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Chiquita Banana Company Ordered to Pay Colombian Victim's Families Millions for Funding AUC Narco Terrorists

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“Socalj” for Borderland Beat

A court in the United States has found multinational fruit company Chiquita Brands International liable for financing a Colombian paramilitary group. The group, the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC), was designated by the US as a terrorist organisation at the time.

Following a civil case brought by 8 Colombian families whose relatives were killed by the AUC, Chiquita has been ordered to pay $38.3 in damages to the families. Chiquita said in a statement that it intended to appeal against the jury’s verdict, arguing that there was “no legal basis for the claims.”

In addition to the payments, Chiquita has also been accused of smuggling weapons (3,000 AK-47s) to the AUC and in assisting the AUC in smuggling drugs to Europe.


The jury in the case, which was heard in a federal court in South Florida, found Chiquita responsible for the wrongful deaths of 8 men killed by the AUC.

The AUC engaged in widespread human rights abuses in Colombia, including murdering people it suspected of links with left-wing rebels. The victims ranged from trade unionists to banana workers.

The case was brought by the families after Chiquita pleaded guilty in 2007 to making payments to the AUC. During the 2007 trial, it was revealed that Chiquita had made payments amounting to more than $1.7 million to the AUC in the 6 years from 1997 to 2004. The company paid $25 million to settle the federal criminal charges.

The banana giant said that it began making the payments after the leader of the AUC at the time, Carlos Castaño, implied that staff and property belonging to Chiquita’s subsidiary in Colombia could be harmed if the money was not forthcoming.

Lawyers for Chiquita argued that the company had no choice but to pay the AUC to protect its Colombian employees from violence. But the plaintiffs argued that the company formed “an unholy alliance with the AUC” at a time when Chiquita was expanding its presence in regions controlled by the AUC.

The regular payments continued even after the AUC was designated by the US as a foreign terrorist organization in 2001, thereby violating US sanctions. The federal admission prompted surviving relatives of people killed by the AUC to file civil cases against Chiquita. Since then, more than 5,000 wrongful death claims have been filed.

History of the AUC

While the AUC claimed to have been created to defend landowners from attacks and extortion attempts by left-wing rebels, the paramilitary group more often acted as a death squad for drug traffickers. It’s foundations as force was against Pablo Escobar as part of Los Pepes.

At its height, the AUC had an estimated 30,000 members who engaged in intimidation, drug trafficking, extortion, forced displacement and killings. It also launched brutal attacks on villagers they suspected of supporting left-wing rebels.

According to the Colombian National Police, in the first ten months of 2000 the AUC conducted 804 assassinations, 203 kidnappings, and 75 massacres with 507 victims. The AUC claims the victims were mostly guerrillas or sympathizers.

The Justice Department said in 2007 that Carlos Castaño Gil, who headed the AUC from 1997 until his death in 2004, met with the general manager of the Chiquita subsidiary Banadex and told him that payments would need to be made once the AUC forced another violent group, the left-wing FARC, out of territory where Banadax was growing bananas.
The group demobilized in 2006 after reaching a peace deal with the government, but some of its members went on to form new splinter groups which continue to be active, using narco trafficking as their main source of funding.
Salvatore Mancuso, AUC commander helped to supply the ‘Ndrangheta with cocaine.
Several AUC members were and became notable drug kingpins even after the demobilization including the Castaño brothers,  Salvatore Mancuso and former Escobar trafficker Diego “Don Berna” Murillo.

United Fruit Company

The United Fruit Company was the foundation of the Chiquita Brands International company, founded in 1899. In 1928, workers went on strike in protest against poor pay and working conditions in the company plantations Ciénaga, Colombia. The company lobbied U.S. government forces to assist with repressing the outbreak; however, the Colombian government opted to quell the strike on its own, sending military forces into the town of Ciénaga, where the strikers had gathered, on 6 December. The repression resulted in the deaths of scores of plantation workers and their families, known as the Banana Massacre.

In 1954, the United Fruit Company had lobbied US Presidents Truman and later Eisenhower that the leader of Guatemala was leaning towards communism. The CIA supported a military overthrowing of Guatamela by Armanz, providing training, weapons and a base in Honduras to invade from. CIA Director Allen Dulles was a board member of the UFCO.
After the overthrow of Árbenz, a military dictatorship was established under Carlos Castillo Armas. Soon after coming to power, the new government launched a concerted campaign against trade unionists, in which some of the most severe violence was directed at workers on the plantations of the United Fruit Company.

Despite UFCO’s government connections and conflicts of interest, the overthrow of Árbenz failed to benefit the company. The Eisenhower administration proceeded with antitrust action against the company, which forced it to divest in 1958. In 1972, the company sold off the last of its Guatemalan holdings after over a decade of decline. In 1968, after Eli Black bought over 700,000 shares of the company, it was rebranded to United Brands Company. On February 3, 1975, Black committed suicide by jumping out a window from the 44th floor of the Pan Am Building in New York City. Later that year, the U.S. SEC exposed a scheme by United Brands (dubbed Bananagate) to bribe Honduran President Oswaldo López Arellano with $1.25 million, plus the promise of another $1.25 million upon the reduction of certain export taxes.

Trading in United Brands stock was halted, and López was ousted in a military coup. In the 1980s, the UFCO rebranded itself under Chiquita Brands International.

Chiquita said in a statement released after the verdict that the situation in Colombia was “tragic for so many, including those directly affected by the violence there, and our thoughts remain with them and their families.”

“However, that does not change our belief that there is no legal basis for these claims,” it added. The company said it remained confident that its legal position would ultimately prevail.

Agnieszka Fryszman, one of the leading lawyers for the plaintiffs, meanwhile praised the families she represented, saying that they had “risked their lives to come forward to hold Chiquita to account, putting their faith in the United States justice system.” She added that “the verdict does not bring back the husbands and sons who were killed, but it sets the record straight and places accountability for funding terrorism where it belongs: at Chiquita’s doorstep.”

Another lawyer for the Colombian families, Leslie Kroeger, said that “after a long 17 years against a well-funded defence, justice was finally served”.

A second case against Chiquita brought by another group of plaintiffs is due to start on July 15, 2024.


Source: https://www.borderlandbeat.com/2024/06/chiquita-banana-company-ordered-to-pay.html


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