Truth, Justice, and Comprehensive Reparations for the Victims of Crimes Committed by Multinationals in Colombia
( Translated by Kevin Funk, a CSN volunteer translator)
At the beginning of March 2007, the multinational Chiquita Brands found itself obligated by judicial agreement to pay $25 million USD for having financed paramilitary groups in Colombia, and having sponsored arms trafficking in support of these criminal organizations. This week, a US tribunal decided to hear the testimony of Edwin Manuel Guzmán, a former sergeant in the national army who affirms that the multinational Drummond ordered homicides against Colombian union members. The subsidiaries of Coca-Cola in Colombia face various judicial processes for having ordered killings and kidnappings against the members of the National Union of Food Industry Workers, known in Spanish as "Sinaltrainal." Oil, mining, and agribusiness multinationals have been accused of serious human rights violations in Colombia which have involved paramilitary groups.
The union organizations in multinational corporations have publicly denounced the work conditions that prevail in these businesses. In many of them there are temporary employees who earn less than the minimum wage in exchange for 16-hour workdays, and do not have the right to form a union. They have also condemned the persecution and harassment at work that union leaders are subjected to when they have undertaken actions aimed at organizing workers, and demanding decent conditions. To this it must be added that the transnational corporations exploit strategic natural resources for the country’s development, and carry out large-scale economic projects that are destroying biodiversity and ecological systems.
As the legal actions which are in process demonstrate, on some occasions the response of multinational companies to organized action by workers has included the hiring of paramilitary groups to carry out crimes against humanity. The actions of these groups, which have acted with the backing of state agencies, have seriously affected the inhabitants of the lands in which these transnational enclaves are found. Communities of campesinos, the indigenous, and peoples of African descent have been subjected to massacres, massive forced disappearances – whose victims have been buried in thousands of common graves and hidden cemeteries – and forced displacements which have had as their purpose the clearing of lands and paramilitary control over extensive territorial areas.
As a result, it is not certain that these criminal actions, and support for paramilitaries, have been practiced principally to protect businesses from guerrilla attacks or organized crime. The justification that they seek to make the leaders of these multinationals give their backing to paramilitaries and crimes against humanity committed in Colombia, is an additional affront to the victims and to national sovereignty.
In relation to the atrocities perpetuated by multinationals in the national territory, the Colombian state is responsible for having promoted the presence of these companies in the country, without any type of control. In the same way, for having created the legal framework so that security groupings known as "Convivir" have served as intermediaries for the organization in campaigns to wipe out union members. The fact that foreign tribunals are the ones that are producing results in the investigation of these crimes demonstrates the degree of impunity and the inefficiency of justice nationally, that it has been permitted for them to continue committing these atrocious crimes, that those who are responsible enjoy freedom and multimillions in earnings that the terrible working conditions in their businesses yield for them. Likewise, the Colombian state has responsibility for the intervention or negligence of members of the security forces in the creation and strengthening of paramilitary groups.
In light of these facts, the National Movement of Victims of State Crimes supports the following positions and demands:
- The criminal actions of the multinational companies that have hired paramilitary groups in Colombia, and the fact that their actions have been generated in total impunity, is another argument against ratifying the Free Trade Agreement with the United States.
- In relation to the crimes perpetrated by multinationals in Colombia in accord with paramilitaries and agents of the state, the whole truth must be clarified by national and international judicial bodies concerning the material and intellectual authors, the circumstances in which crimes have been committed, and the earnings that have been obtained through criminal methods.
- The directors of the multinational companies who are involved must face legal responsibility, and the national government is obligated to process the extradition of those who have planned and benefited from these crimes.
- The multinational companies must comprehensively make amends not only to the direct victims of these crimes. They must also make comprehensive reparations to the communities to which they have caused immense damage through their financing and sponsorship of paramilitary groups.
- As a means to fulfill this, the multinationals must publicly apologize to the victims and to the country for the damage caused through the methods that they have used in order to obtain substantial economic gains in the country.
- As a means to ensure that this is not repeated, the multinational corporations which are proven to have ordered killings and forced disappearances, as well as having supported paramilitary groups and arms trafficking in Colombia, will permanently lose their license to operate in Colombia, and will not be able to return to establish themselves in the national territory.
The National Movement of Victims of State Crimes expresses its solidarity with workers, the relatives of the victims of multinationals, the labor organizations that fight for the rights of workers vis-à-vis transnational capital in Colombia, and with communities of campesinos, the indigenous, and peoples of African descent, who defend the country’s natural resources and biodiversity while faced with the exploitation of large, foreign companies.
The National Movement of Victims of State Crimes
Bogotá, May 2, 2007.
Colombia Support Network
P.O. Box 1505
Madison, WI 53701-1505
phone: (608) 257-8753
fax: (608) 255-6621