Banana Seller Chiquita Found Liable for Numerous Violent Deaths

Blood Bananas

Chiquita Brands International is being forced to pay out tens of millions of dollars to the families of people slain by a paramilitary force in Colombia that it funded.

As the Washington Post reports, a federal court in Florida has ruled that the company known for its cheery vintage banana jingle must pay $38.3 million to the families of eight men killed by the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) — a designated terrorist group known for its violent human rights abuses, of which the company was aware.

Back in 2007, Chiquita pleaded guilty in a federal case brought by the Department of Justice to paying the AUC $1.7 million for protection against left-wing groups that allegedly threatened its operations in the South American country in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The DOJ characterized the company's support of the AUC as "prolonged, steady, and substantial."

Marissa Vahlsing, the director of the EarthRights non-governmental organization that brought the case on behalf of the victims' families, told WaPo that the company paid the AUC "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."

Trial Balloon

While Chiquita claimed during this most recent trial that it was "clearly extorted" by the AUC, jurors in the South Florida court weren't convinced that the company had offered sufficient evidence for that allegation in this first of two so-called "bellwether" trials that will help determine the company's liability in the hundreds of similar claims made against it.

Despite admitting more than 15 years ago to making the hefty payments to the group, the company maintains its innocence and said it's planning to appeal the decision.

"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," Chiquita said in a statement to WaPo. "However, that does not change our belief that there is no legal basis for these claims."

Chiquita's legal maneuvering, however, does not deter the sense of justice felt by Agnieszka Fryszman, the chair of the Cohen Milstein human rights practice who brought the case on behalf of the victims' families.

"Our clients risked their lives to come forward to hold Chiquita to account," Fryszman said in a statement released by the firm. "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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