Chiquita Sued over Colombian Paramilitary Connection

Chiquita Brands International, large banana producer and distributor, is being sued by the nonprofit organization EarthRights International for providing funding to a terrorist organization. EarthRights is representing a group of hundreds of Colombians, who are family members of trade unionists, banana workers, political organizers, social activists, and others targeted and killed by paramilitary groups allegedly funded by Chiquita. The plaintiffs have asked to remain nameless due to fear of retaliation by still active paramilitary groups. The case was filed in the District of New Jersey and will be heard before Judge William J. Martini.

In March 2007, the United States Department of Justice (DoJ) filed a criminal complaint against Chiquita alleging their association with the Colombian paramilitary group United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC). Chiquita admitted to giving $1.7 million to AUC between 1997 and 2004, but the company claimed this was in an attempt to maintain business operations and safeguard their employees and plantations in the politically unstable Urabá region of Colombia. However, U.S. Attorney Jeffrey A. Taylor did not find this excuse adequate, claiming, “[f]unding a terrorist organization can never be treated as a cost of doing business, American businesses must take note that payments to terrorists are of a whole different category. They are crimes.”

Chiquita also admitted to funding other paramilitary groups prior to their deal with AUC. From 1989 to 1997 Chiquita funded the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), as well as the National Liberation Army (ELN). As a result of funding a recognized terrorist organization, the DoJ served Chiquita with a 25 million dollar fine in 2007.

EarthRights International accuses Chiquita of committing “war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture, extrajudicial killing, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, violations of the right to life, liberty, security of person, and peaceful assembly and expression, terrorism, material support of terrorism, and consistent patterns of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights are acts that are so heinous that they are considered to be of universal and mutual concern to all nations of the world, such that nations have a legally binding obligation to punish and prevent them.” EarthRights claims Chiquita conducted transactions with AUC “with the knowledge and intent that the paramilitaries would commit the abuses alleged…, and they continued to play this role as it became clear that their support was assisting with the torture, murder, and other abuse of Chiquita’s opponents.”

EarthRights International initially filed a lawsuit against Chiquita in 2007 seeking damages for plaintiffs who suffered at the hands of AUC. This case along with several similar cases were eventually dismissed in 2019 by Judge Marra of the District of Southern Florida. Judge Marra asserted that “[i]t is not necessarily the case that every person that was tortured, killed or went missing in the Urabá and Magdalena regions during the time frame in question suffered injury at the hands of the AUC. Instead, a primary issue in each case will be whether the AUC was involved in each crime, and if so, whether a sufficiently significant financial tie existed between the AUC operative and Defendant Chiquita to satisfy proximate cause requirements.  This inquiry is necessary and case specific as to each potential victim.”

In their new case, EarthRights International will be focusing on new claims that have been brought forward alleging a direct connection between deaths of family members and Chiquita. For example, the family of John Doe 12, the owner of a small banana plantation, who was confirmed to be killed by AUC. EarthRights suggests that “Chiquita benefited from the death of John Doe 12 by removing the owner of a small banana plot, thereby improving the chances for expanding Chiquita’s operations.”