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Curt Anderson: "It wasn't just money that Chiquita provided the AUC, according to court documents. In 2001, Chiquita was identified in invoices and other documents as the recipient of a shipment from Nicaragua of 3,000 AK-47 assault rifles and 5 million rounds of ammunition. The shipment was actually intended for the AUC. The guns and ammo were unloaded by Chiquita employees, stored at Chiquita warehouses, and then delivered by trucks to the AUC, court papers said."

Chiquita Brands International is being sued over its involvement with terrorist groups operating in Colombia. (photo: file)
Chiquita Brands International is being sued over its involvement with terrorist groups operating in Colombia. (photo: file)

Chiquita Bananas Fund Terrorists

By Curt Anderson, Associated Press

30 May 11


ach name is next to a number, in black type on a thick legal document. They are the mothers and fathers, spouses, sisters and brothers of thousands of Colombians who were killed or vanished during a bloody civil conflict between leftist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitary groups whose victims have largely been civilians.

The list has at least 4,000 names, each one targeting Chiquita Brands International in US lawsuits, claiming the produce giant's payments and other assistance to the paramilitary groups amounted to supporting terrorists.

Cincinnati-based Chiquita in 2007 pleaded guilty to similar criminal charges brought by the Justice Department and paid a $25 million fine. But if the lawsuits succeed, plaintiffs' lawyers estimate the damages against Chiquita could reach into the billions. The cases filed around the country are being consolidated before a South Florida federal judge who must decide whether to dismiss them or let them proceed.

"A company that pays a terrorist organization that kills thousands of people should get the capital punishment of civil liability and be put out of business by punitive damages," said attorney Terry Collingsworth, who filed one of the first lawsuits on behalf of Colombians.

Chiquita has long maintained it was essentially blackmailed into paying the paramilitary groups - perpetrators of the majority of civilian deaths in Colombia's dirty war - and insists the lawsuits should be dismissed.

"Chiquita was extorted in Colombia and company officials believed that the payments were necessary to prevent violent retaliation against employees," said company spokesman Ed Loyd.

The lawsuits could be strengthened by the recent release of some 5,500 pages of internal Chiquita documents that were produced during the Justice Department probe. The documents detail how payments were hidden by accounting maneuvers, and shed light on Colombian government and political involvement with the paramilitary group. They also show there was a debate among Chiquita executives about whether the payments were proper.

In a 1997 handwritten note, one Chiquita executive said such payments are the "cost of doing business in Colombia."

"Need to keep this very confidential - people can get killed," he wrote.

Chiquita, with some 21,000 employees on six continents, is best known as the top US banana seller but also markets a variety of other produce and fruit-based snacks.

Chiquita's sprawling banana operations in Colombia date to 1899, mostly in remote areas of Santa Marta and Uraba along the Caribbean coast. By the 1970s, the country's civil conflict threatened the banana farms, mostly fomented by the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - known by its Spanish acronym, FARC. The guerrillas demanded payment from companies such as Chiquita or they would attack workers and operations. Chiquita paid between $20,000 and $100,000 a month, court documents show.

FARC became so powerful in the banana-growing areas that Colombia's military forces could not defeat them. The group bombed Chiquita operations and kidnapped employees. In 1995, 17 banana workers were gunned down on a muddy soccer field, US prosecutors said. Later that year, FARC forced 26 workers to lie in a ditch and they were shot in the head.

The AUC, a Spanish acronym for the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, was founded in 1997 as an umbrella group to unite the far-right militias across the country. Those militias were formed in the 1980s by ranchers and drug traffickers to counter extortion and kidnapping by the FARC and other leftist rebels.

The AUC wasted no time trying to muscle FARC out of the Chiquita money stream.

Paramilitary warlords, backed by top military and political leaders, have admitted to killing more than 50,000 civilians, Colombian prosecutors said.

The Chiquita lawsuit cites a number of AUC massacres, including a July 1997 operation in the town of Mapiripan in which at least 49 people were tortured, dismembered and decapitated. In February 2000, about 300 AUC troops tortured dozens of people and killed 36 people.

The top AUC leader, Carlos Castano, told Chiquita executives in a meeting that the money would be used to drive out the guerrillas and protect the company's interests. For seven years, Chiquita made over 100 payments totaling $1.7 million to the AUC or affiliated organizations, according to court documents.

About half that money was paid after the US government, on Sept. 10, 2001, declared the AUC a foreign terrorist organization, just as FARC had been designated years earlier. That made it a crime for anyone in the US to do business with either paramilitary group.

Chiquita, however, said in court documents it was unaware of the AUC terrorist designation until late February 2003 - some 18 months later - even though the news in 2001 was widely reported by the media, including leading national publications in the US and Colombia and newspapers in Chiquita's headquarters city of Cincinnati.

The discovery, Chiquita said, was made by a company lawyer researching the AUC on the Internet. That eventually led to Chiquita's guilty plea, and in 2004 the company sold its Colombian banana operations.

The lawsuits contend the AUC was able to continue its violent rampage mainly because of Chiquita's financial support. The cases are brought under the Alien Tort Statute, a 222-year-old law that allows foreigners to sue in American federal courts if their claims involve violations of US treaties or the "law of nations."

The ATS, as the law is known, has been used previously to bring lawsuits over human rights violations in foreign countries, but the cases are often difficult to prove. In 2007, a federal jury in Alabama ruled against Colombians making similar claims involving the AUC and the Alabama-based Drummond coal company, a verdict that was upheld on appeal.

It wasn't just money that Chiquita provided the AUC, according to court documents. In 2001, Chiquita was identified in invoices and other documents as the recipient of a shipment from Nicaragua of 3,000 AK-47 assault rifles and 5 million rounds of ammunition. The shipment was actually intended for the AUC.

The guns and ammo were unloaded by Chiquita employees, stored at Chiquita warehouses, and then delivered by trucks to the AUC, court papers said. They also claim there were at least four similar shipments, prompting AUC leader Castano to boast about the deals in a Colombian newspaper.

To the Colombians' lawyers, all of this adds up to overwhelming evidence that Chiquita should be held liable.

"There is too much evidence over too long a period of time," Collingsworth said. "How do you talk your way out of that?"

Chiquita, however, is seeking to have the claims dismissed and said the cases wrongly seek to make the company liable "for every murder these terrorist groups committed during the several decades in which they held sway in the lawless, remote regions of Colombia where Chiquita's subsidiary operated."

US District Judge Kenneth Marra has refused to dismiss the cases involving murders and other crimes committed against US citizens by FARC. But he has not yet ruled on the AUC cases.

Collingsworth said if the cases proceed he expects serious settlement talks to begin.

"I can't believe a jury wouldn't give each of these people $50 million, easily," he said. "That number is huge. I think both sides have an interest in some kind of structured settlement."

Associated Press writer Frank Bajak in Bogota, Colombia, contributed to this report. your social media marketing partner


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+13 # DaveM 2011-05-30 22:07
And the glorious tradition of the Banana Republic goes on.
+19 # wedwie 2011-05-30 22:36
I remember that there was some brave investigative reporting on Chiquita malfeasance done by reporters for the Cincinnati Inquirer, but the reporter was brow-beaten into submission by lawyers for Chiquita who alleged improper investigative measures and threatened to bankrupt the newspaper until it pulled the whole highly incriminating story. Chiquita plays tough mean ball and they play for keeps. None of this surprises. And always under the flag of reasonable-appe aring "excuses."
+8 # Capn Canard 2011-05-31 06:13
well said wedwie. Without exaggerating I will suggest that Chiquita Banana is evil. Morality? Being Moral doesn't make a profit, but death squads do. Disappointing, though not a surprise, is that the Cincinnati Inquirer so easily rolled over for big wealth. The market only determines who profits and not who or what is lost in the process. Gawd bless america...
+14 # Bill Eagle 2011-05-30 22:38
It is my understanding that Chiquita has never been a moral company. In order to secure their business, they have bribed politicians, financed revolutions, and had people "disappeared."
They are Amoral, they are not nice, and we should not be supporting them.
+4 # George Baggett 2011-05-31 10:21
Quoting Bill Eagle:
It is my understanding that Chiquita has never been a moral company. In order to secure their business, they have bribed politicians, financed revolutions, and had people "disappeared."
They are Amoral, they are not nice, and we should not be supporting them.

Worth reading is Edaurdo Galeano's book - "The Open Veins of Latin America." It is also important to remember Chiquita was once called United Fruit Company and the names of Henry Cabot Lodge, JF Dulles, and Allen Dulles fill the pages of the dirty history of Latifundia.
+1 # Lee Black 2011-06-01 12:00
George, thanks for the reference of Galeano's book. Do you have more recommendations re: brothers Dulles?
+9 # Margo 2011-05-31 00:20
Does the word *BOYCOTT* fit here??? I for one WILL NEVER buy another Bananna with the sticker on it!!!!!!
+7 # Rick Levy 2011-05-31 00:21
If a company doing business is being extorted by a terrorist organization, why not just cease operations in that country rather than pay protection money which is financing the outlaws? Oh sorry, that would be the moral thing to do.
+8 # angelfish 2011-05-31 01:16
I will NEVER eat another Chiquita banana again as long as I live!
+7 # Capn Canard 2011-05-31 06:24
BTW, it isn't any surprise that the whole banana republic thing hasn't diminished at all. Just as USMC Major General Smedley Darlington Butler's little pamphlet "War is a Racket" wherein he tells of his experiences (1890s-1910s) putting down small farmers/workers revolts in Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, et al for Dole and Chiquita and other Wall Street interests. When will people wake up and realize how often they are lied too by the very people (MSM) who we are told will tell us the truth?
+6 # in deo veritas 2011-05-31 07:26
If we get the ball rolling, it will likely roll over some other of "our" companies that are engaged in criminal activities, the bribing of politicians bewing the least heinous offense. Also of course the well-known destruction of the environment and poisoning of our population. The pharmaceutical companies should be a ready target. Boycotting of products from the top pollutinmg Koches is something we all can do.
+6 # rm 2011-05-31 07:51
Stories like this show what a criminal fraud the Global War on Terror is. There is no doubt that the CIA and Special Ops like Seals are also working in the "dirty war" in Columbia. The US is building new military bases in Columbia. Very likely the CIA works through corporations like Chiquita and many others.
+3 # bruceleier 2011-05-31 10:07
Un-natural persons (corporations) should be the only "persons" to get the death penalty.
+2 # Adoregon 2011-05-31 13:58
And, the darn bananas don't even get you high!! (Like other substances that ostensibly help sponsor terrorism.)

You go, Chiquita. Major General Smedley Butler would be so proud of you.
-3 # forparity 2011-05-31 18:01
And the other story here that the national media sat on (spiked) in their never ending protection of Obama and everything Democrat Party, is that Eric Holder, as an attorney At Covington & Burling was the point man in defending Chiquita Ba2Na, getting them off with that slap on the wrists.

Vetting process?

Reminds me - there is only one fair news station on TV - Fox. Just days before the 2001 election, Fox's Washington political correspondent, Carl Cameron, had the story on Bush's old little DUI with his buddies as youngster, and unlike the rest of the national media which can't bring itself to go public on the thousands of stories they are sitting on that would have destroyed the political careers of Democrats - Obama included - Fox and Cameron had the news - they reported the news, and it almost cost Bush the election.

Just imagine how the 2008 Democratic primaries would have gone if the national media would have reported on Obama's radical pastor, Rev. Wright's taped rant

Rev. Wright: Hillary is married to Bill and Bill have been good to us? No, he ain't! Bill did us just like he did Monica Lewinsky! [Wright, vigorously pumping his pelvic area to and fro]

Congregation: (cheers)

Rev. Wright: He was riding dirty!

But no - they kept that and the Edwards scandal away from the voters.
+6 # Capn Canard 2011-06-01 09:14
Seriously, Carl Cameron has been caught on FOX making up quotations. No surprise there. You foolishly believe that Political parties matter... they don't. Money is the only thing that drives any of this. Obama gave huge bail outs to the banking industry! This is the same thing Bush was trying to do! But now I would guess you think that is wrong? These @$$ holes are all guilty! This is a Laissez faire movement thanks to that disgusting little troll Milton Friedman, his ideas are 19th century and will only make the wealthy wealthier. Talent, intelligence, creativity, and skill have nothing to do with being a billionaire: that is dependent on theft, lies, manipulation, saddism, and all things reprehensible. I suggest you read "The Shock Doctrine", but it seems too many people have already swallowed that blue pill... and they are lost to us.
-3 # forparity 2011-06-01 11:25
You suggesting that Cameron made up the story about Bush in an effort to give the election to Gore?

Cameron's surely made a mistake or two in his career - who hasn't? At least he's not out there like the Schultz's and Maddow's who probably couldn't survive a fact check. They are consistently caught making up material.

So - how'd you feel about what Carl did to Bush?

How'd you feel about Holder's dirty little secret? (not the only one). Should not the media had vetted him, when he was up for AG?

You think Wright was right about Hillary and Bill Clinton?

BTY - my points were only brought up - in the lens of how biased our media is. Everyone in the US should have been familiar with the points I mentioned.

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