Judgement on Chiquita Brands, a Milestone for Human Rights


HAVANA TIMES – The judgement against the banana multinational Chiquita Brands, ordering it to pay $38.3 million to the families of peasants murdered by the paramilitary group United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), is already seen as an international milestone in favor of human rights.

The verdict of a court in southeastern Florida “sends a strong message to companies around the world that profit at the expense of human rights: their actions will not go unpunished,” said Marco Simons, a lawyer for the environmental organization EarthRights International, which acted in the case.

After a process that lasted 17 years, the jury ruled that Chiquita Brands is responsible for eight murders carried out by the AUC, which the company financed with regular payments of at least $1.7 million in the fertile banana-growing region of northern Colombia between 1997 and 2004.

Agnieszka Fryszman, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs, said that “the verdict does not bring back the husbands and children who were murdered, but it sets things straight and places the responsibility for financing terrorism where it belongs: at Chiquita’s doorstep.”

Chiquita Brands is the successor of the United Fruit Company, which settled in Colombia and Central America after its founding in 1899. The corporation announced that it will appeal the ruling ordering it to compensate 16 relatives of farmers and other civilians murdered in separate incidents by the AUC.

The Florida ruling could influence hundreds of similar lawsuits in US courts filed by relatives of other victims of AUC violence against leftist guerrillas in the context of the internal armed conflict that ravaged Colombia for more than six decades.

“In a historic ruling, a US court finds Chiquita guilty of paying paramilitary groups to protect its economic interests. The AUC committed serious human rights abuses,” said Erika Guevara Rosas, director of research at Amnesty International.

The AUC’s crimes against peasants helped strengthen Chiquita’s presence in the Uraba and Magdalena regions in northern Colombia, and during the judicial process, the US Department of Justice stated that the company’s actions were “morally repugnant.”

The victims received the news as a recognition of their suffering and an opportunity for reparation.

One of them was quoted by EarthRights International: “We have been fighting since 2007. We are not in this process because we want to be, it was Chiquita, with its actions, that brought us into it. We have a responsibility to our families and must fight for them.”

Meanwhile, Colombian president, Gustavo Petro, criticized his country’s justice system, given the evidence that it was a foreign court that brought the transnational company that financed the violence to trial and condemned it.

“Why could the US justice system determine judicially that Chiquita Brands financed paramilitarism in Uraba? Why couldn’t the Colombian justice system?” the president asked on @petrgustavo, his social media account.

He also alluded to provisions of the peace agreement signed in 2016 between the government of his predecessor Juan Manuel Santos (2010-2018) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which was the country’s main guerrilla group, and most of whose combatants demobilized and reintegrated into civilian life.

“If the 2016 peace agreement, which we already know is a unilateral state declaration that commits us to the world, talks about a single final truth tribunal, why don’t we have it?” Petro questioned again.

In the case of Chiquita, the US court applied the Colombian Civil Code, as it was a US company whose decisions were made in that country.

Specifically, Article 2341, which establishes that anyone who causes harm to another, whether through a crime or fault, must compensate the victim, in addition to any principal penalty that the law imposes, and Article 2356, which states that any damage caused by dangerous activities must be repaired by the one who caused it.

Thus, for the first time, a jury in the United States has held a large US corporation accountable for its complicity in human rights abuses in another country, which can be considered a milestone in justice.

The history of Chiquita Brands is marked by that of its predecessor United Fruit, co-responsible for the “Banana Massacre” of December 5 and 6, 1928, perpetrated by the Colombian army at the company’s behest in the northern town of Cienaga.

The army fired on striking workers, also hitting women and children, and hundreds of people were killed.

Even the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature, Gabriel García Márquez, recorded the massacre in his acclaimed novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” with passages like:

“Trying to escape the nightmare, José Arcadio Segundo crawled from one car to another, in the direction in which the train was moving, and in the flashes that burst through the wooden slats as they passed through the sleeping towns, he saw the dead men, women, and children who were going to be thrown into the sea like rejected bananas.”

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