Incidents where Multinational Corporations (MNCs) sponsor massacres in order to eradicate dissenting voices against their obsession for profit have been a motif through Colombia’s history.
At the beginning of the 20th century it was the army who suppressed labor protests. The best example is the Banana Massacre in 1928 in which the army exterminated laborer protesting over wages in behalf of the United Fruit Company. This bloody episode in Colombia’s history was immortalized in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Since the mid 20th century, the slaughtering of the most vulnerable in society has been “outsourced” from the military to paramilitaries directly sponsored by MNCs but still in direct complicity with the government and the army.
The most representative case of recent slaughters sponsored by MNCs was conducted by Chiquita Brands. This US Corporation admitted paying the paramilitaries US$ 1.7 million between 1997 and 2004. Chiquita claims that the armed group blackmailed its employees. However, Salvatore Mancuso, a paramilitary boss currently in US jail, declared that the payments were voluntary. Chiquita was fined US$ 25 million payable over five years by the US government for supporting a terrorist organization, but none of the executives were jailed. Paradoxically, Chiquita Brands was formerly known as United Fruit Company.
Nevertheless, the victims of paramilitary massacres have not been compensated, if that is at all possible. But Colombian lawyers have opened criminal cases against the Chiquita’s board members who authorized such payments. Since the company confessed making the payment in a US federal court, they could potentially be apt for extradition to Colombia.
The US Attorney General, Eric Holder, was the defense lawyer who obtained this juicy deal for Chiquita in US courts. Recently, Holder met with Colombia’s Interior and Justice Minister, Fabio Valencia Cossio – whose brother is investigated for links to the paramilitaries whilst being regional attorney – to iron out details on a new extradition arrangement in order to circumvent Supreme Court obstructions. However, it is obvious that US nationals being extradited to Colombia were not part of the conversations but ways to keep extradited paramilitaries from talking about “sensitive topics” was certainly high in the agenda.
The case of Chiquita Brands is just the tip of the iceberg. Mancuso has admitted receiving money from Dole and Del Monte Foods Companies and Drummond Coal Company. The food companies appear to not only have paid for “pacifying” the workers, but also for driving farmers off their lands so bananas could be planted. In the case of the coal company, there have been various civil lawsuits on behalf of the relatives of Drummond sponsored paramilitary’s murders.
In light of the many obstacles from the highest levels of government to dismiss the legal cases against multinational companies a recent landmark case offers a silver lining to the family of the thousands that have been massacred with the complicity of MNCs.
Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell has paid a US$ 15.5 million out-of-court settlement to the family of the victims due to the incriminating evidence of their complicity against the atrocities committed on the Ogoni tribe of Southern Nigeria in the 1990’s. Shell was accused of colliding with the Nigerian military to hunt down tribesmen opposed to oil developments and their ecology devastation affecting their livelihoods. What is important of the verdict is that, although the company did not directly engage human rights violations, it did facilitate vehicles, patrol boats and ammunition to the military to terrorize the population.
Together with the United Nations Human Rights Commission interest in extrajudicial killings by the Colombian state, Shell’s news offer some hope for justice. Hopefully the impunity and manners in which MNC and the government have been operating in Colombia for hundreds of years can be modified.