Thirteen hundred U.S. activists signed a letter to the president of Chiquita Brands, demanding that the fruit company donate all profits earned in Colombia to victims of the paramilitaries that they funded.
“For 15 years, Chiquita paid millions for protection to the hemisphere’s most brutal groups… Executives of the company knew that they were growing bananas in dangerous war zones. However, instead of leaving the area and jeopardizing profits, they decided to pay assasins to protect the company, despite knowing that the armed groups they were paying were murdering innocent civilians,” Ken Crowley, from the human rights NGO Witness for Peace, told LaFM Thursday.
“Chiquita knew that they were paying brutal assassins and terrorists…But even after their lawyers and the Justice Department required them to stop paying [the paramilitaries], Chiquita continued the payments to ensure for their million in profits,” Crowley went on.
According to the letter, the activists are demanding that Chiquita create a fund for the victims of the paramilitaries that contains the full amount of profits that the company earned in Colombia between 1989 and 2004, the period in which they claim payments to the illegal groups were made.
The letter also demand that the company fire the employees who were involved in the illegal payments.
“Those employees knew that the payments provided material support to terrorists and they knew that innocent civilians were going to be killed as a result of the payments,” Crowley said, adding that he feels that the employees “should be in jail… What message is Chiquita sending if they keep these people employed with the company?”
In March 2007, Chiquita came to an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department in which the company would pay a $25 million fine to settle a criminal complaint for paying the AUC, Colombia’s most notorious paramilitary groups, more than $1.7 million from 1997 to 2004.
For the activists, however, this is not enough, and in April of this year, nearly 250 Colombians who claim that they and their relatives were victims of violence by Colombian right-wing paramilitaries filed a lawsuit in the U.S. seeking more than $1 billion in damages from Chiquita.
Responding to the charges, Chiquita’s CEO Fernando Aguirre explained in a “60 Minutes” interview in 2009 that “These lands [in Colombia] were lands where there was no law. It was impossible for the government to protect employees,” and as a result, “the company was forced to pay taxes to the guerillas when they controlled the territory in the late 1980s and early 90s. When the paramilitaries, known as the ‘AUC’ moved in in 1997 they demanded the same thing.”