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Paul Wolf, "Terror-Victim Advocates Sue Banana Giant"

Terror-Victim Advocates Sue Banana Giant

Paul Wolf

(Washington, D.C.) Advocates for the families of 173 people murdered in
the banana-growing regions of Colombia filed suit today against Chiquita
Brands International, in Federal District Court in Washington, D.C. The
families allege that Chiquita paid millions of dollars, and tried to
thousands of machine guns to the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, or
The AUC is a violent, right-wing paramilitary organization supported by
the Colombian army. In 2001, the Bush Administration classified the AUC
as a "Foreign Terrorist Organization." Its units are often described as
"death squads."

According to family representatives, the AUC was used to assassinate
husbands, wives and children, who were apparently interfering with
Chiquita's financial interests. In the last ten years, more than ten
thousand people have been murdered by the AUC, many of them in the
zones where Chiquita financed the AUC's operations.

"This is a landmark case, maybe the biggest terrorism case in history,"
said Terry Collingsworth, who directs the litigation. "In terms of
casualties, it's the size of three World Trade Center attacks."
Collingsworth is already known in Colombia for his lawsuits against Coca
Cola, Drummond, and Nestle for the targeted killings of union leaders by
the AUC.The case began with an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice,
which filed criminal charges in March of this year. Chiquita not only
admitted the truth of the charges, but agreed to cooperate in the DOJ's
ongoing investigation. Although Chiquita got off with a slap on the
— a $25 million dollar fine and no jail time for executives — their
admissions set the stage for a multi-billion dollar lawsuit. It
could be
the biggest wrongful death case in U.S. history, eventually involving
thousands of victims.

"Chiquita's victims are living in dire poverty," said Paul Wolf,
co-counsel in the case.
Wolf spent the month of May speaking to victims' groups in shanty towns
where families seek refuge from the death squads, which continue to
anyone perceived as an enemy. "Reparations can't bring back the
dead, but
there are a lot of widows and orphans with no means of support. Most of
them have fled their homes, and don't know where their next meal will
from," observed Wolf.

As word of the lawsuit spreads, the number of families joining it has
skyrocketed. "Putting Chiquita on trial for hundreds, or even thousands
of murders could put them out of business. I guess this is the one
scenario where I would support the death penalty — the death of a truly
evil corporation," said Collingsworth, remarking on Chiquita's hundred
year history in Colombia. For most of that time, Chiquita was known as
the United Fruit Company.

For more information please call Paul Wolf at (202) 674-9653, or
write to
Paul Wolf.


From at least 1997 through February 4, 2004, Defendant Chiquita,
its Colombian subsidiary Banadex, paid money to the A.U.C. in the two
regions of Colombia where it had banana-growing operations: Uraba and
Santa Marta. Defendant Chiquita paid the A.U.C., directly or
nearly every month. From in or about 1997 through on or about
February 4,
2004, defendant Chiquita made over 100 payments to the A.U.C. totaling
over $1.7 million.

The amount of money paid to the A.U.C. was different every month.
According to the testimony of A.U.C. commander Salvatore Mancuso in his
criminal trial, the A.U.C. was paid a commission based on the number of
boxes of bananas shipped by Defendant Chiquita each month. The
A.U.C. was
paid to ensure that Chiquita's business ran smoothly.

Chiquita's payments were made either through the Papagayo Association, a
paramilitary group licensed by the Colombian government, and then
transferred to the A.U.C., or directly to Carlos Castaño, the leader and
founder of the A.U.C.

Carlos Castano and other A.U.C. leaders comingled this money with other
funds used to finance the A.U.C.'s activities throughout Colombia. The
money provided by Chiquita financed the A.U.C. from its very first
days in
operation, making Chiquita one of the financial founders of the A.U.C.

Chiquita's payments to the A.U.C. were reviewed and approved by senior
executives of the corporation, including high-ranking officers,
and employees, described herein as John Does 1-10. Chiquita recorded
these payments in its corporate books and records as "security

According to the Colombian chief federal prosecutor's office, in
of 2001, a Banadex ship was used to smuggle 3,000 AK-47 assault
rifles and
more than 2.5 million bullets intended for the A.U.C. This shipment is
also described in a 2003 report by the Organization of American States.

Giovanny Hurtado Torres, Banadex's legal representative, was
imprisoned in
Colombia over the arms-smuggling scheme.

Chiquita made these payments and shipped these weapons to the A.U.C.
knowledge of the A.U.C.'s activities, and against the advice of its own
legal counsel.

According to notes taken by Chiquita's counsel, on or about April 4,
John Doe 3 said "His and [John Doe 2's] opinion is just let them sue us,
come after us. This is also [John Doe 1's] opinion."

Prior to the creation of the A.U.C. in 1997, Chiquita had paid money to
other terrorist organizations operating in Colombia, which also murdered
thousands of people.

The Conflict in Uraba

The main banana-producing region in Colombia, and the center of
Chiquita's business activities, is on the eastern side of the Gulf of
Uraba, on the north coast of Colombia near the border with Panama. This
region consists of four municipios (administrative regions akin to
counties in the U.S.): Apartado, Turbo, Carepa, and Chigorodo.
(hereinafter referred to simply as "Uraba") The four muncipios are
located in the department of Antioquia (an administrative region of
Colombia akin to a U.S. state).

Uraba has long been a hotbed of discontent and armed conflict.
in the mid-1980s, an armed left-wing guerrilla organization called the
Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionaries de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed
Forces of
Colombia, hereinafter "F.A.R.C.") took military control of the Uraba
region. At the same time, the Union Patriotica (Patriotic Union,
hereinafter "U.P."), a political party formed by demobilized F.A.R.C.
guerrillas, won elections throughout Uraba, taking control of key
offices. The Partido Comunista de Colombia (Communist Party of
hereinafter "P.C.C.") also had a strong presence in the region.

In addition, another left-wing guerrilla group called the Ejercito
de Liberacion (Popular Army of Liberation, hereinafter "EPL") were
of the F.A.R.C. and fought against the F.A.R.C. for control. After
of unsuccessfully battling the F.A.R.C. for control, in the early 1990s,
the EPL allied with right-wing militias from the neighboring
department of
Cordoba, which came to Uraba to fight their common enemy, the F.A.R.C..

From about 1994 through 1996, the A.U.C. drove the F.A.R.C. out of
killing thousands of people suspected of supporting the F.A.R.C.
guerrillas, or their legal political party, the U.P. From 1997 to
the A.U.C. maintained a reign of terror in Uraba, killing anyone
of sympathizing with the F.A.R.C.. The inhabitants of Uraba have
organized various political projects to demonstrate their neutrality
as the "peace communities", but are still caught in the crossfire.
the week that the Plaintiffs signed retainer agreements for this case, a
man was assassinated near San Jose de Apartado, and his murder was
apparently not investigated.

According to statistics provided by the Colombian National Police,
1997 and 2004, over 2700 people were murdered in the four municipalities
of Apartado, Chigorodo, Carepa and Turbo. This figure does not include
murders in the department of Magdelena, where Chiquita also had growing
operations. The vast majority of these murders were committed by the

Chiquita's business boomed as the A.U.C. took over banana-growing lands
and murdered thousands of people, including human rights workers, trade
unionists, and politicians from the U.P.

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced from their homes in
by this conflict. Many of them live in "invasions" — slums
constructed on
public lands on the outskirts of Medellin, Cartagena, and elsewhere.
slum neighborhood of Policarpa in Apartado, where many of the
live, is another example of an invasion. These neighborhoods do not
generally have water, sanitation, or electricity, and are located in
where there are no employment opportunities. The displaced people
to live there because they feel safer than if they lived in rural areas
where they could be hunted down and killed by the A.U.C.

Also in the late 1990s, the A.U.C. took control of the Sintrainagro
workers union, and drove the competing Fensuago union from the region.
The Fensuagro workers were suspected of having sympathy for the F.A.R.C.
guerrillas. Today, the main union for the people supplying bananas to
Defendant Chiquita is controlled by the A.U.C. through demobilized
fighters in leadership roles in the Sintrainagro union.

Chiquita also grew and bought bananas in five municipios in the
of Magdelena: Cordoba, Río Frio, Orihueca, Sevilla, Aracataca. These
municipios are near to the town of Santa Marta, where Defendant Chiquita
also made payments to the A.U.C. A similar level of violence has
in this region.