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Chiquita asks court to toss terror payments case

MIAMI (AP) -- Chiquita Brands International asked a federal appeals court Thursday to dismiss lawsuits filed against the produce giant by relatives of thousands of Colombians killed in a bloody civil war, contending the cases do not belong in a U.S. court.

John Hall, attorney for Charlotte, N.C.-based Chiquita, told a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that any legal action by the relatives should be pursued in Colombia.

The lawsuits accuse Chiquita, which for decades had huge banana plantations in Colombia, of assisting in the killings by paying $1.7 million to a right-wing paramilitary group labeled a terrorist organization by the U.S. Chiquita has insisted it only made the payments because of threats against it by the group known as the AUC - the Spanish acronym for United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia.

"There is nothing to suggest that plaintiffs can't bring similar claims in Colombia," Hall said. U.S. law, he added, is "focused on the site of the conduct, not the identity of the defendant."

The Colombians' lawyer, Paul Hoffman, countered that the cases belonged in the U.S. because Chiquita is based in this country and made decisions about the payments at its headquarters, at the time in Cincinnati. Additional proof, Hoffman said, is Chiquita's 2007 guilty plea to U.S. criminal charges over the payments, which resulted in a $25 million fine.

"I can't say it any other way - it was mass murder," Hoffman said. "How could that not touch and concern the United States?"

The judges did not indicate when they would rule, a process that can take several months. Chiquita is appealing a decision not to dismiss the lawsuits by West Palm Beach-based U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra, before whom lawsuits filed in several states were consolidated in 2008. Damages could reach into the billions of dollars.

Chiquita, the largest U.S. banana seller, sold its Colombian subsidiary Banadex in 2004. The AUC payments were made over seven years before that.

The AUC was formed in 1997 to unite several right-wing militias in battle against the leftist guerrilla group known as FARC, Spanish for Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. The resulting campaign killed some 50,000 people, mostly civilians, according to Colombian prosecutors.

The arguments Thursday revolved mainly around a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision known as Kiobel vs. Royal Dutch Petroleum, which imposed limits on the ability of foreigners to use American courts to seek accountability and monetary damages for human rights abuses.

Like that case, the Colombian lawsuits against Chiquita invoke the Alien Tort Statute, a 1789 law that human rights lawyers used to sue individuals and companies that allegedly were involved in abuses overseas. The Chiquita lawyer, Hall, said the Kiobel decision means there is now a presumption against such "extraterritorial" lawsuits being brought in the U.S.

"That's exactly how the court ought to rule in this case," he said.

Hoffman, however, said the Kiobel decision did not bar all lawsuits like this from the U.S. If there's enough linkage between a U.S. person or company and the overseas atrocities, he said, a case such as those against Chiquita can go forward.

"If this one's not OK, then there are no extraterritorial cases," Hoffman said.

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exceltempsstptr April 25 2014 at 9:54 AM

The issue here is not about Chiquita and the money they paid to "protect" their workers, but about some lawyer seeing dollar signs if he can scare the company (who already paid a $25,000,000 fine for that "protection") into making another settlement. $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$.
lawyers.................................................................! The lawyer should have to sue in Colombia (notice the correction of spelling) where it happened. That lawyer doesn't want to do that because he can squeeze a lot more money out of the company here in the US. If he sues in Colombia he will not be able to settle for anything close to 10% of what he wants. That company saved and protected the lives of their employee's. How many other Corporations will do that?
Stand up and shout if you love lawyers!!! Silence!!!!!

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1 reply
bob exceltempsstptr April 25 2014 at 10:54 AM

Most lawyers are money grubbing ambulance chasing scum. They have influenced law makers so you need to use a lawyer for any legal cases.

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DOUG April 24 2014 at 7:21 PM

First Blood Diamonds, now Blood Banana's?????

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1 reply
caminante4 DOUG April 24 2014 at 9:14 PM

Next blood...y Mary,

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jdc562 April 25 2014 at 1:10 AM

Many of the comments here callously ignore the substance of the charges against Chiquita. The armed paramilitaries that Chiquita supported were terrorists of the worst kind. They tortured and murdered innocent indigenous peoples and rural farmers. Heavily armed, the paramilitaries arrived in remote Indian villages, pulled out the chiefs and teachers, then hacked off the limbs of these village leaders in front of the other villagers. In other cases, the village leaders were seized and led away. Later the leaders' families found their loved-ones bodies horribly disfigured by torture. The traumatised survivors have fled their lands and into refugee camps. The same things happened in rural farming villages of non-indigenous people. All of this is documented by the Catholic Church and other reliable sources. The human horror here is a much bigger issue than supercilious prattle about politics and dollars for bananas. The next time you look at a banana, think about the heinous tortures and murders the 29 cents/pound financed.

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1 reply
mokibrabrant jdc562 April 25 2014 at 1:48 AM

Those who do not learn history are condemned to repeat.............an axiom not to often appreciated: However with the new Executive Branch of the United States being the SCOTUS more arbitrary power is being thrust into the hands of the very entities that traditionally visited these genocides: Second only to Nations thus far, The Corporate Banking Schema will further consolidate the potential for these atrocities into the hands of an exceedingly amoral few. And it is only a matter of time before we in this hemisphere will be subjected to it.......unless we end this whole notion of corporate person hood........Already Corporations are moving to a point of sovereignty, where they are no longer subjected to the laws of Nations: All you have to do is look and the collapse of this economy, and how the principal players responsible for it, have not faced juries, nor been indicted: And further insult is that through Extraction, the process of sustaining interest rates below the rate of inflation each of us has paid to cover their losses to our detriment. Those so glib about this are really the enemy of enlightenment, and really the enemy of their own future..................Corporatism/Banking co-opting, writing, and implementing the policy of a Nation is dangerous: It's what we have: We are no longer a Republic.............and we are no longer a representative democracy: We are an oligarchy: Every necessity of our life is within the hands of the very few. it can be denied us at any time.............It is good we are armed. That I believe is the only reason we do not currently trade with the currency of the Amero..........much as the European Union trades in the Euro..............

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knightrang April 24 2014 at 4:37 PM

This is a difficult situation. I believe if there is evidence that Chiquita tried to go to the government for help against the rebels and didn't get any, then there is no other way to operate than payoff the rebels. It happens here in some of our gang neighborhoods where privately own stores have to payoff gang members for "protection" which is actually extortion. Police can't be there 24/7 so they pay.

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aripalda April 24 2014 at 11:37 PM

Maybe the rebels threatened their people and workers if they didn't pay up? I mean seriously, stand up for human rights when you live very far away, but get up close to them to see how brave you truly are. Maybe it's not that they support them, they just don't want to see their people get hurt? It's not like you're gonna get help from the government, the police and military is just as corrupt there.

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abenzrite April 24 2014 at 9:18 PM

"Yes we have no bananas"

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Debbie and Derek April 24 2014 at 5:22 PM

Try growing your own. Whether inside or outside, you just might get a bunch. FYI, you can get dwarf banana trees that will produce...I know because I have one and the bananas are delicious.

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1 reply
ibdoowop Debbie and Derek April 24 2014 at 6:17 PM

Yes, we had a dwarf banana tree in our back yard that my father planted............back in the 50's in S. Calif. They were tiny but good.

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ectullis April 24 2014 at 5:26 PM

Just another businees expence in Columbia

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1 reply
loptroz31 ectullis April 24 2014 at 6:16 PM

???? what the hell is that suppose to mean. It's COLOMBIA you moron.

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lgvxl42 April 24 2014 at 5:38 PM

...........Ah, Chiquita protected its business from the leftists (FARC) with the available forces at hand. Here in lies the problem. The U.S. is queasy in its defense of Chiquita due to the collateral deaths caused. Never mind that Chiquita has had no vested interest in Colombia for ten years & that much of the collateral deaths were, very possibly FARC or sympathizers of that group. One must realize that if you were not a member of FARC, then you were a right wing. There was & is no middle ground in Latin America. That simple fact remains true today.

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loptroz31 lgvxl42 April 24 2014 at 6:13 PM

It sounds like you are an expert in Latin American affairs and that you also were there when all these atrocities took place. The deaths of the great majority of the people killed were NOT as you put collateral deaths, these deaths were caused by the right wing militia hired by the Chiquita corporation. Now this company is trying to avoid reponsability for their actions. For your information the FARC is a group of leftists terrorists aided by the likes of Fidel Castro and the then leader of Venezuela Chavez.

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2 replies
Tom loptroz31 April 24 2014 at 6:23 PM

Were they hired, or were they paid off to leave the workers alone. If you are an American company doing business overseas then you have to walk that fine line between paying the price of doing business and extortion. Other countries tend to stay out of their companies way when it comes to overseas business deals.

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Connie loptroz31 April 24 2014 at 6:54 PM

You say hired. Why would they hire them? Some of what I read seems to indicate that the company was being blackmailed by the group in order to do business. There are places even in this country where you are forced to pay others if you want to establish and run a business. It's usually not out in the open because, of course, it's illegal. I well remember this going on in Louisiana in the seventies.

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engineherder April 24 2014 at 8:47 PM

Nowhere does it say that Chiquita paid for killings. It sounds like it was paying for protection. Perhaps more people would have been killed if not for the payments. This happens in most third world countries. If you don't pay, they don't allow you to do business and will kill many people.

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