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Chiquita Manufacturers was ordered Monday by a Florida jury to pay $38.3 million to the households of eight folks killed by a right-wing paramilitary group in Colombia, which the banana grower had funded for years throughout that nation’s violent civil warfare. 

Chiquita had beforehand acknowledged funding the paramilitary group, pleading responsible in 2007 after the U.S. Division of Justice charged the corporate with offering funds to what the company labeled a “terrorist group.” The group, the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, or AUC, obtained funds from Chiquita from about 1997 by 2004, which the corporate had described as “safety funds” through the nation’s inside battle. 

The choice marks the primary time an American jury has held a big U.S. company answerable for a serious human rights violation in a foreign country, in accordance with EarthRights Worldwide, a human rights agency that represented one household within the case. Chiquita nonetheless faces hundreds of different claims from victims of the AUC, and Monday’s choice might pave the way in which for extra instances to come back to trial or for a “international settlement,” mentioned Marco Simons, EarthRights common counsel, in a press convention to debate the jury’s choice. 

“Chiquita had a really excessive diploma of understanding of the armed battle in Colombia,” Simons mentioned. “This wasn’t some bumbling U.S. company that did not know what was happening within the nation the place it was working.”

In an announcement to CBS MoneyWatch, Chiquita mentioned it should attraction the jury’s verdict. 

“The scenario in Colombia was tragic for thus many, together with these instantly affected by the violence there, and our ideas stay with them and their households,” the corporate mentioned within the assertion. “Nevertheless, that doesn’t change our perception that there isn’t a authorized foundation for these claims. Whereas we’re disillusioned by the choice, we stay assured that our authorized place will in the end prevail.”

Chiquita has insisted that its Colombia subsidiary, Banadex, solely made the funds out of worry that AUC would hurt its workers and operations, court docket information present.

Reacting to the ruling on social media, Colombia President Gustavo Petro questioned why the U.S. justice system might “decide” Chiquita financed paramilitary teams, whereas judges in Colombia haven’t dominated towards the corporate.

“The 2016 peace deal … requires the creation of a tribunal that can disclose judicial truths, why do not we now have one?” Petro posted on X, referencing the 12 months the civil battle ended.

The decision adopted a six-week trial and two days of deliberations. The EarthRights case was initially filed in July 2007 and was mixed with a number of different lawsuits.

“Goal on their again”

The AUC was additionally categorized as a “overseas terrorist group” by the U.S. State Division in 2001, a designation that made supporting the paramilitary group a federal crime. Chiquita supplied the group with 100 funds amounting to nearly $2 million in funding, the Justice Division mentioned in 2007. 

A number of many years in the past, when the battle in Colombia drove down costs of land within the nation’s banana-growing areas, Chiquita took benefit of the scenario by increasing its operations, mentioned Marissa Vahlsing, EarthRights director of transnational authorized technique. 

“They knew this is able to put a goal on their again, being a big multinational company,” with FARC, or the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a leftist insurgent group, Vahlsing mentioned. That prompted Chiquita to show to the AUC for defense, she added. 

Chiquita executives testified through the trial that its AUC funds have been voluntary and that the corporate wasn’t threatened by the paramilitary group to make the funds, Simons mentioned. 

“We expect the jury noticed by Chiquita’s protection, that they have been threatened and needed to make funds to save lots of lives,” Simons mentioned. “The jury additionally rejected Chiquita’s protection that they put ahead, which is named a duress protection, that that they had no different alternative, that they had to do that.”

Brutal killings

The AUC was extra brutal than the rebels they have been combating towards, Simons mentioned. The instances introduced by survivors of individuals killed by the paramilitary group included one involving a younger lady touring together with her mom and stepfather in a taxi, once they have been pulled over by AUC members. She witnessed her dad and mom murdered by the group, who then gave her just a few pesos for transportation again to city, EarthRights mentioned. 

Simons famous that one former Chiquita govt, when requested through the trial if he was involved about funds to the terrorist group, responded that as a human being it involved him. However, the chief added, “As chief accounting officer, to guarantee that the information are applicable, it was not a part of my deliberation,” in accordance with Simons. 

“That’s sadly the way in which a variety of the the multinational of us assume,” Simons mentioned. “They examine their humanity on the door once they have interaction in enterprise practices.”

—With reporting by the Related Press.

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