Posts Tagged ‘Colombia’

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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If you purchase bananas with a Chiquita or Dole sticker on them, you’re not alone.

Nevertheless, or better yet, because we eat these bananas, I’d like to ask you to please read the following letter from an old friend, Bob Perillo, who has spent the past 20 years or so in the struggle for worker rights in Guatemala and Colombia.  If you’re concerned about justice in the banana industry or just plain outraged about the idea of a U.S.-based company choosing to pay off paramilitaries in Colombia, please consider writing an email to Attorney General Eric Holder. Bob’s letter explains the situation and he provides a sample letter for you to send.


Last week a Florida law firm, Conrad and Scherer LLP, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Dole Food Company, one of the largest banana companies in the world. The lawsuit, brought on behalf of 73 plaintiffs from the Province of Magdalena, Colombia, charges Dole with having hired the right-wing paramilitary group known as the AUC (United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia) to act as a “local police force” in and around the company’s Magdalena banana plantations.


The plaintiffs allege that the AUC paramilitaries performed a number of violent services for Dole, including driving small farmers from their land to allow Dole to plant bananas; driving leftist guerrillas out of the Magdalena banana zone, and in the process murdering thousands of innocent people, including relatives of the plaintiffs; keeping trade unions out of Dole’s banana plantations by murdering union leaders and organizers, and using terror tactics to discourage workers from joining unions or negotiating collective bargaining agreements with Dole


You can read the lawsuit against Dole here


International Rights Advocates, a non-governmental human rights organization in Washington that supports the lawsuit against Dole, is asking individuals and organizations to write the U.S. Department of Justice to urge that it investigate Dole’s ties to the AUC paramilitaries.  The AUC was designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. government in September 2001. The Justice Department has thus far not shown much interest in investigating U.S.-based multinational corporations alleged to have links to Colombia’s paramilitaries. In fact, before the current Attorney General, Eric Holder, was sworn in by the Obama administration in February of this year, he was a partner at the Washington D.C.-based law firm Covington and Burling, LLP, which represented Chiquita Brands in a criminal case stemming from Chiquita’s admission that it paid the AUC paramilitaries $1.7 million between 1997 and 2004. Chiquita pleaded guilty in 2007 and agreed to pay a fine of $25 million to the U.S. government. Chiquita’s admission and subsequent guilty plea did not result from a Justice Department investigation, but from an exposure initiated by a member of the company’s own board of directors. Covington and Burling, LLP continues to represent Chiquita in a separate civil suit brought against the company by Conrad and Scherer, LLP and International Rights Advocates on behalf of another group of plaintiffs whose relatives were murdered by the AUC paramilitaries.


If sufficient numbers of people demand an investigation of Dole Food Company, the Justice Department may find itself forced to carry one out, and then to extend it to other multinationals that have also profited handsomely from paramilitary repression against trade unions, peasant groups and human rights activists in Colombia.


Please consider sending a letter to the Attorney General today.  Letters, addressed to Attorney General Holder, can be sent by email to:  AskDOJ@usdoj.gov.  Please put USDOJ Comments in the Subject Line.

Or, you can send a letter by snail mail to:rp@iradvocates.org

The Honorable Eric H. Holder, Jr.
Attorney General of the United States
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001

The Attorney General’s office also accepts phone calls at 202-353-1555.

Below is a sample letter to the Attorney General. Please send a copy of your letter to:  rp@iradvocates.org

The plaintiffs in the Dole case will be grateful for your efforts.

In Peace,

Bob Perillo


Sample letter:



The Honorable Eric H. Holder, Jr.
Attorney General of the United States
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001


Dear Attorney General Holder,

I write to urge you to carry out a thorough investigation of Dole Food Company for its alleged links to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a right-wing paramilitary group that was designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. government in 2001. A group of 73 Colombian plaintiffs recently filed a civil wrongful death suit against Dole Food Company in a California court, alleging that the company hired the AUC to provide a number of violent services for Dole’s banana operations in Magdalena, Colombia. These services include murdering trade union leaders and intimidating Dole’s banana workers so that they would not dare to join unions or demand collective negotiations. The AUC paramilitaries also murdered small farmers, allegedly so that they would flee their land and permit Dole to plant bananas. Over a period of more than ten years, the AUC carried out a campaign of terror in Magdalena Province against anyone it suspected of aiding or sympathizing with the FARC and ELN guerrillas, in the process murdering thousands of civilians, all so that multinational companies like Dole could conduct their business profitably in the midst of an internal armed conflict.


The allegations contained in the lawsuit against Dole, together with the public testimony given by demobilized AUC leaders like Salvatore Mancuso, who has stated unequivocally that Dole and other banana companies made regular payments to the AUC in exchange for “security services,” should be sufficient grounds to spur the Department of Justice to investigate whether Dole Food Company and other U.S. companies profited by supporting violent terrorists, in the process violating U.S. anti-terrorism laws. In 2007 Chiquita agreed to pay a $25 million fine in order to settle the criminal charges it faced as a result of its payments to the AUC. That punishment, while woefully inadequate, given the scale of the crimes, stands in contrast to the absolute impunity that Dole Food Company has enjoyed up until today. Please put an end to that impunity by ordering the Department of Justice to investigate Dole Food Company.




[Your Name]

[Organization Name]

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The following post was sent to us by Todd Caspersen, Equal Exchange’s Director of Purchasing, on his recent trip to visit our farmer partners in Colombia.

Riosucio, Colombia

December 5th 2008

View of Supia, Caldas... one of the towns where our coffee producer partners grow our organic Colombian coffee

View of Supia, Caldas… one of the towns where our coffee producer partners grow our Organic Colombian coffee


How do you tell a story that started so long ago that it has a multitude of sub-plots, characters, successes and challenges? I could start at the beginng in 1996 when Equal Exchange first purchased coffee from the Indigenous Resguardos (Reserves) around Riosucio or I could start when I first visited Riosucio in 1999 or I suppose I could start when we imported our first 90 bags of organic coffee in 2003 but I think I will start with the rain or “invierno”, as they call it here.

The 2008 harvest began with the flowering of the coffee trees in February which would have provided a bountiful harvest eight months later but then the rain started and has not stopped since. Take a look at the internet and you will see stories of flooding, landslides and disasterously low harvest throughout Colombia. According to the meticulous records of Don Hernan Trujillo, Riosucio has only had 8 days of straight sun three times since February. This has resulted in extremely low harvests and lots of damage to the coffee farms. To put it simply: summer never came this year.


There is general agreement among the farmers here that the climate is changing and it is having serious impact on the livelihoods of our partners. I never curse the rain but I want to now after days of walking through a landscape seriously impacted by it. Every road I have traveled shows multiple small landslides impeding passage; all of the coffee farms are affected one way or another and everyone is wondering: why is it raining so much and when will it stop?

Very sad and sobering to witness, but despite that I have seen some great stuff and am really excited by the progress that has been made over the last several years here. Three years ago, the Lutheran World Relief/Equal Exchange Small Farmer Fund gave a $66,000 dollar grant to the Asprocafe Ingruma Coffee Co-operative to support productivity improvements in the organic project. This included; soil analysis, credit for women and young people to buy pigs or cows for manure to use as fertilizer, and exchange programs with organic farmers in Nicaragua, among other things.


Last year Equal Exchange and Asprocafe organized a quality competition with the 350 organic farmers in Asprocafe to motivate the organic farmers participating in the program.  This year we returned to do a second competition at the end of the productivity project. On Tuesday, I visited last year’s first place winner to learn what he had done with his prize money and to see the condition of his farm. Don Franciso Javier Rodriguez lives in La Torre of Supia at 1900 meters above sea level. He produces coffee on about 2 hectares. When he won last year, he called his wife on a cell phone (yes they are everywhere now) to let her know that he had won and she wouldn’t believe him until she spoke with someone else. When I arrived at the river way below his house to start the long climb up he was still surprised that I had showed up, exclaiming that he never believed I would come or that any “gringo” would come to visit him. It was a long climb up through a saturated landscape through lots of mud. When we finally arrived at his tidy blue house on a flat spot just below cloud level, we were greeted by his wife, daughter and a hearty second breakfast.




After our meal, they showed me what they had bought with the prize money ($750 USD). Right after collecting his prize money he gave half of it back to Asprocafe to buy the materials for a biodigester that would produce methane gas for the kitchen, replacing the wood stove his wife had labored over all of her life.  The other half he used to make a payment on a loan he had recieved to buy a cow, which has produced three calves since he first bought it.



The cool thing here is that the prize money provided the materials for the biodigester which includes large sheets of plastic to make a long balloon and some pvc piping to conduct urine from the stables to the balloon and to then bring gas to the kitchen as well as to conduct the effluent to a cement tank. The effluent is then used as fertilizer; in this case on sugar cane. It’s not just the prize money that made this possible; it’s also the loans from the cooperatives to build the simple stable and pig stye as well as the credit to buy the pig and cow, most of which was fruit of the LWR/EE productivity project. It is a wonderful example of a multi-prong approach where Equal Exchange works with its U.S.-based partners and its farmer partners to create an integrated project that benefits everyone.




I am of Norwegian stock out of Minnesota and not given to great displays of emotion, but it was really heart warming and quite emotional to hear how the gas stove had changed the family´s life: Dona Rodriquez remembers the exact day the system started to produce gas, December 31st 2007. They no longer had to travel far up the mountain to gather wood, she no longer had to cook in a kitchen filled with smoke from burning wet wood that hurt her eyes and causes lung problems, Wow! Imagine going from having to start a fire every morning to just turning on your stove and have a strong bright flame. Another benefit is they are no longer gathering wood from the remaining forests. The cow they bought has produced more cows, milk and fertilizer. All in all a great example what we can do together.

Back in town, Beth Ann and the cupping team from the coop- Angelica, Yaneth, Edwin and Magda- have been busy cupping 150 samples for this year’s competition and despite the rain the farmers have turned in some very high quality coffee. It’s exciting to see this group of young people be so confident in their work as cuppers and perhaps more importantly, to see that they are still involved in agriculture. Tomorrow is the final round of cupping where we will select the top ten coffees and on Sunday the big event, where as many as 250 farmers will trek through the mud on their way to town to give presentations about their villages and associations, will receive presentations from the agricultural extention workers and what they are really waiting for is to see who won the competition. Stay tuned for an update on the results and hopefully some pictures but for now I am off to a place called Sirpirria to visit some more farms and later I will meet with the technical team from the cooperative to plan the next steps and talk about our plan to build a small scale organic fertilizer production facility. I wish I could share everything I have seen and know about this amazing place and its people but alas it would cover many pages. Pray or meditate for Sun in Colombia.



To learn more about the organic project that Todd refers to in his post, click here.  To read an earlier trip report I wrote after my first visit to Asprocafe, click here.

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