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Tue. Jun 18th, 2024

Chiquita found responsible for financing a Colombian paramilitary group

By meerna Jun12,2024

Banana giant Chiquita Brands International must pay more than $38 million in compensation to victims of a Colombian paramilitary group that the company was found responsible for financing in the late 1990s and early 2000s, a federal jury decided Monday.

The decision follows a 17-year legal battle for victims that began after a 2007 sentencing agreement in which Chiquita admitted to the U.S. Department of Justice that it had paid more than $1.7 million to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), an organization a violent right-wing group that has committed human rights violations in Colombia and has been designated a foreign terrorist organization by the US government. The Department of Justice described Chiquita’s support for AUC as “long-term, continuing and significant.”

At the time, Chiquita had to pay a $25 million fine for violating the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act, but it only had to respond to AUC victims this week when a jury in West Palm Beach, Florida found the banana company responsible for the deaths of eight men killed by paramilitary group. This decision opens the door for thousands more AUC victims to sue Chiquita. A second trial of victims’ claims against Chiquita is scheduled to begin in July.

According to Marissa Vahlsing, director of international legal strategy at EarthRights International, a nonprofit human rights organization, the decision is historic representing the victims in this case. This week’s decision marks “the first time an American company has been held accountable by a U.S. jury for human rights violations abroad,” Vahlsing said.

In a statement emailed to The Washington Post, Chiquita said it intended to appeal the ruling.

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“The situation in Colombia has been tragic for many people, including those directly affected by the violence there, and our thoughts remain with them and their families,” Chiquita said in a statement. “However, this does not change our belief that these claims have no legal basis.”

Chiquita became involved with AUC as the company tried to expand operations in Colombia during a period of political instability in the 1990s. Vahlsing said the company paid AUC to protect itself from leftist groups it said were threatening Chiquita’s business, “even though it knew at the time that the groups these commit massacres against any civilian or any suspected sympathizer of leftist ideas. “

During the trial, the company’s legal team argued that it was “clearly extorted” by AUC and was forced to pay the group to protect its Colombian employees. However, the judges hearing the case found that Chiquita knowingly provided funds to AUC and failed to prove that the group threatened company employees or that there was “no reasonable alternative” to paying them.

“Our clients risked their lives to come forward and hold Chiquita accountable,” Agnieszka Frysszman, chair of the human rights practice at Cohen Milstein law firm and one of the lawyers handling the case, said in a statement. “The verdict does not bring back murdered husbands and sons, but it clarifies the situation and places responsibility for financing terrorism where it belongs: at Chiquita’s doorstep.”

By meerna

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