(Picture above modified from a Time Magazine cover to mock Arbenz’s depiction as a Communist)
Now that the media has picked up on this story and emphasized it for the debacle that it is, it is time for citizens to get involved. It is time for civil society to add their voice to this story. This story has to be transformed from an elite political scandal to something that consumers in the United States care about, and something that affects people all across the globe. Newspapers shouldn’t be able to cover this story with getting a quote from Citizens for Boycotting Chiquita.
I don’t think this should be a limited boycott. I think people should just stop buying Chiquita products, period. Contributing to the bloodshed in Colombia by financially supporting paramilitary groups is just the tip of the iceberg for Chiquita Brands International, Inc. Chiquita has shown a systemic tendency to engage in immoral practices that are hurtful for the world and consumers should not tolerate it. I will list just some of the things below.
1. In 1984 the United Fruit Company (UFCO) was renamed Chiquita Brands International. While I will not delve too deeply into the transgressions of the UFCO, I will say that the country I was born and spent 18 years of my life in, Guatemala, owes much of the political turmoil in it’s modern history to the United Fruit Company. In 1954, democratically elected Jacobo Arbenz was ousted by a CIA-orchestrated coup that was put into motion by the political influence of the United Fruit Company. All of this is documented very well in the book Bitter Fruit.
2. In 1998, Chiquita’s systemic abuses were documented by an expose in the Cincinatti Enquirer, entitled “Chiquita Secrets Revealed”. The Cincinatti Enquirer was forced to run a dramatic retraction because Michael Gallagher obtained a lot of the information illegally by hacking into the company’s voice mail system, but none of the factual claims in the 18 page series have been disputed or proven wrong. The expose covers a variety of abuses including mistreating Central American workers, polluting the environment, allowing cocaine to be brought into the United States on it’s ships, bribing foreign officials, evading the laws of foriegn countries, and forcibly preventing it’s workers from unionizing.
3. In 2001, Chiquita was forced to pay a $100,000 penalty after the Securities and Exchange Commission found it guilty of bribing a foreign official in Colombia.
4. In 2007, Chiquita plead guilty to paying $1.7 million to the Auto-Defensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) which I have written about many times.
This is just a crude preliminary list. To be honest, I don’t have the time to filter through all of Chiquita’s abuses. The 30+ blogs that have covered this issue have dug up a lot more that I didn’t know about before. I hope others will help me make this list more comprehensive and accurate. That being said, I hope it is clear that Chiquita is systemically committing these abuses and that the company does not deserve another chance from consumers.
Cynical progressives will say, “Why Chiquita? What difference is it going to make if we stop just one of the many companies that engage in these practices?” Chiquita is not just one of many companies, it has to be one of the worst, if not the worst multinational corporation of the many that undermine the health of global society. Furthermore, the Chiquita case brings forth countless other issues that are relevent to the problems of the day. If we frame this boycott around these issues enormous good can be done on so many other fronts.
The reason I think this issue is important for Immigration Orange is that Colombia has more refugees than any other nation in the Americas. This large refugee population has been displaced by the violence and bloodshed in Colombia. The fact that Chiquita is supporting this violence perfectly illustrates how the actions of entities in the United States are partly responsible for pushing migrants into the U.S in the first place. Boycotting Chiquita will help society focus on the root causes of immigration into the U.S. In a divided and toxic U.S. “immigration debate” people on the left and right agree that we have to start focusing on the root causes of migration. This is an excellent chance to bring that point into the mainstream.
Cynical conservatives will argue that while Chiquita might be abusive, their business is better than nothing, and it would be elitist to hurt countries like Guatemala where Chiquita employs so many people. I have more sympathy for this argument than most people would expect. I have seen countless NGOs and well-meaning foreigners come into Guatemala and hurt more people than they help.
The truth in this matter, though, is that there are better alternatives, that will do so much more to help people out of the conditions they want to escape. Not only should we boycott Chiquita, but we should encourage people to buy fair trade bananas. Oke USA is my favorite brand. Not only do fair trade companies do more to help people get out of poverty but they help to strengthen the standards that these countries should adhere to so that, environmental destruction, poor worker treatment, and bribery is no longer the norm in banana growing countries.
It is time to boycott Chiquita. It is the right thing to do. I will continue to get blogs to cover this issue. The next benchmark that I hope to reach is 40 blogs. But it is time that citizens turn this into an issue that affects them, not just an elite political scandal.
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