greed and murder have spoiled the banana

It’s hard not to smile while eating a Chiquita banana. But we’re not kids anymore. It’s time to put away any nostalgia associated…

It’s hard not to smile while eating a Chiquita banana.

But we’re not kids anymore.

It’s time to put away any nostalgia associated with the world’s biggest banana producer and face the ugly facts about our favourite fruit and the company synonymous with it.

Recently, Chiquita Brands of Cincinnati, Ohio, was charged in a US federal court and fined $25 million for the felony crime of paying paramilitaries in Colombia.

Chiquita confessed to paying $1.7 million between 1997 and 2004 to the United Self-Defense Forces.

The paramilitary group has been responsible for some of the worst massacres in Colombia’s civil conflict.

Accounts of the group’s brutality include the beheading of children.

It is also responsible for a good chunk of the country’s cocaine exports.

The US government designated the right-wing group a terrorist organization in September 2001 and made it a felony to financially support the paramilitaries.

Chiquita Brands International CEO Fernando Aguirre turned the company in to the US Justice department in 2003.

Chiquita would like the world to believe it had no choice in the matter; it had to pay off the paramilitaries to protect its 3,500 workers in the area.

But the lawyer heading four separate lawsuits against Chiquita on behalf of the families killed by paramilitaries in Colombia, Terry Collingsworth, told CBS’s 60 Minutes in a documentary that aired May 11, that Chiquita “has blood on its hands.”

“Are you saying that Chiquita was complicit in these massacres that took place down there?” asked correspondent Steve Kroft.

“Absolutely,” said Collingsworth. “If you provide knowing substantial assistance to someone who then goes out and kills someone, or terrorizes, or tortures someone, you’re also guilty.”

The payments were approved by senior executives at Chiquita, prosecutors wrote in court documents.

Chiquita began paying the right-wing AUC after a meeting in 1997 and disguised the payments in company books, the documents say.

60 Minutes interviewed Salvatore Mancuso from a maximum security prison in Medellin, Colombia, for his side of the story.

Mancuso, who was once the leader of the paramilitaries, said Chiquita paid up “because we were providing them with protection which enabled them to continue making investments and a financial profit.”

Mancuso also pointed the finger at banana giants Dole and Del Monte.

“All the companies in the banana region paid,” he said.

In public statements, those two companies have denied paying the paramilitaries, even though, from Mancuso’s and Chiquita’s point of view, there was no way around it.

“Yes, they had a choice,” said Mancuso. “They could go to the local police or army for protection from the guerillas, but the army and police at that time were barely able to protect themselves.”

Chiquita said it cooked its books all those years to hide payments of nearly $2 million. It’s possible Dole and Del Monte did the same.

It’s interesting that the Big Three of the banana business, which supply 80 per cent of the world’s bananas, are playing this controversy so differently.

While two have chosen complete denial, Chiquita’s confession and victim stance is intended to absolve it from guilt.

Critics note Chiquita could have turned itself in years earlier, and suggest the company was not concerned with its employees at all, but merely the bottom line.

Luckily, consumers have other things to consider when deciding on Chiquita’s guilt or innocence.

On March 2, Guatemalan banana union leader, Miguel Angel Ramirez of the group SITRABANSUR, was shot dead.

SITRABANSUR is affiliated to Banana Links Guatemala partner union UNSITRAGUA, which was helping its workers organize, and was founded by Miguel Ramirez and his fellow workers at the Olga Maria plantation in the Pacific South of Guatemala in July, 2007.

According to The New Internationalist magazine, since its inception, SITRABANSUR members have been harassed and threatened by private security thugs hired by the company Frutera Internacional Sociedad Anónima, supplier to Chiquita Brands, and 24 union members have been sacked.

Ramirez’s murder is just one of the many recent cases of violence against banana union leaders in Guatemala.

In September, 2007, SITRABI union leader Marco Tulio Ramirez Portelo was shot dead.

More recently, the daughter of the general secretary of SITRABANSUR was raped by armed men.

Going a little further back in Chiquita history…

In May, 1998, the Cincinnati Enquirer published an exposé of how Chiquita operates and the company sued.

The newspaper issued an abject apology, paid Chiquita $10 million, sacked and prosecuted the journalist responsible and had the reports removed from the Enquirer’s website.

The journalist, Mike Gallagher, investigated Chiquita for more than a year.

His newspaper turned on him when it discovered some of his information was obtained through illegally obtained voicemail messages.

Among other things, Gallagher’s 18-page exposé reported that Chiquita was bribing Colombian government officials.

First Chiquita paid government officials… then, when the paramilitaries became more powerful, it paid them.

Besides paying the right-wing AUC, Chiquita admitted in court to paying the leftist FARC and ELN (National Liberation Army) between 1989 and 1997.

The Big Three have tried to clean up their images in recent years, mostly by climbing on the environmental bandwagon.

Chiquita, for its part, started the Better Banana Project, an environmental and social certification program monitored by the Rainforest Alliance.

Perhaps a Better People Project with more sincerity might be a better marketing approach; environmental protection seems to have done little protect Colombian citizens and Guatemalan unionists from the murderous paramilitaries that Chiquita pays well. 

Just Posted

The Yukon has confirmed 33 active COVID-19 cases on June 15. (file photo)
A new study has discovered beaver castoreum on a 6,000-year-old Yukon atlatl-throwing dart. Photo courtesy of Yukon Government.
Beaver casotreum residue found on 6,000-year-old atlatl throwing dart

The discovery of beaver castoreum on a throwing dart could be the first instance where its use has been identified in an ancient archaeological context

The Yukon’s current outbreak of COVID-19 is driven by close contact between people at gatherings, such as graduation parties. (Black Press file)
Yukon logs 21 active cases as COVID-19 spreads through graduation parties

Anyone who attended a graduation party is being asked to monitor themselves for symptoms.

Yukon RCMP and other emergency responders were on the scene of a collision at Robert Service Way and the Alaska Highway on June 12. (Black Press file)
June 12 collision sends several to hospital

The intersection at Robert Service Way and the Alaska Highway was closed… Continue reading

The sun sets over Iqaluit on Oct. 26, 2020. Nunavut’s chief public health officer says two COVID-19 cases at Iqaluit’s middle school came from household transmission and the risk to other students is low. (Emma Tranter/Canadian Press)
Iqaluit school’s contacts and classmates cleared after two COVID-19 cases

With an outbreak ongoing in Iqaluit, the Aqsarniit middle school has split students into two groups

An extended range impact weapon is a “less lethal” option that fires sponge or silicon-tipped rounds, according to RCMP. (File photo)
Whitehorse RCMP under investigation for use of “less lethal” projectile weapon during arrest

Police used the weapon to subdue a hatchet-wielding woman on June 4

Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press
Citizenship Minister Marco Mendicino holds a press conference in Ottawa on Nov. 12, 2020. The federal government is announcing that Indigenous people can now apply to reclaim their names on passports and other government documents.
Indigenous people can now reclaim traditional names on their passports and other ID

The move comes in response to a call to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015

Teslin Lake is one of two bodies of water the Yukon Government has place on flood watch. (Google Maps Image)
Flood watch issued for Teslin Lake, Yukon River at Carmacks

The bodies of water may soon burst their banks due to melting snow and rainfall

Kluane Adamek, AFN Yukon’s regional chief, has signalled a postponement to a graduation ceremony scheduled for today due to COVID-19. She is seen here in her Whitehorse office on March 17. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
AFN Yukon’s post-secondary grad celebration postponed

The event scheduled for June 14 will be rescheduled when deemed safe

(Alexandra Newbould/Canadian Press)
In this artist’s sketch, Nathaniel Veltman makes a video court appearance in London, Ont., on June 10, as Justice of the Peace Robert Seneshen (top left) and lawyer Alayna Jay look on.
Terror charges laid against man accused in London attack against Muslim family

Liam Casey Canadian Press A vehicle attack against a Muslim family in… Continue reading

Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer, poses for a portrait in the boardroom outside his office in Iqaluit, Nunavut, on Sept. 30, 2020. (Emma Tranter/Canadian Press)
Two cases of COVID-19 at Iqaluit school, 9 active in Nunavut

Nunavut’s chief public health officer says two COVID-19 cases at Iqaluit’s middle… Continue reading

The Village of Carmacks has received federal funding for an updated asset management plan. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Federal funding coming to Carmacks

The program is aimed at helping municipalities improve planning and decision-making around infrastructure

Most Read