Chiquita Brands International Inc, owner of the namesake banana label, must face a lawsuit accusing it of helping Marxist rebels in Colombia who murdered five US missionaries a decade ago.
US District Judge Kenneth Marra in West Palm Beach, Florida, let stand five of the lawsuits’ claims against Chiquita while dismissing 19. Yesterday’s ruling allows the missionaries’ families to pursue claims that the company aided and abetted in the murder and provided material support and resources to terrorists.
The families accuse Chiquita of paying the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group for protection and supplying it with weapons from 1989 to 1997. Chiquita sought dismissal of the case, which was the first under a 1992 law allowing Americans to sue US firms over terrorism-related deaths abroad.
“Plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged that Chiquita’s provision of money and weapons to FARC aided and abetted the commission of the kidnappings and murders at issue,” Marra said in the ruling.
The company, based in Cincinnati, was fined US$25 million after pleading guilty in March 2007 to engaging in transactions with a terrorist group for paying Colombian paramilitary militias US$1.7 million from 1997 to 2004.
“We’re obviously gratified that the case will go forward,” Gary Osen, the lawyer for the missionaries’ families, said in an e-mail. “This is a significant victory for the victims’ families, but it’s only a first step towards accountability for Chiquita.”
Ed Loyd, a Chiquita spokesman, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment yesterday.
The suit was the seventh since Chiquita’s guilty plea. Four were filed under a different law on behalf of about 600 Colombian FARC victims seeking at least US$11.8 billion in damages. Those cases were consolidated in Miami. A related suit by shareholders was settled last month.
The missionaries were kidnapped in 1993 and 1994 and later killed by the FARC, which the US government designated a terrorist organization, the families said in their complaint.
“The amended complaint alleges that the monetary instruments and weapons provided to FARC by Chiquita provided substantial assistance to international terrorism,” Marra said in yesterday’s ruling.
The families accused the grower of prompting attacks on Uniban, the seller of Turbana brand bananas and plantains based in Medellin, Colombia, and soliciting the FARC to burn the competitor’s supplies and block its exports.
Chiquita paid the FARC to intimidate labor unions and sabotage rival growers as a means of “quashing competition and assuring defendants of an accommodating labor force,” the families said.
Chiquita has said the company was victimized by FARC.
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