HomeNewsAnalysisCourt Ruling Stirs Controversy Over Colombia's 'Para-Economy'
ANALYSIS

Court Ruling Stirs Controversy Over Colombia's 'Para-Economy'

AUC / 18 JUL 2016 BY DAN ALDER AND MICHAEL LOHMULLER EN

A recent ruling by Colombia’s Justice and Peace Court that mentioned Postobón called for employees of the iconic soft drink company to be investigated for possible past collaboration with a paramilitary group but did not explicitly implicate the company itself, court documents show.

Several media outlets, including InSight Crime, initially reported that the July 11 ruling asked Colombia's Attorney General's Office to provide details on the state of investigations into the alleged financing of paramilitaries by Postobón.

VerdadAbierta has since pointed out, and InSight Crime has confirmed, that the ruling does not clearly implicate the company, although a dissenting judge did write that it “insinuated that Postobón could have contributed money to the illegal group.”

One of the last resolutions, appearing on the final page of the 522-page ruling, is to: “Exhort the Attorney General of the Nation to conduct an investigation related to the citations consigned in this ruling that presumably implicate employees of the Postobón company.”

The verdict sentenced Javier Antonio Quintero Coronel, alias "Pica Pica," to eight years in prison for crimes committed during his militancy with the Héctor Julio Peinado Becerra (HJPB) paramilitary bloc. The HJPB was part of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia – AUC), a counter-insurgency heavily involved in organized crime that terrorized large parts of Colombia in the 1990s and 2000s.

The ruling contains testimony given in October 2008 by Armando Madriaga Picón -- a former member of the HJPB -- detailing his interactions with an unnamed Postobón distributor.

"Every month the Postobón distributor gave me 15 boxes of soda that I later sold to a warehouse," Madriaga said. "They ordered the delivery truck to leave them aside, and the warehouse paid me 150,000 pesos (approximately $80 at the time) monthly for these beverages.

"This was ordered by Postobón's manager during 1999 or 2000. Some of the payments were voluntary, others obligatory."

Postobón has rejected claims of past links to paramilitary organizations, saying it has always conducted business legally and upheld a strict code of conduct based on strong values and principles.

In his partial dissent (pdf) -- he signed the ruling but made not of his objection to several of its findings -- Judge Eduardo Castellanos Roso objected on constitutional grounds to the court’s finding that private companies alleged to have had relations with the paramilitaries should be held responsible as “intellectual authors” of the HJPB Front’s crimes.  

Castellanos Roso characterized Madriaga Picón’s account as “ambiguous, incomplete and imprecise” and said he objected that the ruling “ventures to mention Postobón as a collaborator of the illegal group and order the investigation of its workers, which appears to me a frivolous claim that is offensive to the moral heritage and the good name of a company.”

According to La Silla Vacia, several other former paramilitary members also accused Postobón of making payments to various AUC fronts, including annual payments of 10 million pesos (approximately $4,000 at the time) between 2001 and 2004 for each department along the Caribbean coast. Those making such claims include top AUC commander Salvatore Mancuso.

SEE ALSO: AUC News and Profile

The tribunal’s ruling found Quintero Coronel guilty, while exercising militancy in the HJPB in Norte de Santander and Sur de Cesar, of a long list of crimes that illustrate the paramilitary reign of terror: aggravated conspiracy, homicide, simple and aggravated kidnapping, kidnap for ransom, acts of terrorism, threats, forced displacement, torture, battlefield looting, personal injury, forced disappearance, destruction and appropriation of property and aggravated possession of false public documents.

Under the terms of the agreement which led to paramilitary demobilization, the ruling commuted Quintero Coronel’s 40-year sentence to eight years.       

Established in 1904, Postobón is ubiquitous throughout Colombia, and is the country's largest beverage company and one of the largest in South America. Over the past several years other illustrious brands have fallen under suspicion of colluding with the AUC, including Chiquita BananasNestlé and Coca Cola.

InSight Crime Analysis

Since the AUC finished demobilizing in 2006, a number of scandals have surfaced regarding collusion between the officials, the private sector and the paramilitaries. Most prevalent among these is the "para-politics" scandal, which uncovered evidence of the paramilitaries' links to and collusion with hundreds of top political and military figures in Colombia. Indeed, the Quintero Coronel ruling acknowledges in detail the paramilitary front’s collaborations with both military and political officers in its area of influence.

However, investigations into the "para-economy" have been few and far between despite the plethora of testimonies about ties between the AUC and the business sector, including claims businesses paid the paramilitaries to threaten and murder troublesome unionists and workers.

What investigations there have been have often stumbled over the murky issue of whether payments were voluntary or obligatory and whether the companies received anything in return. And when large companies have been singled out, most have been international firms rather than big Colombian businesses.

The apparent disagreement among judges about whether or not to even mention Postobón in the Quintero Coronel verdict is an indication of open wounds in the Colombian psyche that the paramilitary demobilization process has failed to heal.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Tags

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

ARMS TRAFFICKING / 18 JUN 2015

Reported seizures of firearms in Colombia and Mexico far outstrip those of war-torn Iraq, according to a new United Nations…

COCA / 14 JUN 2017

US President Donald Trump has apparently called on his Colombian counterpart Juan Manuel Santos to lift Colombia's ban on aerially…

COLOMBIA / 5 FEB 2013

Colombia's second-largest guerrilla group the ELN announced the kidnap of two German citizens in the Venezuelan border region, in…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Apure Investigation Makes Headlines

22 OCT 2021

InSight Crime’s investigation into the battle for the Venezuelan border state of Apure resonated in both Colombian and Venezuelan media. A dozen outlets picked up the report, including Venezuela’s…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Tackles Illegal Fishing

15 OCT 2021

In October, InSight Crime and American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS) began a year-long project on illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing in…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Featured in Handbook for Reporting on Organized Crime

8 OCT 2021

In late September, the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) published an excerpt of its forthcoming guide on reporting organized crime in Indonesia.

THE ORGANIZATION

Probing Organized Crime in Haiti

1 OCT 2021

InSight Crime has made it a priority to investigate organized crime in Haiti, where an impotent state is reeling after the July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, coupled with an…

THE ORGANIZATION

Emergency First Aid in Hostile Environments

24 SEP 2021

At InSight Crime's annual treat, we ramped up hostile environment and emergency first aid training for our 40-member staff, many of whom conduct on-the-ground investigations in dangerous corners of the region.