They quartered victims with chainsaws, cut off their tongues and testicles, and poured battery acid down their throats.[ix]Hardline AUC commander Carlos Castaño defended the sanguine strategy as “draining the water to catch the fish.”[x] In 1989, former Colombian President Virgilio Barco outlawed all paramilitary activity and forbade provision of material and financial support to the right-wing forces.
Yet despite their rampant criminality, the paramilitaries had become a key ally of the state’s counterinsurgency efforts.
The government tacitly permitted the groups to remain intact and five years later passed Decree 356, which in essence created front companies for paramilitary operations.
One “Highly Confidential” legal memo draft from January 1994 concerns funds characterized by Chiquita accountants as “guerrilla extortion payments” yet recorded as “citizen security.”[xliv] The document includes a remark by a Banadex General Manager in Turbo that “Guerrilla Groups are used to supply security personnel at the various farms.”[xlv]Michael Evans, director of the NSA Colombia project, points out that lawyers tried to mask a give-and-take relationship by replacing the word “transactions” with “payments” throughout the document when describing the relationship between Chiquita and various guerrilla groups.[xlvi] A Suspect General Chiquita’s documents also outline a personal relationship with a Colombian military general currently under trial for murder and collaboration with right-wing paramilitaries. Embassy in Bogotá by then Ambassador Curtis Kamman includes allegations that del Río was one of the “two most corrupt army officials in Colombia” and that he told his subordinates to “cooperate with paramilitaries.”[xlvii] Meanwhile, Chiquita’s document states that this general “helped us personally” with “security” and “information that prevented kidnappings.”[xlviii] Justice Escapes on All Sides In the months following Chiquita’s plea bargain, the U. Congress began investigations into further wrongdoings. In June 2007, former Representative Bill Delahunt of Massachusetts spearheaded a House joint hearing on “Protection and Money: U. Companies, Their Employees, and Violence in Colombia,”[xlix] as he claimed that Chiquita’s collusion with the AUC was just “the tip of the iceberg.”[l] Yet Delahunt unexpectedly shut down the inconclusive investigation.Bananas, Guns, and Cocaine Even worse, the corporation appears to have helped smuggle AUC weapons into the Colombian war zone.In 2001, Chiquita facilitated the diversion of three thousand Nicaraguan AK-47 assault rifles and five million rounds of ammunition from Panama to Antioquia, where Banadex controlled the port of Turbo.[xxii] The crates remained at Chiquita’s private facilities for several days before their transfer to fourteen AUC vehicles.[xxiii]While paperwork claimed that the Panamanian ship carried plastic and rubber balls, the Banadex employees used heavy-lifting machinery unnecessary to move the declared cargo.[xxiv] Two years later, the Organization of American States (OAS) found Banadex guilty of the illegal arms deal and probable bribery of port authorities, but somehow failed to mention Chiquita’s ownership of the subsidiary.[xxv] Chiquita may have facilitated the transfer of at least four other arms shipments to the AUC.In fact, the evidence directly contradicts the plea bargain’s conclusion that militias “never provided defendant Chiquita or Banadex with any actual security services…
in exchange for the payments”[xxxix] and exposes numerous attempts to conceal the true nature of their relationship.Labor struggles had attracted leftist guerrilla groups, who then competed for territory and the loyalty of union members.