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Chiquita, the popular banana company, guilty of financing a paramilitary group

A jury ordered to company to pay $38.3 million to the families of eight people murdered by the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) group.

Chiquita Br

(Wikimedia Commons)

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A jury ruled that fruit company Chiquita Brands International must pay $38.3 million to the families of eight people murdered by the anti-communist paramilitary group United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). According to the court, Chiquita financed the group for years.

As CNN reported, the jury in the civil case in federal court in the Southern District of Florida, concluded that "Chiquita knowingly provided substantial assistance to the AUC to a degree sufficient to create a foreseeable risk of harm to others," CBS recalled that it is the first time that a jury in the United States has held an American company responsible for a significant human rights violation in another country.

Chiquita maintained that it intends to appeal the decision and highlighted that there is no sufficient legal basis for the ruling:

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. ... However, that does not change our belief that there is no legal basis for these claims.

However, in 2007, Chiquita had already pleaded guilty for financing the group. According to a statement from the Department of Justice at the time, the company funded the AUC following a 1997 meeting between then-AUC leader Carlos Castaño and a senior Banadex executive.

"Chiquita began paying the AUC following a meeting in 1997 between the then-leader of the AUC, Carlos Castaño, and a senior executive of Banadex. Castaño implied that failure to make the payments could result in physical harm to Banadex personnel and property. No later than September 2000, Chiquita's senior executives knew that the corporation was paying the AUC and that the AUC was a violent, paramilitary organization led by Carlos Castaño. Chiquita's payments to the AUC were reviewed and approved by senior executives of the corporation, including high-ranking officers, directors and employees," the department highlighted.

The U.S. government designated the AUC as an FTO on Sept. 10, 2001, and that designation was well-publicized in the American public media. The AUC's designation was even more widely reported in the public media in Colombia, where Chiquita had its substantial banana-producing operations. Chiquita also had specific information about the AUC's designation as an FTO through an Internet-based, password-protected subscription service that Chiquita paid money to receive. Nevertheless, from Sept. 10, 2001 through Feb. 4, 2004, Chiquita made 50 payments to the AUC totaling over $825,000.