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

COLOMBIA / 16 NOV 2020

As part of the 2016 peace deal between Colombia's government and the FARC, which ended decades of war, thousands…

COLOMBIA / 24 JUN 2021

The retirement of the ELN's top commander and political leader may have sweeping implications for the guerrilla group as it…

COCAINE / 4 MAY 2022

A shootout involving French police and suspected cocaine traffickers in the northern city port of Le Havre has dramatically underscored…

About InSight Crime

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Extensive Coverage of our Chronicles of a Cartel Bodyguard

23 SEP 2022

Our recent investigation, A Cartel Bodyguard in Mexico’s 'Hot Land', has received extensive media coverage.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime, American University Host Illegal Fishing Panel

19 SEP 2022

InSight Crime and the Center for Latin American & Latino Studies (CLALS) at American University discussed the findings of a joint investigation on IUU fishing at a September 9 conference.

THE ORGANIZATION

Impact on the Media Landscape

9 SEP 2022

InSight Crime’s first investigation on the Dominican Republic made an immediate impact on the Dominican media landscape, with major news outlets republishing and reprinting our findings, including in …

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Sharpens Its Skills

2 SEP 2022

Last week, the InSight Crime team gathered for our annual retreat in Colombia, where we discussed our vision and strategy for the next 12 months.  During the week, we also learned how to…

THE ORGANIZATION

Colombia’s Fragile Path to Peace Begins to Take Shape

26 AUG 2022

InSight Crime is charting the progress of President Gustavo Petro’s agenda as he looks to revolutionize Colombia’s security policy, opening dialogue with guerrillas, reforming the military and police, and…