believe that Americans are capable of doing the right thing, willing to sacrifice something, to truly invest in our values. But Fair Trade is also an example of how disconnected we truly are.
European consumers purchase Fair Trade-certified rice, quinoa, vanilla, flowers and bananas daily at their local supermarkets. Bananas, which have yet to make a dent in the American consumers’ radar, are a perfect example; the political and often violent history of banana production is astoundingly depraved. Bananas represent the world’s most popular and most–traded agricultural commodity after coffee. In April of 2008, the third-largest supermarket chain in Europe, Sainbury’s, committed to sourcing Fair Trade bananas exclusively. Tesco, the fifth-largest retailer in the world, has seen a 60% growth in Fair Trade produce since 2005, including bananas. While the United States seems content with a dismissable percentage of our coffee being Fair Trade, our contemporaries are pushing the boundaries of Fair Trade across the market.
Bananas are grown in over 100 countries in the world. Indigenous to Papua New Guinea, they have grown to become an economic powerhouse in tropical countries around the world. The largest fruit commodity in the world, “dessert bananas”, as we know them in the United States, represent a tiny (15-20%) of global production. In developing nations, bananas and their starchier relatives, plantains, are a dietary staple in the developing world, providing much-need sustenance for millions of the world’s poorest inhabitants. Millions of families rely on bananas to feed their families and fund their own community development. (more…)