Banana giant Chiquita is aggressively lobbying against a 9/11 victims bill that would make it easier to sue financial backers of terrorist groups.
Its concern? This legislation could force the Cincinnati-based multinational fruit corporation to pay up for its financial backing of a right-wing paramilitary organization in Colombia that is widely recognized as a "terrorist" organization, including by the United States government, for massacring civilians, committing torture and other atrocities.
Journalist Tim Mak revealed Tuesday in the Daily Beast that Chiquita has spent over $780,000 in the past year and a half to oppose the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, which is sponsored by families of 9/11 victims and aimed at expanding the legal liability of financial backers for terrorist acts.
The legislation, which is currently stalled, would have implications beyond the 9/11 attacks if passed.
Chiquita in 2007 pleaded guilty to paying at least $1.7 million dollars to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia between 1997 and 2004. The company reached a plea deal with the U.S. Department of Justice, claiming that the payments had been extorted. It was forced pay $25 million dollars to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Meanwhile, victims of the terrorism Chiquita funded have not seen a penny from the corporation.
In a statement sent to the Daily Beast, the company said its "sole interest" in lobbying against the 9/11 victims bill "is to ensure that the legislation does not inadvertently promote litigation against individuals and companies who, like Chiquita, were victims of extortion by terrorist groups.”
However, internal documents later released strongly indicate that Chiquita's claims of extortion are false and that the company hired paramilitaries.
"The evidence doesn't bear out claims of extortion," Charity Ryerson of School of the Americas Watch told Common Dreams. "Imagine there was extortion. Chiquita could have simply left the country rather than fund paramilitaries it knew were killing thousands of people in Colombia. But the absurdity of their claims of extortion is most apparent in the Colombian countryside. The family members of the victims of the Chiquita-funded block of the AUC say that Chiquita's extortion claims are outrageous in light of Chiquita's open collaboration with paramilitaries at the time."
Thousands of victims of Chiquita are currently suing the company for its role in backing paramilitaries.
Critics charge that culpability in acts of terror extends beyond Chiquita to include Colombia's police, military, and government, given their histories of collusion with terrorist paramilitary organizations to massacre, torture and disappearance of civilians.
The U.S. also has a hand in these atrocities, as a major financial backer and trainer of the Colombian military throughout these atrocities. "The U.S. government over the years has done much to protect its own corporate interests, including training Colombian military leaders who worked with paramilitaries," said Ryerson, saying that Chiquita is a "poster child for impunity."
She added, "The fact that Chiquita has now aligned itself so brazenly with terrorists is a wake-up call."