A lawyer says Chiquita Brands International has "blood on their hands" for paying money to Colombian paramilitaries (FARC); but the company's CEO argues the payments were made due to extortion.
(CBS) For American corporations, the rewards of doing business abroad are enormous, but so are the risks. And over the past 25 years no place has been more perilous than Colombia, a country that is just beginning to emerge from the throes civil war and narco-terrorism.
Chiquita Brands International of Cincinnati, Ohio, found out the hard way. It made millions growing bananas there, only to emerge with its reputation splattered in blood after acknowledging it had paid nearly $2 million in protection money to a murderous paramilitary group that has killed or massacred thousands of people.
As CBS correspondent Steve Kroft reports, the Colombian government is now talking about extraditing Chiquita executives to Colombia, and investigators in Bogota and on Capitol Hill are looking at other U.S. companies that may have done the same thing.
For the better part of century, its best known product has been the Chiquita banana. But since the 1980's, the business of bananas there has been punctuated with gunfire. First, the area was taken over by Marxist guerillas called the "FARC," whose ruthlessness at killing and kidnapping was exceeded only by the private paramilitary army that rose up to fight them.
Chiquita Banana found itself trying to grow bananas in the middle of a war, in which the Colombian government and its army were of no help. "These lands were lands where there was no law. It was impossible for the government to protect employees," says Fernando Aguirre, who became Chiquita's CEO long after all this happened. Aguirre says the company was forced to pay taxes to the guerillas when they controlled the territory in the late 1980s and early 90s.
"There was a very, very strong signal that if the company would not make payments, that things would happen. And since they had already killed at least 50 people, employees of the company, it was clear to everyone there that these guys meant business," Aguirre says. Chiquita only had a couple of options and none of them were particularly good.
It could refuse to pay the paramilitaries and run the risk that its employees could be killed or kidnapped, it could pack up and leave the country all together and abandon its most profitable enterprise, or it could stay and pay protection, and in the process, help finance the atrocities that were being committed all across the countryside.
"These were extortion payments," Aguirre says. “Either you pay or your people get killed.” "And you decided to pay," Kroft remarks. "And the company decided to pay, absolutely," Aguirre says. There was no doubt in the company's mind that the paramilitaries were very bad people, Aguirre says.
CHIQUITA BRANDS BANANAS CASH FINANCED THE FARC ARMS DEAL OF $4 MILLION DOLLARS IN COCAINE & CASH FOR MACHINE GUNS AND GRENADES IN TAMPA ?
In Tampa Fl On February 11, 2005, Carlos Gamarra-Murillo of Bucaramanga , Colombia , (HIS PHOTO ABOVE, ANOTHER CARLOS THE JACKEL) pleaded guilty in Tampa , Florida , to charges of providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization and violating the Arms Export Control Act, FARC.
The plea was the result of an ICE investigation that showed Gamarra-Murillo plotted to provide nearly $4 million worth of arms to Colombia 's Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC).
Gamarra-Murillo sought to illegally export roughly 4,000 grenades, 1,800 assault rifles, as well as 60 grenade launchers and 60 machine guns to Colombia via Venezuela . Gamarra-Murrillo allegedly offered to pay undercover ICE agents posing as weapons suppliers 60 percent of the payment in cocaine (2,000 kilograms) and the remainder in U.S. currency upon delivering the weapons shipment to a clandestine airstrip in Venezuela .
Gamarra-Murrillo was arrested in April 2004 in Tampa after providing ICE agents with a down payment for the weapons. On August 8, 2005, Gamarra-Murrillo was sentenced to 25 years federal imprisonment.