Twelve Families of Victims Murdered by Paramilitary Groups in Colombia Denied Opportunity to Proceed to Trial Against Chiquita
EarthRights International to appeal decision; thousands of others continue to seek compensation from banana behemoth
West Palm Beach, Florida, September 5, 2019–Today, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra ruled that twelve families suing Chiquita Brands International for its role in funding paramilitary organizations in Colombia cannot proceed to trial. Judge Marra ruled that they cannot show that their family members were actually murdered by those paramilitary terrorists. EarthRights International originally filed the suit in 2007 and represents families of hundreds of victims murdered, tortured, and injured by the United Self-Defenders of Colombia (AUC), an outlawed paramilitary organization that Chiquita admitted to illegally funding.
Today’s order did not dismiss the thousands of other cases filed against Chiquita.
Advocates for the plaintiffs expressed disbelief that despite the fact that the Colombian government had recognized many plaintiffs as victims of the AUC’s campaign of violence, the court still ruled that there was insufficient evidence that the AUC had murdered their relatives.
“This ruling distorts the rules of evidence and denies reality,” said Marco Simons, General Counsel for EarthRights. “There is overwhelming evidence that the AUC not only murdered thousands of Colombians but also murdered these victims. In the majority of these cases, AUC commanders actually confessed to the killing. Yet the court not only rejected their legal claims but essentially erased even the fact of their victimhood.”
Courts in other U.S. cases, including cases involving international terrorism, have routinely accepted the kinds of evidence plaintiffs presented.
For nearly a decade in the 1990s and early 2000s, Chiquita Brands International made regular and monthly payments to the AUC, totaling more than $1.7 million dollars. In turn, the AUC engaged in a campaign of violence against communities in Colombia’s banana-growing regions, including trade unions, political opponents, and indigenous advocates. In 2001, the U.S. government classified the AUC as a terrorist organization. Chiquita pled guilty to a federal crime for funding the AUC, and paid a $25 million fine to the U.S. government, but has not yet compensated the families of the AUC’s victims.
EarthRights, along with other attorneys representing the plaintiffs, will appeal the decision. EarthRights’ co-counsel includes Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC and attorneys Judith Brown Chomsky, Paul L. Hoffman, Anthony DiCaprio, and Arturo Carrillo.
Contact: Kate Fried, EarthRights International
(202) 466.5188 x100
(202) 257.0057 (cell)