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Chiquita Brands: Agribusiness and its Links with Paramilitaries in Colombia

The Lawsuit Against the Multinational Banana Company Chiquita Brands for Financing Paramilitary Groups in Colombia Remains Firm in the Courts. Here we tell you What the Process is About.

'Chiquita Brands' bananas

Photo: Mark Buckawicki

LatinAmerican Post | Erika Benitez

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Leer en español: Chiquita Brands: la agroindustria y sus nexos con paramilitares en Colombia

The Colombian armed conflict was marked by the convergence of various actors who played a determining role in its continuity and dynamics. The guerrilla groups, paramilitaries and the State were its main protagonists. However, as revealed in the final report of the Commission for the Clarification of the Truth, in its chapter "Even War Has Limits", the war also permeated the country's political, judicial and business sectors.

According to the report: "the pain and injustice suffered by the victims is the confirmation of business initiatives that are protagonists in the conflict that paid paramilitary groups in order to displace and dispossess the communities of their lands and territories." It adds that, " establish agro-industrial or mining businesses, or that within the ventures stigmatized the workers and are accomplices in the murders of hundreds of trade unionists”.

Among the findings, the links between the multinational banana company Chiquita Brands and the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) are exposed. Like this one, there were several companies that paid large sums of money to the armed groups as transaction costs to keep their projects active in the country, within the framework of the conflict that Colombia experienced for more than 60 years.

History of the Chiquita Brands Case in Colombia

In the 1990s and early 2000s, the company Chiquita Brands International Inc. made financial contributions to the AUC paramilitary group for 7 years. The sum amounted to more than 1.7 million dollars. As a result of a meeting between Charles Dennis Escobar, then manager of Banadex SA, and Carlos Castaño Gil in 1997, the investigation was opened, which today has become a long judicial process.

With these contributions, the AUC managed to strengthen its criminal operations in the banana zones, committing multiple violations of the human rights of the peasant population in the Magdalena Medio and Urabá region, such as forced displacements, homicides, and massacres. Without leaving aside, the serious consequences on the environment that this economic activity leaves. In this regard, according to a study carried out by the Eafit University of Colombia on the "Environmental and Socioeconomic Effects of the Production Processes of Coffee and Bananas", the use of agrochemicals of organic origin has a greater impact on banana plantations, due to export requirements and production capacity. Likewise, the cultivation of bananas generates air pollution, due to the burning of materials, odors from the production process and the spraying of agrochemicals.

In 2007, EarthRights International, a nonprofit organization whose team of community leaders, activists, and legal strategists work to defend human rights and the environment, filed a lawsuit on behalf of the victims. Following an investigation by the US Department of Justice (DOJ), Chiquita Brands had to pay a $25 million fine after being found guilty of financing the AUC. Despite the above, there has been no criminal investigation against its executives and the victims have not yet been compensated.

Read also: Colombia: This is How Mining Companies Were Involved in the Armed Conflict

Before the presentation of evidence in 2017, the Florida court handling the case granted an order of protection against the public disclosure of the identity of the petitioners. The parties agreed that the protection order was appropriate in a country like Colombia, where rights defenders and social leaders are at constant risk. Two years later, Chiquita withdrew its consent to the settlement and the Florida court granted the motion to modify the protective order.

Continuing with the timeline, in 2019 the judicial process suffered another setback, when a first instance judge indicated that the victims did not have sufficient evidence to continue. This decision was appealed and in September 2022, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals reopened the process and determined the feasibility of proceeding to trial before a jury.

Following this decision, EarthRights General Counsel Marco Simons stated: “Today's order was a milestone in this historic lawsuit. The families have been waiting for years for this decision by the courts, despite exhausting efforts by Chiquita to dismiss the case.” The main objective of the plaintiffs is to achieve reparation for the victims, but also to set a precedent so that large companies do not support criminal groups anywhere in the world.

A game of economic interests that left thousands of victims

In December of last year, the Federal District Court of Florida denied Chiquita's latest attempt to challenge the lawsuits filed. This implies that the responsibility for the murders at the hands of the paramilitaries will be determined by a jury. In the ruling, the judge rejected Chiquita's argument that it paid the AUC solely to protect itself, noting that "there is evidence that the decision to pay the AUC was motivated by profit, not self-preservation."

The Chiquita Brands case highlights the company's negligence in managing its operations in Colombia: they acted contrary to their own corporate values, they ignored the legitimacy of the Colombian State and its institutions, they aggravated the violence and the violation of human rights With their economic contributions to the AUC, they privileged economic benefits to the detriment of the environment, and did not take corrective action on their conduct. Motivated by the high profitability of the operations in the country and by the excellent quality of the Colombian product.

Thus, it is clear that the violence carried out by the paramilitary groups left thousands dead and displaced in Urabá and the Magdalena region, as a result of the businesses in which this company was involved. With the last pronouncement of the judge, it is expected that the trial date will be set soon, the facts will be clarified and justice will be done for the victims of the process.