The New Chiquita Papers: “Records Identify Banana Executives who Bankrolled Terror in Colombia”

“Even after outside attorneys warned in February 2003 that it must stop payments to the outlaw paramilitary organization, Chiquita continued to pay the AUC for another 16 months. Until that point, Chiquita’s strategy, set forth by senior executives in Cincinnati, was to just let them sue us, come after us.”

The Chiquita Papers collection — National Security Archive — George Washington University

Ten years ago, Chiquita Brands International became the first U.S.-based corporation convicted of violating a U.S. law against funding an international terrorist group — the paramilitary United Self-defense Forces of Colombia (AUC).  Follow us on Twitter: @INTEL_TODAY

Background

On 14 March 2007, Chiquita Brands was fined $25 million as part of a settlement with the United States Justice Department for having ties to Colombian paramilitary groups.

According to court documents, between 1997 and 2004, officers of a Chiquita subsidiary paid approximately $1.7 million to the right-wing United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) which was — from September 10, 2001 until July 15, 2014 —  on the U.S. State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.

In 2013 and 2014, Chiquita spent $780,000 lobbying against the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, hiring lobbyists from Covington and Burling.

Recent development

However, it is important to realize that — until recently — punishment for the crime was reserved only for the corporate entity. Indeed, the names of the individual company officials who directly engineered the illegal payments to AUC have remained hidden behind a wall of impunity. No more.

This week, the National Security Archive — in collaboration with Verdad Abierta, published a series of articles identifying the people behind the payments.

“As Colombian authorities now prepare to prosecute business executives for funding groups responsible for major atrocities during Colombia’s decades-old conflict, a new set of Chiquita Papers, made possible through the National Security Archive’s FOIA lawsuit, has for the first time made it possible to know the identities and understand the roles of the individual Chiquita executives who approved and oversaw years of payments to groups responsible for countless human rights violations in Colombia.” [National Security Archive ]

In 2016, Judge Kenneth Marra of the Southern District of Florida ruled in favor of allowing Colombians to sue former Chiquita Brand International executives for the company’s funding of the outlawed right-wing paramilitary organization that murdered their family members.

“Profits took priority over basic human welfare’ in the banana company executives’ decision to finance the illegal death squads, despite knowing that this would advance the paramilitaries’ murderous campaign.” [WIKIPEDIA]

Robert F. Kistinger

In secret testimony on January 6, 2000 Robert F. Kistinger, head of Chiquita’s Banana Group based in Cincinnati, Ohio, told the SEC he had direct knowledge about many of the payments to armed groups.

Kistinger — who is a named defendant in a massive civil litigation case pending against former Chiquita executives in U.S. federal court — said it was “not realistic” to halt Chiquita’s Colombia operations over such insignificant amounts of money. (In his view, the amounts of money paid to the groups—hundreds of thousands of dollars per year—were simply not large enough to affect the company’s bottom line.)

“I’m sorry, it doesn’t hit the scorecard. We’re not going to stop doing business in Colombia, because, you know, we’re going to have to spend an extra $25,000. That’s not realistic. Right?”

The “New Chiquita Papers” is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand what truly happened in Colombia. Obviously, ‘Don Pablo’ should not get all the credit for Colombia going bananas.

PS: A reader — who wishes to remains anonymous — sent me the following comment which I publish here.

“The only thing I would add is that the AUC did not simply murder civilians who they claimed were supporters of the FARC, but they also slaughtered trades unionists and members of civil society groups. Companies like Chiquita funded the AUC to murder trades-union leaders among their workforce and to discourage their employees from joining unions. This enabled Chiquita and other companies to keep wages low and working conditions poor.”

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Chiquita Banana — 60 minutes

REFERENCES

The New Chiquita Papers: Secret Testimony and Internal Records Identify Banana Executives who Bankrolled Terror in Colombia — National Security Archive GWU

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The New Chiquita Papers:  “Records Identify Banana Executives who Bankrolled Terror in Colombia”

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