For Immediate Release
1300 People Call For Accountability at Chiquita for Illegal Payments to Terrorists
A Letter Delivered During Shareholders’ Meeting Calls for Firings and Compensation for Victims
CINCINNATI, OHIO - During Chiquita Brands' annual shareholder meeting today, a group of concerned citizens and shareholders called on Chiquita CEO Fernando Aguirre to take decisive measures to respond to ongoing concerns about payments Chiquita made to terrorist organizations in Colombia.
Backed by a letter to Chiquita's Aguirre signed by 1,300 people from across the country, activists demanded Chiquita apologize for the payments, create a multi-million dollar fund for victims of terrorism in Colombia and immediately fire all employees involved in the illegal payments. "For 15 years, Chiquita paid millions in protection money to the two most brutal armed groups in the hemisphere," said Ken Crowley, of Witness for Peace. "Company executives knew that growing bananas in a war zone was dangerous. Rather than pulling out and risking their profits, they paid vicious killers to protect the business, despite the knowledge that the armed groups they were bankrolling were murdering thousands of innocent civilians."
Witness for Peace, a group that monitors human rights in Colombia, estimates at least 14,000 civilians were killed by Colombian guerrillas and paramilitaries while Chiquita made payments to the groups.
In 2007, Chiquita struck a deal with the Justice Department over illegal payments to brutal Colombian paramilitary groups and was forced to pay a $25 million fine. That's not enough, claimed the event organizers.
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"Chiquita knew they were paying brutal killers, terrorist groups," said Crowley. "Even after their lawyers and the Justice Department told them to stop, they continued payments to ensure continued profits."
The activists demanded Chiquita create a fund for victims of Colombia's war. The fund, they claim, should be equal in size to the profits the company made off of its Colombian operations from 1989 to 2004, the years during which the company has admitted making illegal payments.
The group of activists and Chiquita shareholders also demanded all company officials involved in the illegal payments be immediately fired. "These people knowingly provided material support to terrorists and they knew innocent civilians would be killed as a result," said Crowley. "They should be in jail, but at the very least they should lose their jobs. What kind of message is Chiquita sending by keeping these individuals on the payroll?"
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Witness for Peace (WFP) is a politically independent, nationwide grassroots organization of people committed to nonviolence and led by faith and conscience. WFP's mission is to support peace, justice and sustainable economies in the Americas by changing U.S. policies and corporate practices which contribute to poverty and oppression in Latin America and the Caribbean.