COLOMBIA ANALYSIS: Whom should we fear more?


27 May 2010
COLOMBIA ANALYSIS: Whom should we fear more?

by Pierre Shantz




When you look at both pictures above, whom do you fear
most?  Logic would say that you fear the man with a mask and the machine
gun.  The man with the gun is a
member of a Colombian right wing paramilitary death squad.  Unless you were to travel to Colombia, speak
out there against his activities, and pressure governments to arrest and
convict him for the terrible crimes he has committed, he will probably never be
a threat to you.  He usually does not go after people who are not blocking
his interests and he usually only follows orders.  Besides, he might be in
jail now for the crimes he committed.

The man in the suit is former Chiquita Brands International
CEO Cyrus Freidheim Jr.  He gives
orders and he directly influenced the lives of most of us living in the north
who consume bananas from Chiquita. 
For fifteen years, Chiquita paid millions to Colombia’s guerrillas and
paramilitaries.  In 2002, as CEO,
he decided to continue these illegal payments.  Company executives knew that growing bananas in a war zone
was dangerous, so they paid vicious killers to protect their businesses,
despite the knowledge that the armed groups they were bankrolling were
murdering thousands of innocent civilians.  In 2004, Chiquita reached a deal with the U.S. Justice
Department to pay a small fine.  Not
a single Chiquita official behind these deadly payments has gone to jail; nor
have they been fired for their actions, and Chiquita has not compensated a
single Colombian victim.  Chiquita claims that they made payments to these
armed groups to protect their business and employees from harm.  Yet former paramilitary commanders who
received payments are testifying that they were hired by companies such as
Chiquita to threaten and assassinate workers who were organizing for better
working conditions and salaries, or to commit massacres to displace people from
the land in order that Chiquita’s banana plantations might expand.

Furthermore, Chiquita was formerly known as United Fruit
Company, which financed death squads and destabilized democratically elected
governments in Latin America for decades to secure billions of dollars in
profit.  Companies simply change their names to hide from their

So whom do you fear most now? Considering the man with a gun
will most likely never harm you (if you live outside Colombia) I think you can
safely put any fears you had of him away.  On the other hand, Mr.
Freidheim, who looks like a sweet old grandpa, was part of a criminal deal that
contributed to the deaths of thousands of innocent Colombians so that he could
make billions in profit and you and I could eat cheap bananas.  His
behavior is a threat the well-being of my brothers and sisters in Colombia, and
my complicity in purchasing Chiquita bananas is a threat both to them and to my
soul.  Can I simply wash my hands as Pilate did and say, “I didn’t know
they were doing this?” 

In recent years, citizens of affluent countries have been
paying more attention to the impact of corporate scandals on their own economic
realities.  It is now time for us to
wake up to how these grandpa-looking men in suits have threatened the lives of
millions in impoverished countries.  It is time for us to see how complicit we are in the violence
devastating human lives in Colombia, that it is not just about “those armed
men” over there killing people.  In fact, the ones who are behind these
human tragedies are all too often people whom society upholds as good
hard-working businessmen.



Postscript: On 27 May 2010, Witness for Peace delivered this letter to Chiquita’s headquarters during the
corporation’s annual meeting, calling on the company to take responsibility for
the murders it has bankrolled.


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