Chiquita Banana Held Liable for Paramilitary Group’s Killings During Colombian Civil War

A jury in South Florida has ruled that Chiquita Brands is liable for eight killings carried out by a right-wing paramilitary group that the company helped finance in a fertile banana-growing region of Colombia during the country’s decades-long internal conflict.

The jury on Monday ordered the multinational banana producer to pay $38.3 million to 16 family members of farmers and other civilians who were killed in separate episodes by the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia — a right-wing paramilitary group that Chiquita bankrolled from 1997 to 2004.

The company has faced hundreds of similar suits in U.S. courts filed by the families of other victims of violence by the paramilitary group in Colombia, but the verdict in Florida represents the first time Chiquita has been found culpable.

The decision, which the company said it planned to appeal, could influence the outcome in other suits, legal experts said.

The verdict in favor of the victims is a rare instance — in Colombia and elsewhere — in which a private corporation is held accountable to victims for its operation in regions with widespread violence or social unrest, legal experts said.

“We’re very happy about the jury’s verdict, but you can’t escape that we’re talking about horrific abuses,” said Marco Simons, a lawyer for EarthRights International, an environmental and human rights group, who represented one family in the legal claim.

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