Posted by Hannah Aronowitz on Mar 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Chiquita faces mass lawsuit over 4,000 killings in Colombia

colombia news - chiquita

Over 100 lawyers representing the families of some 4,000 Colombians allegedly murdered by illegal armed groups funded by Chiquita Brands International are working together to make one giant case against the banana company, lawyer Paul Wolf said Wednesday.

The two new lawsuits Wolf filed against Chiquita represent the families of 931 people who lost their lives in the name of the banana giant. The attorney told Colombia Reports that he has filed a total of 2,100 cases in Washington courts.

While Wolf represent the largest group of families of murdered relatives, there are over a dozen other U.S. law firms working with Colombian lawyers and families representing about 2,000 more individuals in courts all over the U.S.

In the face of these multiple lawsuits concerned with the same conflict, Chiquita applied to a multidistrict panel, which is used when one company faces trial in several U.S. locations to consolidate them into one court to be decided at once. The decision was made in 2008 to move the trial to West Palm Florida, due to its regional proximity with Colombia and to be heard by U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra.

“This definitely slows us down. It’s a total bureaucracy, doing everything as a committee with more than 100 lawyers who get notified every time something happens in the case and have say in what we do,” Wolf told Colombia Reports.

These individuals represented in the lawsuit were killed by Colombia’a largest guerrilla group FARC and the now-defunct paramiltary organization AUC before 1997 and after 2004. In 2007, Chiquita was found guilty of paying paramilitaries $1.7 million from 1997 to 2004 and fined $25 million

The current cases expand the scope of the alleged “genocide” perpetrated on behalf of the multinational banana company based on new evidence that has come to light, including records of payments Chiquita made to the illegal armed groups and the testimonies of demobilized AUC members to Colombia’s Commission of Justice and Peace.

In additional to the some 4,000 cases which have already been filed, Wolf said he has about 500 more than he hasn’t yet filed and he suspects other lawyers have more cases too. According to his estimations, some 10,000 people were killed in the north-Colombian banana growing region of Uruba alone.

The conglomeration of these cases will slow down the legal process, according to Wolf, who doesn’t expect to see results for at least 15 years.

However, “The fact that so many people think this is a good case is really encouraging,” Wolf said.