The Common Good

Blood Bananas

One more reason to take up dumpster diving: I've been finding lots of bananas lately, many of them from Chiquita, and many of them from Colombia. I've been aware of Chiquita's entanglements with right-wing paramilitaries, but at least I can eat the fruit with a clean conscience since none of my dollars have made their way up the corporate food chain and back down to Colombian death squads.

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A recent USA Today article summarized the scandal well. This was my quote of the week for SojoMail today:

Chiquita's money helped buy weapons and ammunition used to kill innocent victims of terrorism. Simply put, defendant Chiquita funded terrorism.

That's the U.S. Justice Department, in court filings last month against Chiquita for paying off right-wing paramilitaries in Colombia. Here's the rest of the story, Harpers Index-style:

  • $1.7 million - amount Chiquita paid the Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, AUC), a right-wing paramilitary organziation responsible for the majority of human rights abuses in Colombia's armed conflict
  • $25 million - amount Chiquita was fined after pleading guilty of paying money to a terrorist organization
  • $49.4 million - profits reaped by Chiquita from its Colombian operations between Sept. 10, 2001, when the AUC was designated a terrorist group, and January 2004, when its payments stopped. That's a number to keep in mind when Chiquita protests that it was merely trying to protect its workers.
  • 173 - Colombians allegedly murdered and in some cases tortured by right-wing militias that received payments from Chiquita, whose families are now suing the company.
  • 4,000 - number of people killed in the Uraba banana-growing region during the period when Chiquita admits to paying the AUC.
  • 1989 until 1997 - years during which Chiquita paid left-wing guerillas before the region in which they operated was taken over by the AUC

And if this makes you not want to eat Chiquita bananas, here's some more bad news:

A spreading investigation in Colombia into what is being called the "para-politics" scandal may ensnare other corporate targets. Former AUC leader Salvatore Mancuso in May told the newspaper El Tiempo in Bogota that all banana producers had paid for protection, including Dole and Del Monte. Mancuso, who was jailed after turning himself in as part of an ongoing government-backed demobilization, said his group received 1 cent for every dollar of bananas exported. "All of the banana companies paid us. Every one of them," Mancuso told the newspaper.

And one more closing thought:

"It may be true (that) you could not operate in these areas without paying the AUC. If it were al-Qaeda, that wouldn't be a defense," says Terry Collingsworth, an attorney with the International Labor Rights Fund, which has filed lawsuits against several corporations, including Chiquita, over their activities in Colombia.

Ryan Rodrick Beiler is the web editor for Sojourners. He traveled to Colombia in 2003.

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