George Washington University has published a series of papers released by the Justice Department, and the FBI under the Freedom of Information Act, detailing Chiquita’s cover-up of payments to the far-right United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) from the 1990s into the 21st century.
The papers prove Chiquita paid a State Department designated terrorist organization for security and protection in the region.
Company officials claim the payments were an act of “extortion” on the part of AUC guerrillas. However, the documents paint an entirely different picture – one of a mutually beneficial relationship between Cincinnati-based Chiquita and the armed rebels.
Chiquita Hires Terrorist Militia Groups
For decades, Chiquita paid dangerous illegal militia groups as well as Colombian government sponsored militias for “security purposes”, and made every attempt to conceal those payments.
In all, the GWU Archive obtained more than 5,500 pages detailing Chiquita’s relationships with several bloodthirsty militia groups.
More disturbing is the revelation that the U.S. Justice Department knew about these deals and went more than a little easy on Chiquita when the company pleaded guilty to paying millions to paramilitary groups and providing them with guns, while labelling the transactions as “protection from extortion.”
Chiquita was ordered to pay an almost laughable $25 million fine for funding and arming murderous guerilla factions. In exchange for security, the company was funding and arming a known terrorist organization.
Do Corporate Interests Trump National Security?
Such a slap on the wrist highlights the apparent willingness of United States government officials to go to great lengths in aiding Chiquita, or any other major corporation for that matter, in an endless quest for profits — even when innocent lives are at risk.
To understand the implications of where the dirty Chiquita money was going, it helps to know a little more about the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia.
Between 1997 and 2001, the size of the AUC had at least tripled, mainly due to the group’s heavy involvement in the drug trade, according to the Center for Defence Information.
The group is responsible for the largest amount of killings in Colombia, and it targets left-wing groups such as FARC, the National Liberation Army, political activists, judges, and police officials.
In 2001, when Chiquita was still doing business with the AUC, the group killed an estimated 1,015 civilians. The number dwarfs the 197 civilians killed by FARC forces.
According to the U.S. State Department, the AUC is also responsible for the displacement of massive segments of the peasant population. The impoverished, defenseless peasants were driven from their homes en masse during the AUC’s 2001 push to control major coca-growing territories.
The State Department estimates the AUC alone was responsible for 43 percent of Colombia’s entire internally displaced population during the same year.
The Columbian government itself has been accused of using the AUC to do its dirty work of murdering peasants and leftist labor union leaders. In 2001, the group was added to the United States list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations for massacres, torture and human rights violations against Colombian civilians.
The Impact of Chiquita Terrorist Payments
According to an estimate by Colombian Attorney General Mario Iguaran, Chiquita payments were directly responsible for the murder of roughly 4,000 people as the AUC worked to take control of Colombia’s coca-growing regions.
Such revelations show the lengths some corporations will go to for profits and the willingness of the State Department to either turn a blind eye, or hand down a comically insignificant penalty, even when our companies are funding known terrorist groups.
Chiquita is currently the target of a lawsuit filed by Earth Rights International on behalf of hundreds of Colombian victims of paramilitary violence.
Ben Norris is a freelance writer and independent journalist from Phoenix, Arizona. He is an Arizona Press Club scholar and human rights advocate.