Terror-Support Claims Plague Chiquita in Fla.

     MIAMI (CN) – Banana producer Chiquita must face claims that it supported a terrorist organization that kidnapped and killed U.S. Christian missionaries in Colombia, a federal judge ruled.
     Cincinnati-based Chiquita Brands International, one of the largest banana producers and distributors in the world, owns farms in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama. Until 2004, Chiquita also owned more than 200 banana farms in civil war-torn Colombia. Banadex, Chiquita’s Colombian subsidiary, handled Chiquita’s operations in that country.
     In March 2007, Chiquita pleaded guilty to violating U.S. anti-terrorism laws by funding the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (known as AUC), a paramilitary group created in the 1990s to fight left-wing guerillas and their sympathizers. In doing so, Chiquita admitted its ties to another Colombian terrorist organization, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
     The Colombian Communist Party established FARC in 1964 as its military wing. The group supports its operations through ransom kidnappings of civilians, extortion, drug trafficking and “war taxes” it collects from residents, businesses and landowners. The U.S. government designated FARC a foreign terrorist organization in October 1997.
     Five U.S. citizens who were members of New Tribes Mission, a Christian missionary organization, were among FARC’s kidnapping victims. FARC murdered the five men after their families refused to pay a $3 million ransom or negotiate, according to the families’ federal complaint.
     The victims’ families sued Chiquita in early 2008, accusing it of aiding and abetting the killings and violating the Anti-Terrorism Act.
     FARC controlled the banana-growing regions where Chiquita operated its farms. Beginning in the late 1980s, the banana producer enlisted FARC’s help to control union activity on the plantations, according to the families’ complaint.
     Chiquita made substantial payments to FARC, which over time became monthly contributions ranging from $20,000 to $100,000, with up to 10 percent of Banadex’s revenues being diverted to FARC operations, the families claimed.
     In exchange for the payments, FARC helped Chiquita by harassing its competitors in the region and ensuring labor unions’ cooperation.
     Chiquita also funneled weapons to FARC and helped the group transport them through its local transportation contractors, according to the complaint.
     Chiquita hid its relationship with FARC for years by placing non-existent employees on its payroll, creating bogus contracts and overvaluing contracts with legitimate business partners, the lawsuit alleged.
     The banana producer acknowledged its ties to FARC during the 2007 guilty plea, for which it was sentenced to five years’ probation and a $25 million criminal fine.
     Chiquita asked the federal court in Miami to reconsider a previous ruling allowing the families’ claims to move forward. It cited precedents from federal appeals courts that barred civil remedies for aiding and abetting violations of the Anti-Terrorism Act.
     U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra agreed last week that the slain missionaries’ families may not recover damages for aiding and abetting terrorist activities under ATA.
     But the court refused to reverse its previous ruling on the causal connection between Chiquita’s material support to FARC and the kidnapping and killing of the victims.
     The victims’ families sufficiently alleged that Chiquita made payments to FARC through at least 1997 despite knowing that it was a violent terrorist organization which had kidnapped 23 Americans between 1994 and 1997 and had killed many others, according to the Jan. 6 ruling.
     The families’ allegations about Chiquita’s shipments of weapons to FARC also serve to establish a causal connection, the court found.
     Marra said the parties may proceed with discovery for the remaining claims.

%d bloggers like this: