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Chiquita, the multinationals and the bloodbath in Colombia

Gearóid Ó Loingsigh

16 June 2024


It was an open secret that the US multinational, Chiquita, financed the paramilitaries.  But the company always denied it, until one fine day, due to the insistence of the victims the company had to acknowledge its guilt and pay a fine of 25 million US dollars.  On June 10th, this year, a tribunal in Florida ordered the company to pay $38 million to the families of 8 people who were murdered by the groups Chiquita financed.(1)  However, the victims in the same period for which Chiquita accepts it financed the paramilitaries and to have allowed them import weapons through their free zone port number more than eight victims, there are thousands.

But it is not just a matter of the number of victims but rather the number of victimisers.  The judgement lays bare the discourse of the transitional justice system and that of all the governments, including the current one, about the nature of the conflict.  The peace agreement signed with the FARC, described the problem as one of some criminal guerrillas (and amongst their ranks there were) and some “rotten apples” in the armed forces (there weren’t any but rather it was a problem with the military institution itself.). The businesspeople were designated as third parties and are not obliged to testify before the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP).  But the judgement in the US against Chiquita clearly shows that they are not “third parties” in the conflict but “first parties”.

Once upon a time the role of the multinationals in the conflict was the starting point for all of the left and the human rights groups too, but not anymore. Before we look at the matter, we should bear in mind that amongst many of those who are now part of the government, those that signed or promoted the agreement with the FARC are various spokespersons that previously denounced many companies.

I had the honour of investigating the role of the British oil company BP and other companies in the case of Casanare, where the role of the company could be proven.  The company itself, partially acknowledged its bloody role in financing the 16th Brigade alleging that it was legal at that time.  Many organisations have denounced BP, and the voices raised against the company increase in number.(2)  But legally BP is as innocent as Chiquita once was.  In Southern Bolívar we saw how mining companies fomented the war against communities.(3)  It wasn’t just in that region, but rather in the whole country and included national companies as well.(4)  The palm companies did their part and the cattle ranchers publicly accepted their role in fomenting paramilitaries(5), to name just a few sectors.  Other reports, as yet not proven to the same point as the ones against Chiquita, came out, but few doubt the reports against Coca Cola and Nestlé.  Perhaps in a few years we can state it with the same legal certainty as we do now in relation to Chiquita.  And if we get there, it will be exclusively due to the struggle of the victims.

For the current government, the truth commission and many sectors of the Historic Pact (PH) the conflict is to be explained in terms of drug trafficking, minor disputes (never major ones) for land, corruption and the “culture of death in Colombia”.  But none of that is true.  It is true that drug trafficking has, up to a point, played a role, and sometimes there are land disputes between neighbours that end badly and violence as a method of resolving problems is socially acceptable amongst many sectors of the country.  But none of this explains the conflict.

The Colombian conflict can be explained in terms of one between national capital, but above all international capital and the Colombian people and can be seen in the fight for land, the economic model, the war on unions, grassroot organisations etc.  Once upon a time it was not controversial on the left to say so, not even amongst the NGOs and even some politicians did so.  Now, however, whoever states as much, dies politically.

Petro has given the excuse that he holds office but not power as a justification to explain the lack of operational capacity of his government and the lukewarm nature of his proposals.  But we knew that, we always knew that, even when Petro on the campaign trail said he would take power.  People used to accept the idea that Colombian policies are not decided in the Nariño Palace (presidential palace) but rather in the White House and the cafés of Wall Street.  The owners of the “cafés” decide more than the Colombian people. Those that serve the coffee are companies like Chiquita and it is the Colombians who wash the dishes.  President, are you the owner of one of these cafés, a waiter or a dishwasher?  Tell us in detail.  We would like to know who took the decision to allow Chiquita and the rest of the companies to kill left, right and centre.  We would like you to name those companies that kill peasants.  Or, do you not as president have access to the military and police archives etc.?

On the election campaign, Petro said he was the Biden of Colombia.  But Biden and the democrats have always received funds from multinationals, particularly from the agribusiness sector.  So Petro should tell us whether he is still the Biden of Colombia and what he intends to do with Chiquita and other companies behind the Colombian conflict.

The peace process with the FARC and the rise of the PH as a party of government has left us a pernicious legacy, where we talk about the conflict in psychological terms, of evil, or individual responsibility (except when dealing with the insurgency) and from the onset deny the role of the US in the conflict and the role of companies, particularly the multinationals.  The businesspeople are not on trial in the JEP, except those who voluntarily place themselves before the tribunal and that is only done by those who face a sure sentence in the ordinary justice system and see in the JEP the possibility of avoiding jail time.  The Truth Commission excluded the businesspeople.

In 2015, in the middle of his speech to the Colombian Oil Association, the then President Santos tried to reassure them and promised that he was not going to pursue them.  He gave them some advice, suggesting that if there was ever report made against them they could allege they were coerced and furthermore stated, “Which businessman is guilty of war crimes or crimes against humanity? If there is even one, he might be put on trial, but I don’t see how, or where…”(6)

Well, for the moment we could reply that perhaps in Florida, but not in Bogotá and not due to the NGOs, state bodies and other personalities who sell us that image of the conflict in which companies are not the driving force behind the conflict.


(1)  The Guardian (11/06/2024) Chiquita ordered to pay $38 million to families of Colombian men killed by death squads. Luke Taylor.

(2)  Declassified UK (18/07/2023) La financiación de BP a los militares asesinos de Colombia. John McEvoy.

(3)  Ó Loingsigh, G. (2003) La estrategia integral del paramilitarismo en el Magdalena Medio. España.

(4)  Ramírez, F. (2010) Gran minería en Colombia, ¿Para qué y para quién? Revista Semillas  No. 42/43

(5)  Ó Loingsigh, G. (2006) El Catatumbo: Un reto por la verdad. Cisca. Bogotá. P.153

(6)  Cited in Sinaltrainal et al (2016) Ambiguo y decepcionante acuerdo: itinerario para la impunidad de crímenes de Estado. P.24

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