Major Banana Company Ordered To Pay $38.3M – In a landmark ruling on Tuesday, June 11, a Florida-based company has been ordered to pay $38.3 million in compensation to people whose family members were killed by a Columbian terror group. Chiquita, who bananas are sold around the world, is reported to have paid Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUD), a far-right paramilitary group, nearly $2 million between 1997 and 2004.

Chiquita’s legal team described the payments made as a form of protection money, arguing that Chiquita executives had no option but to pay the AUD in order to keep their Columbian workers safe. The AUD, which largely disbanded in 2006, formed in response to the far-left Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC) paramilitary group. Both groups were violent and determined to gain control of land in what attorneys described as the “banana zone” – a fertile area in Columbia perfect for growing both bananas and cocaine. For years, rival paramilitaries and drug gangs fought over profitable land, including in areas where Chiquita had set up their banana farms.

Chiquita executives claimed that they only paid the money under duress and had no choice in the matter. If they had not paid AUD, they feared for the safety of their employees and their property. They also painted their actions during the conflict as largely positive, pointing to their good work environment and ability to provide jobs to so many in such an unstable country.

The plaintiffs, which included members of 16 families who had lost loved ones to AUD’s violence, did not agree. They argued that Chiquita effectively invested in, and profited from, Columbian bloodshed. Their legal team described the victory as one that would act as a warning to other businesses not to indirectly finance or otherwise support violence and the abuse of human rights.

Columbia’s left-leaning President Gustavo Petro praised the guilty verdict and lamented that no such justice had been achieved in his own country. Chiquita has promised to appeal the verdict.

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