While in the produce section of the sparkly new Pick ‘n Save in New Berlin the other day, the one with the self-checkout, the helpful employees, the inviting muted color scheme, the one that plays a few lines of “singin’ in the rain” when the veggies are misted and stocks natural and organic products to stay competitive with new-to-the-area national chains, I was fixated on the bananas.
They looked so fresh and perfectly beautiful, sporting that familiar blue Chiquita sticker. There were ripe, spotless, bright yellow bunches for today and deep green bunches for next week. They were stacked in an attractive but not OCD-inspired way, mangoes and pineapples interspersed, unconsciously appealing to those of us who wish our grocery-shopping experience were a little less corporate, a little more hometown-market-like.
But back to the reason for my banana fixation : Immigration Orange has been urging his readers to check out Chiquita Brands International’s admission that they hired terrorist groups to defend their banana fields in Columbia. Here’s a summary from The Christian Science Monitor’s April 11 piece on the situation:
“In Colombia … the Chiquita name has recently come to symbolize the confirmation of a long-suspected relationship between multinational firms and illegal armies fighting in the nation’s four-decade-old war.
Chiquita Brands International admitted in US court last month that it paid $1.7 million to Colombia’s brutal right-wing militias over the course of eight years. The company said it did so to protect its employees and agreed to pay a $25 million fine. The case is sparking outrage in the capital, Bogotá, where officials want to see company executives on trial.”
Please read the whole story if you have a minute. Here’s another piece by the Miami Herald.
There are more than a few alarming facts to keep you pondering bananas for a few hours. Adam Isacson of the Center of International Policy commented:
“The call for Chiquita executives’ extradition also taps into a commonly felt frustration among Colombians. Many see their government handing over Colombian citizens to face long jail sentences in the United States, but believe that U.S. citizens accused of trafficking drugs or supporting armed groups in Colombia – including rogue U.S. military personnel who have dealt in drugs or weapons – get slaps on the wrist, such as fines or a few months in prison.
Either way, if the Colombian government wishes to begin punishing foreign executives whose corporations have paid “protection money” to illegal armed groups, it is within its rights to do so – but it may find itself extraditing a lot of people. Such payments are widely believed to have been commonplace for decades. Candidates for extradition run from the German construction company Mannesmann – whose payoffs to the ELN when building the Caño Limón-Coveñas oil pipeline practically underwrote the guerrilla group’s revival from near defeat in the 1980s – to various oil, coal and beverage companies accused of paying paramilitaries to kill union organizers.”
As Bonnie Goldstein from Slate Magazine pointed out:
“A guilty charge for such activity typically carries a prison sentence (the American Talib John Walker Lindh was jailed for violating the same law), but in this case no executives will likely be sent to the slammer. The plea agreement does not protect the company’s executives from extradition charges brought by the Colombian government in Bogotá.”
So, what fixated me on those bananas the other day was the thought of millions of Americans such as myself, eating a banana a day — every morning in our cereal, or every afternoon for a snack — unknowingly supporting a company that has admittedly funded terrorism and received a slap on the wrist.