Chiquita’s payoffs

The US-based banana company Chiquita Brands will pay a $25 million fine after a Justice Department investigation found it bought protection from paramilitary and rebel groups in Colombia.

In court documents filed Wednesday, federal prosecutors said the company and several unnamed high-ranking corporate officers paid about $1.7 million between 1997 and 2004 to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, known as AUC for its Spanish initials.

The AUC has been responsible for some of the worst massacres in Colombia’s civil conflict and for a sizable percentage of the country’s cocaine exports. The U.S. government designated the right-wing militia a terrorist organization in September 2001.

Prosecutors said the company made the payments in exchange for protection for its workers. In addition to paying the AUC, prosecutors said, Chiquita made payments to the National Liberation Army, or ELN, and the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, as control of the company’s banana-growing area shifted.

Now I realize the news the US government went after a corporation for dealing with a murderous rightwing paramilitary as well as with murderous rebels may upset the comfortable worldview of some knee-jerk “anti-imperialists.” But there you go.

In a way, it’s possible to sympathize with Chiquita executives for trying to protect their workers by such means– especially if the Colombian government was unable or unwilling to do so.

In light of these events, someone may want to take a stab at writing updated lyrics for the Chiquita Banana song. My mother was good at that sort of thing, but the talent bypassed me.

Update: After reading Paul Fauvet’s comment, it occurs to me that I may have given Chiquita too much credit for trying to protect its workers. As Paul points out, the AUC– a recipient of the company’s payoffs– regularly murders Colombian trade unionists.