Hiring Death Squads Is Coming Back to Haunt U.S. Companies

Dole Foods and Chiquita may be on the verge of facing justice for ‘pacifying’ their work force, suppressing labor unions and terrorizing peasant squatters in Colombia.

February 16, 2010  |  
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A federal judge recently refused to dismiss a civil suit filed against Chiquita which charges that the company paid leftist (FARC) guerrillas operating near its plantations in Columbia — during a period when the FARC killed four American missionaries, according to CNN.

The company’s position — which it has held consistently since it voluntarily disclosed the payments to the Department of Justice — has been that both left-wing guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries forced the company in an extortionate manner to make the payments “to protect the lives of its employees.”

But that’s become an increasingly untenable position — especially since some of the same paramilitaries who took the payments have come in from the cold, disarming and submitting to Columbia’s “Justice and Peace” process — which allows them to receive reduced jail time for confessing to all of their terrorist crimes. The problem for Chiquita — and now for Dole (and potentially for Del Monte) — is that the confessions reveal a much different story.

One of the ex-paramilitaries — Jose Gregorio Mangones Lugo (aka “Carlos Tijeras”) — was the former commander of the William Rivas Front of the United Defense Forces (“AUC”) — the group that operated in northern Columbia, in the zone where the companies and their suppliers grew bananas. In a sworn statement Tijeras described the AUC’s relationship with the multinational banana companies as “an open public relationship” involving everything from “security services” to the kidnapping and extrajudicial assassination of labor leaders fingered by the companies as “security problems.”

Tijeras’ statement — which reads like the confessions of a corporate death squad leader and directly refutes his paymasters’ version of events — has now been entered into the record in a case filed against Dole last April in California by attorneys with Conrad and Scherer:

“I’ve been told that Chiquita has asserted that they paid the AUC funds, but that this was coerced and was a form of extortion. I have also heard that Dole claims to have never paid us any funds. Both of these assertions are absolutely false. In fact, my agreement with Chiquita and Dole was to provide them with total security and other services.”

Tijeras is not a lone whistleblower by any means. Salvatore Mancuso, the overall commander of the AUC, also testified in early 2008 that Dole and Del Monte, like Chiquita, had been providing major support to the AUC since its inception. He repeated the accusation to “60 Minutes,” which originally aired the segment in September, 2008.

According to these and other witnesses as well as investigators familiar with the bloody history of Columbia, the AUC was originally hired by the companies to drive the leftist FARC guerillas out of the banana-growing region and protect their plantations from “the gangs of common delinquents that robbed their supplies and equipment.” (Tijeras) Once the FARC was vanquished and order restored, the banana companies continued to pay the AUC to “pacify” their work force, suppress the labor unions and terrorize peasant squatters seeking their own competing land claims.

Tijeras: “After we restored order and became the local agents of law enforcement, managers for Chiquita and Dole plantations relied upon us to respond to their complaints…We would also get calls from the Chiquita and Dole plantations identifying specific people as “security problems” or just “problems.” Everyone knew that this meant we were to execute the identified person. In most cases those executed were union leaders or members or individuals seeking to hold or reclaim land that Dole or Chiquita wanted for banana cultivation, and the Dole or Chiquita administrators would report to the AUC that these individuals were suspected guerillas or criminals.”

According to Tijeras, for years the companies provided up to 90% of the AUC’s income.

When a case was filed by the families and heirs of dozens of victims against Dole this past April (2009), the company immediately rejected the charges as “baseless allegations” that “are the product of the most untrustworthy sources imaginable” and “nothing more than the false confessions of convicted terrorists from Columbia, who had every motive to lie about their activities in order to minimize their jail time.”

(The plaintiffs’ complaint is a horrific litany of summary executions, off-the-bus abductions, forced-entry murders and kidnappings, ghoulish disappearances and other crimes committed against trade unionists and land reform activists.)

Of course Dole is correct to refer to the AUC as “terrorists” — a designation that the U.S. State Department assigned to the group (coincidentally) on September 10, 2001. But if the payments are proven, then, as Chiquita learned, the consequences will be harsh: Payments to designated terrorists are illegal — whether coerced or not — and whether or not the company is cognizant or indifferent to the consequences.



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