Chiquita Brands International to Pay $38 Million for Funding Human Rights Abuses

( – In 2001, the United States designated the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) as a foreign terrorist organization. The right-wing paramilitary group emerged in 1997 in the wake of the Colombian civil war and provided protection to people from leftist guerilla groups. It disbanded in 2006, but during its time, it sowed fear across the lands. One of its backers, Chiquita Brands, has now been ordered to pay millions to victims of the paramilitary group.

On Monday, June 10, a jury in South Florida ordered the banana producer to shell out $38.3 million, finding it liable for killings perpetuated by the AUC. The money will go to 16 family members of civilians and farmers the paramilitary organization killed.

Chiquita had previously admitted to bankrolling the group from 1997 to 2004. However, it maintains that it was paying the AUC under duress for its employees’ safety. Yet, the company snatched up farmland at low prices after the military group forced farmers out, essentially profiting significantly from the AUC’s reign of terror.

The lawsuit had stemmed from charges the Department of Justice filed in 2007 against Chiquita, accusing it of doing business with a terrorist organization. It faced several legal challenges over the years, before finally heading to court. The banana company paid $25 million back then to settle the criminal charges. However, that settlement sparked the surviving members of the AUC victims to file civil cases. The company is facing more than 5,000 wrongful death suits.

Chiquita said it plans to appeal the decision, but the decision itself is historic. One of the lead plaintiffs’ attorneys, Jack Scarola, said it appears “this is the very first time that a major American corporation has ever been held responsible for injuries inflicted upon foreign nationals in an American court of law.” The company is confident it will be able to have the verdict overturned.

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