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Published on June 12, 2024
Chiquita Brands Ordered to Pay $38.3M by West Palm Beach Jury for Role in Colombia DeathsSource: Unsplash/ Sophie Dale

In a landmark decision, a federal jury in West Palm Beach, Florida, has held Chiquita Brands International accountable for its financial support to a Colombian paramilitary group, marking a significant milestone for victims' families seeking justice. As reported by WSVN, Chiquita must compensate 16 family members with a sum of $38.3 million for the deaths of their loved ones during the violent civil conflict in Colombia.

The ruling comes as the first instance of liability pinned on the fruit conglomerate in the context of numerous related lawsuits. In a strong message to corporate entities, the judgment underscores that profit derived from human rights violations will face retribution. "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,” shared Marco Simons, General Counsel for EarthRights International and a representative for the plaintiffs, as reported by CBS12.

Chiquita, however, maintains its stance of innocence despite the adverse verdict. The company, with banana operations anchored in Florida, expressed through a statement that the Colombian events triggered immense sorrow but maintained, "that does not change our belief that there is no legal basis for these claims." From 1997 to 2004, Chiquita's subsidiary Banadex had paid approximately $1.7 million to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a group implicated in numerous killings within that timeframe, as per CBS12.

The verdict unfolds after a six-week trial and two days of painstaking jury deliberations, as published by CBS12. Although Chiquita insists that the payments were made under duress to protect its employees, the company had previously acknowledged wrongdoing in 2007. Chiquita pleaded guilty to engaging in transactions with a foreign terrorist organization, the very AUC that the State Department had branded a terrorist group four years prior and agreed to a $25 million fine while vowing to implement requisite compliance and ethics programs.

Attorney Agnieszka Fryszman, advocating for the victims' families, highlighted the gravity and courage it took for the clients to come forward. "Our clients risked their lives to come forward to hold Chiquita to account, putting their faith in the United States justice system. I am very grateful to the jury for the time and care they took to evaluate the evidence," Fryszman was quoted. The ruling, while not reversing the tragedies, places the responsibility for funding terrorism squarely on Chiquita's shoulders, as incarnated by the courageous testimony of those who suffered most deeply, according to WSVN.

Miami-Crime & Emergencies