Colombia: Whom Should We Fear?

by Pierre Shantz

Which of these two pictures is more frightening?  Logic would say it’s the masked man with a machine gun.  He is a member of a Colombian right wing paramilitary death squad.  However, unless you travel to Colombia and actively speak out 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.

The man in the suit is former Chiquita Brands International CEO Cyrus Freidheim. For 15 years, Chiquita paid millions of dollars to Colombia’s guerrillas and paramilitaries.  Company executives knew that growing bananas in a war zone was dangerous so they paid vicious killers to “protect their business.”  They also knew that the armed groups they bankrolled were murdering thousands of innocent civilians.  In fact, former paramilitary commanders who received such payments testify that they were hired specifically to threaten and assassinate workers organizing for better pay, or to massacre and displace people from the land in order to expand Chiquita’s plantations.

In 2002, CEO Freidheim decided to continue these illegal payments so that he could make billions in profits and we could eat cheap bananas.

In 2004, Chiquita reached a deal with the USA Justice Department to pay a small fine.  Not a single Chiquita official behind these criminal payments has gone to jail.  Not one has been fired for their actions.  Nor has Chiquita compensated a single Colombian victim.

So who is more frightening?  This is not just about “those armed men” over there killing people.  Mr. Freidheim’s behavior and my complicity through purchasing Chiquita bananas present a threat not only to the well-being of my brothers and sisters in Colombia but to my very soul.