Chiquita Bananas is asking a US federal court to dismiss lawsuits filed by thousands of relatives of Colombians killed in a bloody civil war claiming that the cases do not belong in a US court and that US courts do not have any authority in such suits. Chiquita Brand International is based in Charlotte, North Carolina and they filed their request in the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals. Chiquita says any legal action by relative should be filed in Columbian courts not US courts. For decades Chiquita has operated large banana plantations in Columbia. The lawsuits allege that the company aided in the killings of Columbian workers by paying $1.7 million dollars to a right-wing paramilitary group labeled as terrorist organization by US officials. Yet, Chiquita says it only paid the money to the terrorist group because the group made threats against the company. The right-wing group is known as AUC which is a Spanish acronym for “United Self-Defense Forces of Columbia.”
This is not the first time Chiquita has been involved in controversy. Back in 2007 the company pleaded guilty to US criminal charges over the payments which resulted in a $25 million dollar fine and no company official ever went to jail for the criminal charges! In 2004 Chiquita sold its subsidiary in Columbia, Banadex. The company says the payments were made seven years before that sell.
The AUC is a right wing paramilitary terrorist organization operating in Columbia. It was formed in 1997 and united several right-wing militias in battles against left-wing guerilla groups. One of those radical left-wing paramilitary groups is known as FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia). During those battles an estimated 50,000 people were killed. They were mostly innocent civilians say Columbian prosecutors.
Chiquita Banana Company was originally formed as the United Fruit Company and is known today as Chiquita Brands International. It operates under several subsidiary brand names. It is the successor to the United Fruit Company. The company was formed back in 1870 when a ship Captain named Lorenzo Dow Baker bought 160 bunches of bananas in Jamaica and resold them in Jersey City. Then in 1873 Minor Keith, a railroad developer in Central America, began producing bananas in Costa Rica planting bananas along the railway tracks and selling them as additional revenue for the railroad. In 1878 Captain Baker partnered with Andrew Preston to form the Boston Fruit Company. In 1899 that company merged with a new company called the United Fruit Company which later became Chiquita Banana Company. It became the first company to use refrigeration during open sea transports. By 1930 the company had 96 ships.
As I said this is not the first time the company has been involved in controversy. In May of 1998 it was accused of mistreating workers on its Central American Plantations along with polluting the environment and allowing cocaine to be brought into Borneo on ships the company owned. The company was also accused of bribing foreign officials, evading the laws in foreign nations, using force to prevent workers from unionizing, and a host of other allegations. This all came to light with an investigative report published by The Cincinnati Enquirer on May 3, 1998 written by Michael Gallagher and Cameron McWhirter. Chiquita denied all allegations and sued the reporters. Gallagher was accused of hacking into the company’s voicemail system several times. However, no evidence of that was found. The paper retracted the story in June of 1998 saying that the allegations were untrue on their front page. A cash settlement was reached in that case also.
Chiquita has its origins in the United Fruit Company which was in operation from 1899-1970. During that time the company was repeatedly accused of bribing government officials in Latin America and it was also accused of exploiting native workers. Communist parties in several Latin American countries made the company their target saying the company was a prime example of Capitalist Imperialism.
Perhaps one of the most noted incidents involving United Fruit Company was a strike by United Fruit workers in November of 1928 in Columbia. On December 6 of that year Columbian troops opened fire on the strikers. The troops were under the command of General Cortes Vargas. The massacre happened in the town square in Cienage, Columbia. Casualties ranged from 47 to 2000 people. US Congressman Jorge Eliecer Galtan alleged that the troops had acted under instructions given by United Fruit Company. This incident became known as “The Banana Massacre.”
It’s no secret in South America and Central America that foreign companies including US companies commit abuses. It’s also no secret that these companies bribe public officials in those countries. Bribery tends to be the “norm” in fact. For decades now American companies have exploited native workers just as American companies are doing today in places like China. Why pay American workers $10 per hour when you can pay Chinese workers $2 per hour to do the same job? Yet, such practices have resulted in job losses for Americans as companies have moved their operations overseas in pursuit of greater profits. Some American companies have been ruthless in their treatment of some Latin American and South American workers. Others have been more honorable. All companies exploit workers even in America. Profit is the driving motivation. Sadly, it’s often a routine of “Profit at ANY cost.”
BTW this is where the term “Banana Republic” originated. Back when the banana plantations were being formed it was believed that the banana and fruit companies controlled the governments of Latin America so the people began calling those governments “Banana Republics.” In some of those Latin American countries “corruption” doesn’t even begin to describe what went on. Seems little has changed today.