by Jan Bauman
Marin Interfaith Task Force, September 1998
(source - Cincinnati Enquirer, May 3,1998)
"I'm Chiquita Banana and I'm here to say, eat a banana
every day ..."
For many years that jingle has been heard on radio and television
commercials extolling the virtues of the tropical fruit and the
corporation that brought it to U.S. markets and homes.
The true picture of the Chiquita Corporation is, however,
far from virtuous. From the inception of the banana trade in Central
America in 1870, successive owners of Chiquita (formerly known
as the United Fruit Company) have fomented wars, overthrown governments
and used bribery to buy rich tracts of banana land at a fraction
of their true value.
In 1952, Guatemala's democratic government, headed by President
Jacobo Arbenz, enacted a genuine agrarian reform bill, which included
the expropriation and payment for uncultivated United Fruit land.
The corporation saw red. Lobbyists were dispatched to Washington
and soon caught the ear of the CIA and the Eisenhower administration,
who were not pleased with the new democracy taking root in the
"banana republic." In June 1954, a CIA-backed invasion
of Guatemala toppled the Arbenz government and eliminated every
vestige of democracy. United Fruit's supremacy was once again
Throughout the decades, the United Fruit Company (the name
was changed in 1990 to "Chiquita Brands International")
reigned as the banana barons of Latin America, with little notice
from the U.S. press.
Chiquita's public profile was to change on May 3, 1998, when
the Cincinnati Enquirer published an 18-page expose of the banana
corporation's questionable business practices. Reporters Mike
Gallagher and Cameron McWhirter undertook a year-long, wide-ranging
investigation, which included trips to Central America, Europe
and Washington D.C. They spoke with farm workers and managers,
government officials, environmentalists, scientists and Chiquita
executives who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.
The reporters also had access to more than 2,000 taped voice mail
messages from within the corporation that they said were provided
by a high-level Chiquita executive. The tapes have been turned
over to the Security and Exchange Commission for examination.
The Enquirer's investigation revealed that Chiquita secretly
controls dozens of supposedly independent banana companies in
Central America through elaborate business structures designed
to avoid governmental restrictions on foreign ownership of land.
This arrangement effectively limits labor unions on the banana
plantations. Gallagher and McWhirter also discovered that Chiquita
and its subsidiaries utilize pesticides that have been banned
in the U.S., endangering nearby residents and workers, both in
the fields and in packing plants. In Honduras, Chiquita called
on the military, which brutally evicted former workers from the
company town of Tacamiche. The town was subsequently destroyed
and the land sold. That land had been acquired in 1936 from the
Honduran government for one dollar. In Colombia, Chiquita employees
bribed officials so that their Colombian subsidiary could use
a government warehouse, thereby saving the corporation millions
in foreign taxes.
Chiquita CEO Carl Lindner, a registered Republican, has donated
heavily to both political parties and was rewarded with a two-night
stay in the Lincoln bedroom of the Clinton White House. Although
the White House denies any connection, it appears that Lindner's
large donations were instrumental in having Chiquita's opposition
to European tariffs on Chiquita bananas brought before the World
Larry Birns of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs has asked
the Federal Elections Commission to investigate Lindner's political
donations, saying that the CEO "bought himself a U.S. foreign
The Enquirer articles revealed that Chiquita, which has billed
itself as an "environmental leader" and boasts of its
partnership with the Rainforest Alliance, routinely utilizes aerial
spraying of pesticides without warning workers who are in the
field. Luis Perez Jimenez, a leaf cutter on a Chiquita plantation
in Costa Rica, told the reporters that, "they never tell
us about the aerial spraying. We just see it coming and boom,
Women who work in Chiquita's packing plants, often without
gloves, complain of rashes on their arms from the pesticides used
on the bananas before they are shipped to market.
On May 4, Chiquita denied the Enquirer's charges, and Steven
G. Warshaw, Chiquita's President, said: "We at Chiquita are
shocked by the Enquirer's admission that it obtained more than
2,000 messages containing confidential, privileged and proprietary
information that was stolen from the private voice mail boxes
of Chiquita employees."
In response, Enquirer President and Publisher Harry Whipple
said that the investigation was supported by multiple sources
inside and outside the company and by extensive documentation.
"The Enquirer stands by its stories. We are proud of them."
But in an abrupt turnaround, the Enquirer apologized to Chiquita
and offered the company a $10 million settlement. All articles
on the Enquirer's Web site that relate to Chiquita have been covered
up with a copy of the apology, stating that the newspaper has
renounced the series of articles. This was done because much of
the information was taken from voice mail messages which the publishers
believed had been obtained in an "ethical and lawful manner."
Nowhere in the apology is there a denial of the information the
reporters gathered in the field.
Marin Interfaith Task Force on Central America
Mill Valley, CA 94941
Corporations & the Third World