For nearly a decade in the 1990s and early 2000s, Chiquita paid off Colombia's deadliest paramilitary organization, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), as they terrorized communities in the country's banana growing regions.
Chiquita’s agricultural operations have a long and bloody history in Latin America, beginning with its role in violent massacres in Colombia in the 1920s. For nearly a decade in the 1990s and early 2000s, Chiquita paid off Colombia’s deadliest paramilitary organization, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), to terrorize communities in the country’s banana-growing regions.
The Bloody Story of Chiquita Banana
Led by the infamous Castaño brothers, the AUC was notorious for horrific mass killings of trade unionists, banana workers, political organizers, and social activists. In 2001, the U.S. government classified the AUC as a terrorist organization—but Chiquita continued its relationship with the paramilitaries. When the U.S. Justice Department found out, Chiquita was ordered to pay $25 million in criminal penalties. None of that money went to the victims of Chiquita-AUC brutality.
Chiquita’s victims have gone decades without justice. No compensation. No apology. No closure.
EarthRights is fighting to change that. We are working with human rights lawyers around the world to seek justice for thousands of people who have suffered at the hands of this cruel household brand.
We’re fighting for justice for these atrocities that happened years ago—and others that profit-mad corporations continue to commit today. This lawsuit is a wake-up call: The United States must hold corporations accountable for their abuses of human and environmental rights. Learn about other companies that have profited from human rights abuses here.
Dig deeper into the Chiquita case. Visit the EarthRights Doe v. Chiquita Brands International case page, or The Chiquita Papers at the National Security Archive.
You can help us bring justice to the families of Chiquita’s victims and end corporate-sponsored violence. Directly support our community leaders and legal strategists, and help share the bloody history of Chiquita bananas.Act now to support EarthRights
This included many people who were critical of Chiquita's business operations.
Thousands of people were murdered by the AUC with the help of funds provided by Chiquita.
Paramilitaries targeted labor organizers, banana plantation workers, and social activists in Colombia’s banana growing regions. During the 1990s through 2004, the AUC tortured, murdered, raped, and persecuted thousands of civilians. They carried out at least 150 mass killings and countless other brutalities.
Before the rise of the AUC, labor unions in the banana-growing region began to gain traction. Then the AUC began to stop strikes in the banana industry, while killing hundreds of labor organizers. The number of strikes went down, and Chiquita’s Colombia plantations became the company’s most profitable global operation.
The people living in banana growing regions faced a decade of terror. The AUC used violence against community leaders, including teachers, activists, trade unionists, human rights defenders, religious workers, and leftist politicians. Paramilitaries also attacked those whom they considered to be “social undesirables.”
The families of hundreds of these victims are now seeking justice in a civil lawsuit against Chiquita in U.S. court. But speaking out is dangerous: several key witnesses to the AUC’s atrocities have been killed. The risk of retaliation is so high that most of the plaintiffs’ identities are protected by pseudonyms. Chiquita has fought to unmask the plaintiffs, exposing them to danger.
The AUC demobilized between 2003 and 2008, but not before killing and torturing thousands of victims in the banana growing region of Colombia where Chiquita was operating.
Carlos Castaño Gil, the youngest member of a warlord family, founded the AUC in 1997 as an umbrella organization that merged several paramilitary groups. He led the AUC during the time that many of the crimes committed on Chiquita’s behalf took place. Castaño was killed in April 2004 under suspicious circumstances.
Salvatore Mancuso was the AUC’s second-in-command. After a peace process in Colombia, he was jailed in a maximum security prison and eventually extradited to the United States. In depositions for EarthRights' lawsuit against Chiquita, Mancuso has shared intimate details of how the organization functioned to benefit banana companies.
Éver Veloza-Garcia, also known as HH, was a longtime paramilitary commander of the Banana Bloc who later became an AUC member under the direction of the Castaño brothers. He was instrumental in the attacks against banana farmers as part of the efforts to weaken the labor movement. In voluntary depositions to authorities, he admitted to being involved in at least 800 crimes, including murders and kidnappings.
Chiquita paid nearly $1.7M to the AUC, which allowed them to increase their ranks from 3,000 to 20,000 and buy weapons, ammunition, and military vehicles. The Chiquita 13—high level officials in the company—allegedly schemed to make payments happen and cover them up. Here are a few of their profiles.
Victor Julio Buitrago Sandoval was director of security for Banadex (Chiquita’s subsidiary in Colombia) from 1999 to 2004, and played a central role in the paramilitary payments scheme. Though his predecessor made the decision to begin payments, Buitrago learned firsthand how the operation functioned—and allegedly decided to continue payments to the AUC after the U.S. government designated it a terrorist organization.
Charles Dennis “Buck” Keiser, former General Manager of Banadex, worked at Chiquita for more than 30 years, overseeing operations in a handful of countries across the globe. He is alleged to have cut a shady deal with Carlos Costaño Gil to help them defeat FARC, Colombia’s largest rebel group. Internal memos obtained through FOIA requests show Keiser negotiated and authorized many so-called “sensitive payments” to guerrilla and paramilitary groups, with guidance from senior officials. He now runs his own agribusiness out of Sierra Leone.
Álvaro Acevedo González became Banadex’s general manager in 2001. As the new general manager, González authorized payments to paramilitaries. In order to hide their payments, Chiquita inflated González's salary—he transferred the extra money to the paramilitaries.
Carl H. Lindner Jr. and the Lindner Family are midwestern royalty. In Cincinnati, you’ll find their name plastered on university buildings, sports complexes, movie theaters—even a school. During his time as CEO of Chiquita, Carl H. Lindner Jr., with the help of his son Keith, fought tooth-and-nail to defend and grow Chiquita’s plantation holdings in Colombia in order to boost market share in Europe. Under their leadership, the company ran up debts, leaving the brand no choice but to declare bankruptcy in 2002. The Lindners lost their controlling stake in Chiquita, marked it a loss, and moved on.
Chiquita isn't the only company linked to human rights abuses like these. Agribusiness, mining, and energy corporations have profited from abusive tactics in Colombia and other countries around the globe.
ExxonMobil has been sued by Indonesian plaintiffs in another violent case. Indonesian national army members, hired by Exxon to provide security, have been accused of kidnapping, torturing and killing community members in the 1990s and early 2000s. One man says that soldiers detained him, shot him three times in his leg, and proceeded to torture him by breaking his kneecap, smashing his skull, and burning him with cigarettes. Another man who lived near an Exxon gas facility says he was abducted and detained for several months, during which time he suffered electrical shocks all over his body, including his genitals. The man reports that security guards eventually took him to a pit filled with human heads and threatened to add his to the pile.
The agricultural conglomerate Cargill wields tremendous power over the climate and human health due to their wide-ranging product line—everything from Shadybrook farms turkey to Crisco cooking oil and Purina dog food. Cargill has a long history of shady business practices that have destroyed the environment and endangered human lives. For many years, they partnered with a Guatemalan palm oil company that is accused of polluting rivers that local communities depend on and violently intimidating human and environmental rights defenders. Mighty Earth recently named Cargill “The Worst Company in the World” due to its “power to single-handedly destroy or protect the world’s climate, water, food security, public health, and human rights.”
Mining powerhouse Freeport-McMoRan operates the world’s largest and most profitable gold mine in Indonesia—and has taken a page right out of Chiquita’s book. In the first decade of the 2000s, Freeport-McMoRan reportedly gave nearly $80 million to Indonesian police and military forces in the form of direct payments, food, housing, and travel payments. In return, the police and military provided extra protection of their mine—and served as a violent ally when laborers strike. During a strike in October of 2011, police shot at workers who were on their way to protest. Several people were injured, and one person died from a gunshot wound.
Human rights abuses can be found throughout the supply chains of the world’s largest brands. Apple uses cobalt to power the batteries in the iPhones, iPads, iWatches, and computers we have come to depend on—but the conditions in cobalt mines often destroy the lives of children in other countries. In 2016, an Amnesty International investigation uncovered that child labor is relied on at one of the primary mines used to source cobalt for battery production by the mining company Huayou Cobalt. Amnesty found that children working in the mines were exposed to dust which can lead to a potentially fatal lung disease, asthma, decreased function of the lungs, and conditions that can cause a person’s skin to blister and flake off. Most people working in the mines were not supplied with the proper protective gear, and the same goes for children—not to mention that child labor robs kids of the opportunity to attend school. Other companies like Sony, Samsung, and Tesla buy from suppliers like Huayou Cobalt.
We’re a team of community leaders and legal strategists around the world who take on powerful corporations, governments, and banks that destroy people’s lives and our planet for profit.
Dear Representative [NAME]:
As a constituent, I urge you to take action to stop corporate human rights abuses. Any corporation that sells its products in our country, or raises money on our stock exchanges, should be required to respect human rights. Profit should not come at the expense of people’s lives or dignity.
America needs to be built on justice. Corporations that harm people should face consequences, just as individuals do.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, Chiquita Brands International funded a deadly Colombian paramilitary group that murdered and tortured thousands of people in the country’s banana growing regions. Chiquita continued funding this group even after the U.S. government classified the paramilitary group as a terrorist organization. The Justice Department later fined Chiquita for funding terrorists. But Chiquita’s victims have gone more than two decades without justice - no apology or compensation.
Chiquita isn’t the only company linked to atrocities like these. We cannot allow companies that use abusive tactics to operate with impunity.
Please take action today to stop corporate human rights abuses.
We work alongside communities around the world to use their power and the power of the law to end abusive policies and practices that threaten human dignity and natural resources.
Through community-led organizing and strategic litigation in courts around the world, we put maximum pressure on some of the worst violators of human and environmental rights. Our campaigns and cases put a stop to abusive policies and practices. We’ve won tough cases and campaigns that brought meaningful change, and we’re preparing the next generation of earth rights defenders to protect the rights, resources, and livelihoods of their communities.
When corporations, governments, and banks get a blank check to violate human and environmental rights, we all pay the price. People lose their lives, and communities lose control over their natural resources.