Chiquita Ordered to Pay $38 Million for Funding Colombian Death Squads

American banana company Chiquita has been linked to civilian massacres in Colombia and ordered to pay $38 million in a historic judgment.

In a historic first, Chiquita Brands International has been ordered to pay the families of murdered Colombians after a court found the U.S.-based banana giant had privately financed death squads.

After a lengthy legal battle spanning 17 years, a Florida court ordered Chiquita to pay $38 million to the families of death squad victims. This landmark case is the first in which an American corporation has been found liable for human rights abuses committed overseas, encouraging more victims to seek legal restitution.

In 2007, Chiquita pled guilty to “one count of engaging in transactions with a specially-designated global terrorist” group, the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC). The company admitted to financing the infamous Colombian death squad with over 100 transactions between 1997 and 2004, amounting to $1.7 million.

In 2018, in a case settled outside court, the families of six killed Americans claimed that Chiquita had financed the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), who had fought the AUC, with a total of $220,000. Also in 2018, Colombian prosecutors charged 13 Chiquita employees with aiding the AUC death squads at the turn of the century, to which the corporation gave no official response.

The AUC right-wing death squads were descendants of the ‘Death to Kidnappers’ (MAS) group, an alliance formed in the 1980s between the Colombian military, police, and Middle Magdalena businessmen and ranchers. They were involved in countless civilian massacres from early on in their existence, as documented by Human Rights Watch.

A U.S. court holding Chiquita liable is seen as a step in the right direction for the families of some of the AUC’s victims in Colombia. “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 of EarthRights International, one of the legal representatives for the victims’ families.

However, this case only involved the families of a small portion of AUC victims, which included many of Chiquita’s enemies who were farmers, indigenous people, and trade unionists fighting for better wages and working conditions. During the six decades of conflict that caused around 450,000 fatalities and displaced millions, the AUC death squads were concluded to have killed the highest percentage of civilians compared to other armed groups.

Dating back to 1928, the predecessor to Chiquita, the United Fruit Company, experienced a workers’ revolt that U.S. officials in Colombia and United Fruit portrayed as Communist. This culminated in the Colombian authorities sending in the army and massacring around 2,000 people.

In 1954, the United Fruit Company used its influence to help overthrow the democratically elected Guatemalan President, Jacobo Arbenz. It disseminated propaganda and convinced the U.S. government that Arbenz was a communist threat, leading to a CIA-backed coup. This came after President Arbenz sought to purchase land from the United Fruit Company, which had been exploiting local workers with low wages and harsh conditions.

Chiquita’s predecessor also gave birth to the era of ‘Banana Republics’ in Central America, where U.S.-backed dictators were installed to protect the American-based banana giant.

Feature photo | A man on a bicycle rides by a banana trailer in La Lima, Honduras. Esteban Felix | AP

Robert Inlakesh is a political analyst, journalist and documentary filmmaker currently based in London, UK. He has reported from and lived in the occupied Palestinian territories and hosts the show ‘Palestine Files’. Director of ‘Steal of the Century: Trump’s Palestine-Israel Catastrophe’. Follow him on Twitter @falasteen47