Banana giant Chiquita Brands International paid more than $800,000 to left-wing guerrilla groups like the FARC and ELN in the 1990s, according to US documents published by the non-governmental National Security Archive.
The company made the payments totaling $856,815 to several guerrilla groups including the FARC, the ELN and the now defunct EPL between 1991 and 1996, revealed the so-called “Chiquita Papers“, published by the American Institute dedicated to freedom of information and investigative news website Verdad Abierta.
The payments made to the guerrilla groups who had significant operations in Colombia were designed to appease the groups and guarantee that their personal and facilitates would not be harmed by those involved in the country’s armed conflict.
The figure of $856,815 does not include any money transferred to guerrillas before October 1991 or after 1996 with payments said to have begun in the late-1980s and continued through part of 1997.
Chiquita, aware of the irregularities of the payments disguised them by assigning colors to the payees as well as using fictitious names such as “carved wood”, “gasoline” and “boys in the hills”.
The payments were recorded in what they named as a “citizen security account” and were mostly processed through Banadex and the Fruit Company of Seville, subsidiaries of Chiquita in Colombia.
Partners of the multinational such as the Banazuñiga and Banacosta companies were also mentioned in the financial records.
Between 1989 and 1997, when the guerrilla payments were made, there were 54 massacres in the banana zone municipalities of Apartado, Carepa and Turbo, according to information from the Observatory of Conflict and Memory of the National Center of Historical Memory in Colombia.
The guerrillas assassinated 181 individuals in 21 of these massacres. Fifteen of these were the work of the FARC.
In 2007, Chiquita Brands was fined $25 million after being found guilty of paying $1.7 million to now-defunct right-wing paramilitary umbrella group the AUC , between 1997 and 2004.
The multi-national which ended its Colombian operations in 2004 claimed that it had paid the money to the paramilitaries “under pressure.”
The testimony of former paramilitaries however has indicated that far from being extortion, it was in fact Chiquita who initiated contact with the AUC.
Payments to left-wing guerrillas were not called before the US justice system due to the fact that unlike the AUC, the groups in question had not been declared terrorist organizations by the US government.
The scale of the violence by these left-wing guerrillas place Chiquita in a precarious position as a third party actor in the armed conflict.
In February of this year, the Prosecutor’ General’s Office confirmed that companies who financed armed groups, including Chiquita will face charges for crimes against humanity.
As part of a peace deal with Colombia’s largest and oldest guerrilla group, the FARC, the transitional justice court will not just try the 6,200 FARC guerrillas who are in the process of demobilization and an unknown number of FARC militia members, but also more than 12,500 civilians and businesses, and 24,400 state officials accused of war-related crimes.