Chiquita found liable for funding Colombian paramilitary group

Trisha D.
4 Min Read


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

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

At the time, Chiquita had to pay a $25 million criminal fine for violating the U.S. anti-terrorism statute, but it has not had to answer to the AUC’s victims until this week, when a jury in West Palm Beach found the banana company liable for the deaths of eight men killed by the paramilitary group. The decision opens the door for thousands more victims of the AUC who are suing Chiquita. A second trial involving victims’ claims against Chiquita is slated to start in July.

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

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Chiquita became entangled with the AUC while the company was trying to expand operations in Colombia during a period of political instability in the 1990s. The company paid the AUC for protection from left-wing groups that they say threatened Chiquita’s operations, Vahlsing said, “even though they knew at the time that these groups were carrying out massacres against any civilian or any suspected sympathizer of left-wing ideas.”

Chiquita Brands International did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

During the trial, the company’s legal team argued that it was “clearly extorted” by the AUC and was forced to pay the group to protect its Colombian employees. But jurors in the case determined that Chiquita knowingly provided funding to the AUC and failed to prove that the group was threatening the company’s employees, or that there was “no reasonable alternative” to paying them.

“Our clients risked their lives to come forward to hold Chiquita to account,” Agnieszka Fryszman, chair of law firm Cohen Milstein’s human rights practice and one of the attorneys leading the case, said in a statement. “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.”

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