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  • Rural workers in Panama protest against Chiquita brands in 2005.

    Rural workers in Panama protest against Chiquita brands in 2005. | Photo: EFE

Published 1 September 2018

In 2007, the company was fined US$25 million in the United States after admitting it had financed paramilitary groups in Colombia.

Multinational corporation Chiquita Brands, the heir to the infamous United Fruit Company, has been formally accused by Colombia’s Office of the Attorney General of financing the paramilitary group known as the United Self-Defenders of Colombia, or AUC, through local subsidiaries Banadex and Banacol.

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On Friday the Attorney General, Nestor Humberto Martinez, announced charges against 13 Chiquita Brands executives and administrators, including five foreigners. They have been charged with the crime of "aggravated conspiracy to commit a crime" after evidence was found showing money was sent by the multinational company to the AUC in the departments of Antioquia and Magdalena.

There is no statute of limitations on the charges since they are considered crimes against humanity.

The prosecution has “established that some of the payments were given directly and deposited to bank accounts of an organization created to support the self-defenders’ armed illegal structures.”

The payments were allegedly made over ten years, and amount to US$1.7 million.

It would be difficult for Chiquita Brands to deny the charges presented since in 2007 it pled guilty to “being involved in transactions with global terrorists” and admitted to having paid paramilitary groups in Colombia between 1997 and 2002 before a court in the United States. The company was found guilty at that time and fined US$25 million.

In Colombia, however, the company and its representatives have not been tried or fined, and the victims of the AUC have not received any compensation. In 2012, the general attorney shelved the process arguing the contributions occurred “within a context of good faith and trust generated by state support these security organization enjoyed in the country.”

Martinez has signaled a shift in policy by stating “we will take on these investigations with profound responsibility. We have prioritized a number of important cases to serve justice to those who dynamized the war by financing the armed conflict.”

A 2001 investigation by the Organization of American States revealed that Chiquita’s links with the AUC exceed that of financing, and included receiving a shipment of arms destined for the AUCs.

Paramilitary leader Raul Hasbun, alias Pedro Bonito, has also stated payments by Chiquita were not made in the context of extortion but one of “mutual agreement.”

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