US-based banana company Chiquita Brands ordered to compensate $38m to victims of Colombian terrorist group it provided funding to

Florida Jury Orders Chiquita Brands to Pay $38.3m to Victims of Colombian Paramilitary Group

In a landmark decision, a federal jury in Florida has ordered Chiquita Brands to pay $38.3m (£30m) to 16 family members of victims killed by a right-wing paramilitary group it funded during Colombia’s long civil war. This marks the first time the company has been found liable in any of a number of similar lawsuits pending in the US, and is a rare finding that holds a private US company accountable 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,” said Marco Simons, EarthRights International’s general counsel and one of the plaintiff’s lawyers, in a statement. “These families, victimized by armed groups and corporations, asserted their power and prevailed in the judicial process.”

Chiquita, whose banana operations are based in Florida, responded to the verdict with a statement expressing sympathy for the victims, but maintained that there is no legal basis for the claims against them. “The situation in Colombia was tragic for so many,” the statement read. “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 (AUC) – known by its Spanish acronym AUC – approximately $1.7m (£1.3m) between 1997 and 2004. The AUC is responsible for the killings of thousands of people during those years. Chiquita has argued that their Colombia subsidiary, Banadex, only made the payments out of fear that the AUC would harm its employees and operations, according to court records.

Following the ruling, Colombian President Gustavo Petro took to social media to question why the US justice system was able to “determine” that Chiquita financed paramilitary groups, while Colombian judges 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?” President Petro posted on Twitter, referencing the year the civil conflict ended.

The verdict comes after a six-week trial and two days of deliberations. The EarthRights case was originally filed in July 2007 and was later combined with several other lawsuits. In 2007, Chiquita pleaded guilty to a US criminal charge of engaging in transactions with a foreign terrorist organization – a designation given to the AUC in 2001 – and agreed to pay a $25m (£19.6m) fine.

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