American food giant Chiquita Brands will face trial for financing terrorism in Colombia in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, according to victim representatives.
In a press statement, human rights NGO EarthRights International said that an appeals court overruled a federal judge who ruled in 2019 that victims of the now-defunct paramilitary organization AUC lacked admissible evidence to sue Chiquita.
EarthRights International represents hundreds of people whose family members were assassinated by the AUC and are seeking damages from the paramilitaries’ corporate sponsor.
Chiquita’s admitted terrorism activity
Chiquita admitted that it had paid the paramilitary organization $1.7 million through its Colombian subsidiary Banadex between 1997 and 2004 in a 2007 plea bargain with the United States Department of Justice (DOJ).
In this plea bargain, the American company’s chief executives said that they knew about Banadex’s contributions to the paramilitaries in the Uraba region and the city of Santa Marta since before September 2000.
Around that time, the AUC wasn’t just receiving monthly payments from the Chiquita subsidiary, but using its port in Uraba for the illegal import of arms.
The payments and the arms trafficking continued after the US State Department designated the AUC a foreign terrorist organization in September 2001.
From Colombia’s plantations to US courts
After admitting to sponsoring a designated terrorist organization, Chiquita began fighting the families of its victims’ in court to avoid paying compensation.
Today’s order was a milestone in this historic lawsuit. The families have been waiting years to have their day in court despite strenuous efforts by Chiquita to have the case dismissed. Now that the appellate court has reinstated the case, the families are looking forward to a jury trial.
EarthRights General Counsel Marco Simons
According to victims representatives, the AUC assassinated and forcibly disappeared thousands of people to protect the financial interests of their sponsors in Colombia.
Former commanders of the AUC, which partially demobilized between 2003 and 2006, testified that Chiquita was one of many banana companies that sponsored the paramilitary organization.
The banana exporters’ sponsorship “operationally strengthened the paramilitary group to carry out human rights violations against the rural population” in the banana growing regions, the Truth Commission said in its report on the armed conflict that was presented earlier this year.
According to the Truth Commission, the paramilitaries were responsible for assassinating more than 200,000 civilians during the armed conflict.
War crimes tribunal JEP announced last month that it would begin an investigation into the involvement of businesses and politicians in crimes against humanity that were committed during the war.