A US appeals court has dismissed a lawsuit filed by Colombian families against banana giant Chiquita for allegedly colluding with paramilitaries, dealing a major blow to attempts by Colombia's conflict victims to hold companies responsible for their links to illegal armed groups.
In a 2-1 decision on July 24, a Miami appeals court ruled that US courts lack the jurisdiction to handle the case since the activities in question occurred outside the country, reported the BBC. The decision was based on a Supreme Court ruling that limited foreigners' ability to use US courts to seek compensation from corporations.
The 2011 mass lawsuit included some 4,000 claims by victims' family members that Chiquita subsidiary Banadex funded United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitaries operating in northwest Colombia, who were responsible for the deaths and disappearances of their loved ones.
In 2007, the US banana producer admitted to paying $1.7 million to the AUC between 1997 and 2004, and was fined $25 million. However, the company claimed they only paid the money as extortion fees and received no benefits from the exchange.
Chiquita has strongly denied any liability, arguing the lawsuits failed to draw direct connections between the company and the violence perpetrated by the paramilitaries.
InSight Crime Analysis
The sheer number of claimants and the heavy international press coverage of the Chiquita case has given it symbolic importance to the process of seeking reparations for the victims of Colombia's conflict. The US decision is not only a huge disappointment to the thousands of victims who saw this as their chance to gain recognition and compensation from the company, it also sets a precedent for other cases in which corporations allegedly colluded with illegal armed groups.
Despite Chiquita's attempts to distance itself from the AUC's activities, evidence points to the contrary. In 2011, the company's internal documents revealed attempts to disguise the payments and indicated Chiquita received security on their plantations in exchange for the fees. Testimonies collected for the lawsuit against the company claim this "security" included local managers providing death lists of union troublemakers to paramilitaries. Meanwhile, 2001 invoices revealed Chiquita received a shipment of 3,000 AK-47 assault rifles, allegedly destined for the AUC.
SEE ALSO: AUC Profile
The results of the case highlight the impunity enjoyed by foreign corporations operating in Colombia. In spite of the proceedings against them, Chiquita has continued doing business through back doors in Colombia, first through Banacol -- which until recently was Chiquita's biggest supplier -- and now through Fyffes, which merged with Chiquita this year and operates in Colombia. Various other companies accused of paramilitary ties -- including coal giant Drummond, Coca Cola and Nestle -- all continue to do business in Colombia.