Chiquita International Brands is currently seeking dismissal of a nearly $8 billion lawsuit filed on behalf of about 400 Colombian families. In 2007, Chiquita admitted to giving money to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia or AUC. The AUC was deemed a terrorist organization by the United States in 2002, making it a crime to give them money. The corporation asked a judge to dismiss lawsuits claiming the banana company has a responsibility to the families of the victims of violent acts committed by the AUC.
The victims families say the company should be held responsible for the "torture and murder" of their loved ones. "They conspired with the AUC, aided and abetted them in a far-reaching conspiracy and plan to control every aspect of banana growing, distribution and sale," Jonathan Reiter, an attorney representing the Colombian families, told CNN.
Lawyers for Chiquita insist that the money it paid over a seven-year period to the AUC had no direct connection to the massacres, kidnappings, and assassinations carried out by the group in banana-growing regions where Chiquita has operations. "There are no allegations that Chiquita was directly involved in any of these incidents," Gregg Levy, an attorney for Cincinnati-based Chiquita, told the AP.
"The AUC was engaging in murder, torture, forced disappearances and destruction of these communities," responded Terry Collingsworth, who represents family members of about 173 of the victims. "Everybody knew this. Chiquita knew it." The lawsuits claim Chiquita should be held liable for providing support to the AUC by funneling cash, military grade weapons, supplies and even granting access to banana ports for cocaine trafficking. Lawyers for the Colombian plaintiffs say the AUC used violence to intimidate or kill labor leaders, attack rival FARC guerrillas, and control the region encompassing 200 Chiquita banana farms in return for the company's support.