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Held Responsible for Financing Paramilitaries: Banana Giant

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A US court has ruled that the global fruit corporation Chiquita Brands International is accountable for providing funding to the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), which the US had at the time classified as a terrorist organization.

Eight Colombian families filed a civil lawsuit alleging that the AUC killed their relatives, and as a result, Chiquita was forced to compensate the families for $38.3 million (£30 million). Announcing its intention to appeal the jury’s decision, Chiquita believes there is “no legal basis for the claims.”

Chiquita was held accountable by a federal court in South Florida for the untimely deaths of eight individuals who were murdered by the AUC, a group that violated human rights extensively in Colombia and killed trade unionists and banana workers, among other victims. Following Chiquita’s 2007 guilty plea of paying the AUC, the case was started. Chiquita was found to have paid the AUC more than $1.7 million in payments between 1997 and 2004.

Chiquita asserts that AUC chief Carlos Castaño’s threats forced the payments to be made. Chiquita’s attorneys contended that the business was compelled to pay for employee violence protection. Plaintiffs, however, said that the business had “an unholy alliance with the AUC” when it expanded into areas under AUC control, and that payments to the AUC persisted even after the latter was classified as a terrorist group in 2001.

The AUC demobilized in 2006 after serving as drug dealers’ assassination squads and taking part in other illegal actions. Still going strong, a few members established breakaway organizations.

Nine instances, selected from hundreds of accusations, were the subject of the lawsuit against Chiquita. The jury concluded that Chiquita had intentionally given the AUC significant aid, posing a known risk of damage, and that the AUC was accountable for eight of the nine killings.

Chiquita conveyed its condolences to the victims of the violence in Colombia, but it insisted that the accusations lacked legal support and that it was confident in its legal standing. Lead plaintiff attorney Agnieszka Fryszman commended the family for their courage in bringing Chiquita responsible. A second attorney representing the families, Leslie Kroeger, stated that “justice was finally served” during a protracted 17-year trial against a well-funded defense.On July 15, a second lawsuit brought by a different set of plaintiffs against Chiquita is scheduled to start.

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