In the United States there are more than five thousand accredited victims of that banana company that financed paramilitary groups in the Antioquia part of Urabá. The attorney for Earthrights International, one of the teams that represent the Colombian victims, is referring to the alliance between Chiquita, the “Convivirs”, the paramilitaries, and the illegal seizure of land.
By Juan Camilo Gallego Castro, Agencia de Prensa IPC, January 25, 2021
At the end of the 1980’s the United States company, Chiquita Brands, decided to expand its capacity for growing bananas in the Antioquia part of Urabá, and it purchased producing plantations. In 1988 it bought the Embarcadero de Zungo, in Zungo in Apartadó Municipality, the Embarcadero de Nueva Colonia, in Turbo Municipality, and they even bought the La Negra plantation in 1988, a little after the paramilitaries there had massacred the banana workers and sympathizers of left-leaning political parties.
“Chiquita Brands took advantage, buying plantations that had financial problems, and it also benefited from the effect of the armed conflict and the violence in the area. That meant paying prices much lower than the real value of the properties,” says the report, The banana’s dark shadow. Urabá: armed conflict and the role played by businesses, prepared by the Democratic Culture Foundation (Fucude in Spanish) and the Legal Option Corporation. They have furnished the report to the Truth Commission.
According to the report, Chiquita, which arrived in Urabá in 1959 through Frutera Sevilla, a subsidiary of the United Fruit Company, bought plantations through third parties and used other families to buy plantations in Urabá between 1988 and 2002, when it left the area.
Chiquita Brands admitted having given 1.7 million dollars to paramilitary groups in Colombia between 1997 and 2004, not only in direct payments, such as through the Convivirs, but they also took advantage of the violent situation to obtain land at low cost.
Kelsey Jost-Creegan is an attorney for Earthrights International, a group that back in 2007 filed a civil lawsuit against Chiquita Brands in the United States. They began with eight cases and eleven plaintiffs; today they represent more than 500 people. She says that there are now more than 5,000 victims of Chiquita in Urabá and Magdalena, represented by different groups of attorneys in the United States. They have also sued the high officials of the company.
In this interview, she refers to the relation between Chiquita Brands and the paramilitary groups, the Convivirs, the plunder of land, and the financing of illegal groups.
IPC. You met with the former paramilitaries like Raúl Hasbún and Ever Veloza, as well as with members of the Papagayo Convivir in Urabá. What did you find?
K.J.C. Even though they have given a lot of information in their testimony to Justice and Peace, Raúl Hasbún talked about an important fact like the financing. He said that in the Bloc’s budgets, 60% of the funds came from payments from the banana companies, and the rest from the cattle raisers and the palm plantation owners. Less that 1% was from drug trafficking. That was significant for us. Chiquita Brands has said that they were paying extortions, and that the payments were not a significant part of the AUC ‘s national budget. Hasbún told us that it was significant. In those municipalities the payments by the banana companies were extremely decisive. They helped the paramilitaries to expand, to control the area, and to export their model to other parts of the country. That testimony was important to demonstrate that they were working with the businesses.
We also asked Hasbún about the monthly meetings he had with the banana companies, meetings between him and Chiquita. I asked him what they talked about at the meetings. He said they talked about problems they had. I asked him for an example. He said that after the twin towers fell they said they needed another way of making the payments. They were making an effort to evade United States laws.
For his part, Ever Veloza, “HH”, gave a detailed explanation about the purge of the unions, the elimination of any person considered to the left or a guerrilla sympathizer. Anybody that had leftist ideas was a target of their violence.
IPC. Members of Chiquita Brands admitted that they furnished 1.7 million dollars to the paramilitary groups. Even though that is a considerable sum, it could also be a small sum for sustaining an army . . . . .
K.J.C. We have four theories. First, we have evidence that they made payments previously. They say they started in 1997. We said that they had been paying the ACCU since 1996, at minimum. Second, they made payments using Augura and what’s interesting is that when they reported those payments, they reported them to the U.S. government. It’s an anti-corruption requirement. What’s interesting is that they reported the payments to the Convivirs. They reported the payments through Augura. That increased the level of contributions.
Third, We believe that the payments to the paramilitaries were not just of money, but also the reputation and legitimacy of being connected with Chiquita, a recognized multinational. Fourth, they also used Chiquita to export drugs and import weapons.
We are also alleging that the money was particularly important in the beginning, when the ACCU were starting to increase in Urabá, and Chiquita helped them to get control of the region and of the drug traffic. Without control of the area, they wouldn’t have been able to control the drug traffic.
IPC. What was the relationship of Chiquita Brands with the Convivirs?
K.J.C. All of our evidence points to the same thing, that the Convivirs were a façade, that the paramilitaries acted through the Convivirs. We interviewed Antonio Arboleda and Irving Bernal, leaders of the Convivirs. We asked if there had been an admission of the collaboration that existed between the Convivirs and paramilitaries. We believe that all of the payments to the Convivirs were payments to the paramilitaries.
Chiquita, at first, made four payments in cash, and later they made them through the Convivirs. We argue that the Convivirs were never legal because they didn’t carry out their legal purpose. In the province of Magdalena, Chiquita paid through façade companies that were not registered.
IPC. And the relation of Chiquita Brands to the plunder of land?
K.J.C. Chiquita had owned some land in Urabá, but they were only buying fruit to export. Later they wanted to produce the fruit and buy some land. Then they bought it in the names of straw men. They say they did that so as not to let the FARC find out that they were entering the region. That doesn’t smell right.
They got to be one of the most important large landowners in the region. They acquired part of their property from 1988 to 1996. We are saying that the violence at that time was evident, the level of violence against the workers and owners of small properties was notorious. With that violence they paid less for those properties and were taking advantage of the situation.
For example, they bought the La Negra plantation after the massacre in 1988. When they entered that area, they had to know that they were in an area with that level of violence. They knew where they were going and that there were armed groups. They knew they would have to make payments to the FARC.
IPC. Who are the victims that you represent?
K.J.C. The great majority are victims of the murders. People that lost a loved one; many were members of labor unions, members of local government, or of certain political parties. Another group consists of survivors of the violence, people that experienced physical attacks and also some that were displaced.
I.P.C. Chiquita Brands paid 25 million dollars, but not to the victims in Colombia.
K.J.C. They paid the 25 million dollars to the United States Department of Justice. It wasn’t any kind of reparation. That’s why the litigation is important, because the victims are the ones that have to have reparation.
The fine is much less than what they earned in those years. Colombia was the operation that earned the most money for the company. That fine is not significant when you compare it to what they were earning.
 “Convivir”, meaning “living together” was the name for groups that, with Colombian government approval, turned into armed paramilitary groups.
 ACCU was the Campesino Self-Defence Forces of Córdoba and Urabá, which started in 1994. The ACCU worked closely with the Colombia military to oppose the guerrillas.
 Augura was the Association of Banana Grower of Colombia, a trade association in Urabá.