Victims of the bloody paramilitary conflict in Colombia are suing the US banana company Chiquita, accusing it of funding and arming guerrilla groups blamed for torture and thousands of killings.
The lawsuit, filed in New York, seeks $7.86 billion (£4 billion) on behalf of 393 victims and their relatives. They accuse Chiquita Brands of complicity in hundreds of murders carried out by the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia, a right-wing paramilitary group known by its Spanish acronym AUC.
The company has courted controversy for more than a century amid claims about the aggressive tactics that it has used to influence the politics of the Central American countries in which it operates. In 1975 a US investigation revealed that it bribed the Government of the Honduran President – and military dictator – Oswaldo López Arellano to get banana export taxes reduced.
The company even spawned the term “Banana Republic”, first coined by the American humourist O. Henry in 1904, in reference to the American conglomerate United Fruit and its actions in Honduras. The company had dominated Central America since 1899 and changed its name to Chiquita Brands International in 1989.
This year Chiquita admitted that it had paid off rebel groups in Colombia, including the AUC, which is accused of carrying out massacres during Colombia’s long-running civil war before it began to disarm in 2003.
Already, courts in Nicaragua have returned more than $600 million in judgments against Dole and other companies, according to lawyers for the workers - judgments that have proved impossible to collect so far. The verdicts announced Monday marked the first case of foreign farmworkers prevailing in a U.S. court against Dole and Dow over harm from the pesticide, DBCP.