CINCINNATI (TDB) -- Antonio Guterres is hardly a celebrity and the former prime minister of Portugal is definitely an obscure political figure in Ohio, where few would recognize his name. It shouldn't be that way. He is working to clean up an international mess that, it could be said, some Cincinnatians had a hand in creating. Guterres was in Colombia and Ecuador this week doing his job and trying to figure out how to help 3 million people, a mass of humanity that nearly equals the population of Chicago.
Guterres is the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees, and he was meeting with government officials and visiting camps where people are suffering. Some of that human misery -- we don't know how much -- happened, in part, because Ohio's Chiquita Brands International Inc. financed paramilitary terrorists so it could safely produce bananas in the middle of an armed struggle that has raged for nearly 40 years. This is what the UN says about the Colombian crisis and the overflow of refugees into Ecuador, where 250,000 have taken shelter:
"Little is known outside the region about this humanitarian crisis, one of the longest and most forgotten in the world today. Mr. Guterres called for the support and solidarity of the international community. He said concrete measures were needed and re-affirmed his commitment to support Ecuador's efforts for peace and development as a crucial step for refugee integration."
Chiquita's March 14 agreement with the Justice Department calls for it to pay a $25 million criminal penalty for consorting with terrorists. That made NEWS in the U.S.
Guterres' trip was hardly mentioned in the press, though it was played up big on the UN portal devoted to shining light on the world's REFUGEES AND INTERNALLY DISPLACED. The UN offered a troubling statistic about Colombia's dirty war, a war that Cincinnati-based Chiquita helped finance. The violence has displaced more people in Colombia than the war in Iraq.
"Some 3 million people are internally displaced in Colombia, representing about 8 percent of the total population of the country. The internally displaced are the biggest group of victims of the armed conflict inside Colombia that has been going on for decades. The humanitarian consequences of the conflict also extend to other countries in the region and notably to Ecuador, where there are an estimated 250,000 Colombian in need to international protection."
More than 40,000 have been killed since 1990. Federal prosecutors say Chiquita paid more than $1.7 million to protect its workers and operations in Colombia, a unit that it sold in 2004. The company said the money went to save its workers. In Colombia, most of the dead in the dirty war between guerrillas, paramilitary organizations and the central government were civilians. There is some recent UN data HERE , and it paints a grim picture about an unstable country that supplied tasty fruits for American snacks.
Apparently, a business in Ohio willingly let its business ethics slip on a banana peel. It sent money to the guys with guns. Now it needs lawyers. A Warren Zevon song said it all about Chiquita's business practices -- lawyers, guns and money, the sh*t has hit the fan.