Documents from Chiquita Brands International have contradicted the banana company’s earlier claims that it was extorted by Colombian paramilitary and guerrilla groups, instead showing they saw the illegal armed groups as “providing security.”
The internal memos were revealed by the National Security Archive, a research institute based at George Washington University, which has received 5,500 files from the U.S. Department of Justice.
The company claimed in its 2007 plea deal that it had never received “any actual security services or actual security equipment in exchange for the payments,” however the documents provide evidence of the transactions and of the company’s attempts to disguise the payments.
In two memos from January 1994 for example, a general manager of Chiquita operation in Turbo told company attorneys that guerrillas were “used to supply security personnel at the various farms.”
Additionally, in March 2000, Chiquita Senior Counsel Robert Thomas received a memo from Banadex, a Chiquita subsidiary, that said Chiquita “should continue making the payments,” to Inversiones Manglar, a front company for paramilitaries based in Santa Marta, because they “can’t get the same level of support from the military.”
The released documents also show that Banadex was pressured by Colombian authorities to finance the outlawed AUC through legal CONVIVIR militias.
“It was well-known at the time that senior officers of the Colombian military and the Governor of the Department of Antioquia [Alvaro Uribe] were campaigning for the establishment of a Convivir organization in Uraba,” a 2000 memo quoted by the NSA said.
A handwritten document from 1999 reveals an apparent effort by a Colombian Army general to establish himself as an intermediary for the paramilitary payments. The document describes a “general in the zone for several years” who had been accused of being “with [a] death squad” by the mayor of San José de Apartadó and had been “suspended from the Army.” The document notes that the general had “helped us personally” with “security” and “information that prevented kidnaps.”
The documents also bring to light how Uribe, who in 2002 became president of Colombia, received “substantial donations” from Chiquita subsidiaries in the time he was governor of Antioquia.
Chiquita has insisted in trials before American courts that the company’s payments to Colombian illegal armed groups were the result of “extortion,” though it was eventually instructed to pay a $25 million fine in 2007 for its support for terrorist organizations.
The evidence released Thursday coincides with a statement by former AUC commander Ever Veloza Garcia, alias “H.H.” who claimed that the payments were unaccounted for in Chiquita’s company accounts and were instead made through front organizations.
Professor Arturo Carillo, director of George Washington University’s International Human Rights Clinic said the memos “reinforce the claim, advanced in half a dozen federal lawsuits currently pending against Chiquita, that the company was knowingly complicit in, and thus liable for, the atrocities committed by the AUC in Urba while on the Chiquita payroll.”
Investigations into atrocities in which Chiquita is alleged to have been involved in are ongoing. Several lawsuits have been filed against the company with over 100 lawyers working together in order to form one case that will represent the families of some 4,000 victims.