Major US banana firm ordered to pay $38m to victims of terror group it funded

Business

Banana firm Chiquita Brands has been ordered to pay $38.3m (£30m) to 16 family members of people killed by a right-wing paramilitary group it funded during Colombia’s long civil war.

The decision by a federal jury in Florida marks the first time the company has been found liable in any of a number of similar lawsuits pending elsewhere in the US.

It also marks a rare finding that blames a private US company for human rights abuses in other countries.

“This verdict sends a powerful message to corporations everywhere: profiting from human rights abuses will not go unpunished,” Marco Simons, EarthRights international general counsel and one plaintiff’s lawyer, said in a statement.

“These families, victimised by armed groups and corporations, asserted their power and prevailed in the judicial process.”

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“The situation in Colombia was tragic for so many,” Chiquita, whose banana operations are based in Florida, said in a statement after the verdict.

“However, that does not change our belief that there is no legal basis for these claims.”

According to court documents, Chiquita paid the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia – known by its Spanish acronym AUC – about $1.7m (£1.3m) between 1997 and 2004.

The AUC is blamed for the killings of thousands of people during those years.


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Chiquita has insisted its Colombia subsidiary, Banadex, only made the payments out of fear that AUC would harm its employees and operations, according to court records.

Reacting to the ruling on social media, Colombian President Gustavo Petro questioned why the US justice system could “determine” Chiquita financed paramilitary groups, while judges in Colombia have not ruled against the company.

“The 2016 peace deal… calls for the creation of a tribunal that will disclose judicial truths, why don’t we have one?” Mr Petro posted on X, referencing the year the civil conflict ended.

The verdict followed a six-week trial and two days of deliberations.

The EarthRights case was originally filed in July 2007 and was combined with several other lawsuits.

In 2007, Chiquita pleaded guilty to a US criminal charge of engaging in transactions with a foreign terrorist organisation – a designation given to the AUC in 2001 – and agreed to pay a $25m (£19.6m) fine.

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