Posts Tagged ‘Chiquita Brands’

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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The Banana Land Campaign

In Coordination with: International Rights Advocates, La Isla Foundation, The Affected Film Seriesand Law Offices of Conrad and Scherer:

“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.

Watch the movie trailer here: (more…)

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Did anyone see 60 Minutes last night? They re-aired their piece, The Price of Bananas, about how Chiquita Brands paid $12 million in “protection” money over a period of seven years to the paramilitary group, the AUC, in Colombia. The AUC were responsible for thousands of civilian deaths in the region where Chiquita was running its plantations and now family members of the victims are suing Chiquita. 


I wrote about this before, but last night 60 Minutes added new information from their original interview with Fernando Aguirre, current CEO of Chiquita Brands, that I think deserves to be mentioned.

Why am I so disturbed by this case and this interview?

Just read the following excerpt from the interview and see for yourself. (You can also see the 60 Minute segment here or read the text here.)


“This company has blood on its hands,” says attorney Terry Collingsworth, who has filed one of five lawsuits that have been brought against Chiquita, seeking money for the families of Colombians killed by the paramilitaries.

Collingsworth says the money Chiquita paid for seven years may have kept its employees safe, but it also helped buy weapons and ammunition that were killing other people.

“Are you saying that Chiquita was complicit in these massacres that took place down there?” [60 Minutes Steve] Kroft asks.

“Absolutely. If you provide knowing substantial assistance to someone who then goes out and kills someone, or terrorizes, or tortures someone, you’re also guilty.” Colllingsworth says.

Asked if he believes that Chiquita knew this money was being used to go into the villages and massacre people, Collingsworth says, “If they didn’t, they would be the only ones in the whole country of Colombia who didn’t think that.”

“You’re not saying that Chiquita wanted these people to be killed?” Kroft asks.

“No, they were indifferent to it,” Collingsworth says. “… they were willing to accept that those people would be dead, in order to keep their banana operation running profitably, and making all the money that they did in Colombia.”

Collingsworth says he thinks the company should have just picked up and left.

“It’s easy for a lawyer to give that type of advice, after the fact,” Aguirre argues. “When you have more than 3,500 workers, their lives depend on you. When you’ve been making payments to save their lives, you just can’t pick up and go.”

“What did the company think this money was gonna be used for?” Kroft asks.

“Well, clearly to save lives,” Aguirre says.

“The lives of your employees?” Kroft asks.

“Absolutely,”Aguirre says.

“It was also being used to kill other people,” Kroft says.

“Well, these groups were funded with hundreds of millions of dollars. They had the guns.” Aguirre says. “They had the bullets. So I don’t know who in their right mind would say, ‘Well, if Chiquita would have stopped, these killers would have stopped.’ I just don’t see that happening.”

“Do you feel that the company has any responsibility to compensate the victims of the paramilitaries in Colombia?” Kroft asks.

“The responsibility of any murders are the responsibility of the people that made the killings, of the people who pulled the trigger,” Aguirre says.


I find these last few exchanges particularly disturbing. Aguirre’s reasoning is that there was already so much money going to fund the paramilitaries, that even if Chiquita determined that paying paramilitary groups (“terrorists” according to the U.S. government) was unethical, immoral, or illegal and closed down shop, it wouldn’t have made any difference. Therefore, why not keep doing so? Why take a stand if it won’t change the “bigger picture”? Is this the kind of corporate philosophy that you feel good about? What about his next comment when asked if he felt that Chiquita has any responsibility to compensate the victims and Aguirre responds that, “the responsibility of any murders are the responsibility of the people that made the killings, of the people who pulled the trigger?” How’s that for corporate social responsibility?

I know that these situations are complex and as Aguirre points out, it’s easy to be a Monday morning quarterback, but please tell me how this interview sits with you? How good can you feel about supporting this company? What kinds of statements would make you feel better? Better yet, what kind of actions would you want the companies you support – through your purchases – to be taking in the world?

I don’t think this is naïve. I think each one of us, individually, can draw our own lines and decide which companies, which retailers, perhaps even which farmers we would like to support through our purchases. Collectively, we can also demand that all parties in the supply chain be held accountable to produce our food in the most environmentally and socially sustainable manner possible, upholding values we believe in with integrity and transparency. It just means we need the information and we need to care enough to educate ourselves and each other. We then need to use our collective power to demand changes in corporate behavior, and in governmental policies which allow for and reward it. Finally, we need alternatives and we need to support those companies, stores, co-operatives, and local farmers who are walking the walk – actively working to create an alternative food system and an alternative economy.

I can’t say I’m surprised by Chiquita and Dole but I guess I am more disappointed that these actions haven’t received a bigger public outcry.

Thank you to 60 Minutes for continuing to make this story public.

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The following is the transcript from the 60 Minutes Show (May 11, 2008) that I mentioned in my last blog piece: Unpeeling Chiquita and Dole.

You can also view a video of the show by going to the CBS news website.

Below is the transcript printed in its entirety. 


60 Minutes


The Price Of Bananas

Steve Kroft: On How Colombian Paramilitaries Landed A U.S. Corporation In Hot Water

May 11, 2008

The Price Of Bananas

Chiquita Brands International says it paid murderous paramilitaries in Colombia to protect its employees there, but the families of civilians killed by the paramilitaries fault the company for their deaths. Steve Kroft reports.

(CBS)  For American corporations, the rewards of doing business abroad are enormous, but so are the risks. And over the past 25 years no place has been more perilous than Colombia, a country that is just beginning to emerge from the throes of civil war and narco-terrorism.

Chiquita Brands International of Cincinnati, Ohio, found out the hard way. It made millions growing bananas there, only to emerge with its reputation splattered in blood after acknowledging it had paid nearly $2 million in protection money to a murderous paramilitary group that has killed or massacred thousands of people. (more…)

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