Landmark Verdict Puts US Companies on Notice

( – Colombia has a long history of gang violence fueled by drugs. In the early 2000s, Chiquita Brands International admitted to playing a role in the violence. The company will now have to pay millions.

On June 10, a federal jury found the company liable for paramilitary violence in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The company will have to pay more than $38 million in damages to the families of victims of the violence. The ruling came after a 17-year legal battle waged by the families after the company admitted to the US Department of Justice in 2007 that it gave the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) more than $1.7 million. The group is a paramilitary organization, deemed a terrorist organization by the US, that carried out violence in the country.

In 2007, Chiquita agreed to pay a $25 million fine to the US government for violating the anti-terrorism law. The families of 16 families members of civilians and farmers who were killed by AUC filed a lawsuit against the banana giant after its agreement with the DOJ. It’s the first time the company has been found liable for the violence it bankrolled from 1997 to 2004.

The jury reached the verdict after two days of deliberation in the US District Court in West Palm Beach, Florida. Another trial, set for July, will include more families seeking justice.

EarthRights International attorney Marco Simons represented one of the families in the lawsuit. He told The New York Times that they are “very happy about the jury’s verdict.” Agnieszka Fryszman, another family’s attorney, said, “The verdict does not bring back the husbands and sons who were killed,” but it held the company accountable for the terrorism.

Chiquita announced it planned to appeal the lawsuit. However, legal experts have said the South Florida judgment will likely impact the other trials moving forward.

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