Home News Chiquita responsible for deaths during Colombian civil war

Chiquita responsible for deaths during Colombian civil war

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A south Florida jury has found Chiquita Inc. responsible for eight killings carried out by right-wing paramilitary groups in a fertile banana-growing region of Colombia during the country’s decades-long civil war.

On Monday, a jury ordered the multinational banana producer to pay $38.3 million in damages to the families of 16 farmers and other civilians killed by the AUC, a right-wing paramilitary group that Chiquita financed between 1997 and 2004.

The company already faces hundreds of similar lawsuits in U.S. courts filed by families of other victims of paramilitary violence in Colombia, but the Florida verdict represents the first time Chiquita has been found guilty.

The company said it plans to appeal the ruling, which could affect the outcome of other lawsuits, legal experts said.

Legal experts said the ruling in favor of the victims was a rare case — in Colombia or elsewhere — where a private company was held liable to victims for its operations in an area of ​​violence or social unrest.

“We’re very happy with the jury’s verdict, but you can’t escape that we’re talking about horrific abuse,” said Marco Simmons, a lawyer with the environmental and human rights group Earth Rights International, who brought the legal action on behalf of one family.

Agnieszka Fleischmann, another plaintiff’s lawyer, said: “The verdict will not bring back my murdered husband and son, but it will It sets the record straight and places the blame for financing terrorism on Chiquita.”

The jury’s verdict came after two days of deliberations and a six-week trial in U.S. District Court in West Palm Beach, during which attorneys argued over the motives of Chiquita executives in admitting payments to the paramilitary group.

The United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia is designated by the U.S. State Department as Foreign terrorist organizations in year 2001.

Chiquita is Plea Agreement with the Department of Justice To resolve charges of doing business with terrorist groups, the investigation revealed that the company admitted in 2007 to paying $1.7 million to paramilitary groups.

The AUC is a product of Colombia’s brutal civil war, which began in the 1960s and left at least 220,000 people dead.

They were formed in 1997 as a coalition of heavily armed far-right groups to which drug dealers and businessmen seek protection from left-wing guerrillas.

The war ended in 2016 when the government signed a peace deal with the main leftist groups also responsible for killing civilians.

At the South Florida trial, attorneys representing the victims’ families argued that Chiquita’s operations benefited from the company’s ties to the paramilitary group, which, until it disbanded in 2006, sowed fear in 7,000 square miles of fertile agricultural territory connecting Panama and Colombia.

They say the group killed or drove away farmers, allowing Chiquita to buy land at low prices and expand its business by converting plantain farms into more profitable banana farms.

Chiquita’s lawyers questioned whether the victims were killed by paramilitaries or other armed groups and said the company’s employees had also been threatened by the paramilitaries. Defense lawyers said executives and employees were extorted by the self-defense forces and paid them to ensure their safety.

“The situation in Colombia is tragic for so many people,” Chiquita said in a statement after the verdict. “However, this does not change our belief that these charges are without legal basis.”

Plaintiffs’ attorneys say some of the victims in the lawsuit were killed in front of their families.

In one case, an unidentified girl was stopped by gunmen while traveling to a farm in a taxi with her mother and stepfather, lawyers said during the trial. The men executed the stepfather and then shot the mother as she tried to flee. They then gave the girl the equivalent of 65 cents to take a bus back to the city.

Chiquita, formerly known as the United Fruit Company, is also a defendant in a lawsuit filed in Medellín, Colombia’s second-largest city, which claims that Chiquita’s payments to the AUC constituted participation in criminal activity.

“The Chiquita name has a profound impact on the country’s recent history,” said Sebastián Escobar Uribe, one of the lawyers in the Medellín lawsuit. “In a country like Colombia, when you investigate a company with deep pockets, it’s easy for the justice system to be manipulated by that company.”

James Anaya, who teaches international human rights at the University of Colorado School of Law, said it is unusual in the United States to hold a company financially responsible for human rights abuses abroad.

The lawsuit that led to the South Florida verdict has been winding its way through the judicial system since it was filed in 2007 and has gone through several legal challenges before reaching trial.

“These cases are not impossible,” Mr. Anaya said. “They definitely have a way out.”

But he added: “It’s not common. Everything has to be done in a routine way.”

Colombian human rights advocates praised the jury’s verdict.

Gerardo Vega, former director of Colombia’s National Land Institute, said in a statement that the institute is responsible for returning land to people who have been forcibly displaced. video The statement said the ruling vindicated the U.S. efforts to combat impunity.

“The Colombian justice system should also take action,” Mr. Vega said. “We need Colombian judges to convict businessmen like Chiquita who paid off paramilitaries.”

Raquel Senna, the widow of a farm worker killed in a banana-producing area, told a Colombian radio station that the worker was killed by the United Guards because he refused to sell a piece of his farmland to the United Guards.

“I’ll never get over his death,” she said. video Posted by X. “We want Chiquita Brands to recognize us because they are the ones paying for people to die here.”

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