Chiquita found liable for funding Colombian right-wing terrorist group

A federal jury in Florida has found Chiquita liable for funding a Colombian terrorist group and must pay millions to the families of victims.

Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, a right-wing paramilitary group that operated during the country’s civil war, disbanded in 2006 but not before it was deemed a terrorist organization by the United States.

The lawsuit, which was originally filed in 2008, said payments from the multinational fruit company allowed the group to operate. Among the group’s human rights abuses was the killing of people believed to support left-wing rebels.

The families of eight men who were killed by the group filed a lawsuit against Chiquita, arguing its funding of the group made it responsible for the deaths. The South Florida jury agreed and ordered them to pay their families $38.3 million dollars.

“This verdict sends a powerful message to corporations everywhere: profiting from human rights abuses will not go unpunished. These families, victimized by armed groups and corporations, asserted their power and prevailed in the judicial process,” said Marco Simons, general counsel at EarthRights International and one plaintiff’s lawyer.

Chiquita had previously pleaded guilty to making $1.7 million in “security services” payments to the AUC between 1997 and 2004, despite its status as a terrorist organization, and agreed to pay a $25 million fine, the Justice Department said.

The company claimed it only made the payments because it was extorted by the AUC and feared for its workers’ safety.

Chiquita said it plans to appeal the verdict.