Chiquita Papers: Uncertainty Fueled Staff Concerns about Payments to Guerrillas and Paramilitaries, National Security Archive, May 2, 2017, Edited by Michael Evans
Washington, D.C., May 2, 2017 – Chiquita’s Colombia-based staff questioned the company’s payments to illegal armed groups, and asked whether Chiquita had gone beyond extortion and was directly funding the activities of leftist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitary groups, even while top company executives became “comfortable” with the idea.
This is the second in a series of stories jointly published by the National Security Archive and VerdadAbierta.com documenting how the world’s most famous banana company financed terrorist groups in Colombia.
The New Chiquita Papers are the result of a seven-year legal battle waged by the National Security Archive against the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and later Chiquita itself, for access to tens of thousands of records produced by the company during an investigation of illicit payments made in Colombia.
The Archive has used these records to identify individual Chiquita executives who approved and oversaw years of payments to groups responsible for countless human rights violations in Colombia, but whose roles in the affair have been unknown or unclear until now.
In this installment, we examine the roles of financial officers, security staff and hired intermediaries on the ground in Colombia who managed an unorthodox payments process one official described as a “leap of faith.”
The following article was also published today in Spanish at VerdadAbierta.com.
“[These] were payments that, you know, are questionable, payments to the guerrillas that at the end are payments that, you know, are questionable,” said Jorge Forton, chief financial officer for Banadex, Chiquita’s wholly-owned subsidiary in Colombia, in his April 27, 1999 statement to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). “We are funding their activities, or we are protecting ourselves. It’s questionable.”
The deposition of this Peruvian accountant, who worked for Chiquita from 1990-1998, turns out to be key evidence on a little-known chapter in the history of Colombia’s banana-growing zone: payments made by the multinational fruit company to anti-government guerrilla groups like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army (ELN), and the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), and the funding of political organizations like the Current for Socialist Renovation (CRS), Hope, Peace and Liberty, and the Popular Commands.
Forton began in 1990 at Chiquita headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio, looking for opportunities to expand the company’s worldwide operations. In the middle of 1994, he was sent to Colombia to assess how the local economy was affecting the prices of banana production. Over the next few months, Forton returned to the country several times and proposed alternatives for reorganizing Colombian operations. At the end of the year, Forton accepted a new position as chief financial officer for Banadex in Medellín.
Since his arrival in Colombia in early 1995, the accountant knew that Chiquita made “sensitive payments” to illegal armed groups to ensure, as he was told, that its workers were not killed or kidnapped and that its plantations were not burned to the ground. “My role was to see how we could standardize and have a good control of those payments,” he said to the SEC.
This rigorous accounting system coldly recorded the harsh reality of life in the violently-contested region of Urabá during the 1990s. Forton was aware of the impact that the payments had on public order and thought it indispensable to know whether the money found its way to the intended recipients. At the very least, the ultimate destination of the payments mattered more to Forton than to his superiors in Cincinnati, who had not witnessed Colombia’s war in person.
In a vivid account to the SEC, Forton said the surge in paramilitary groups (or “anti-guerrilla groups,” as he called them)—who were also financed by the company—had intensified conflict in the region. He recalled a day when some 20 bus riders were killed, and a subsequent call from company staff in Urabá asking what to do. “I have a wife that carried the body of her husband into the office to ask for money to bury him,” he remembered.
To read the full article, see the National Security Archive's website, here: http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB589-Chiquita-Papers-Show-Concern-A...
To read more about our case against Chiquita, see here: http://www.iradvocates.org/case/latin-america-colombia/does-v-chiquita-b...