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Via America’s Lawyer: Mike Papantonio and Mollye Barrows discuss a ground-breaking settlement between Chiquita International and the families who wanted the company held responsible for the deaths of their relatives in Colombia. Chiquita previously pleaded guilty to giving money to Colombian terrorist groups.
Mike Papantonio: Hi, I’m Mike Papantonio, and this is America’s Lawyer. A settlement was reached between Chiquita Brands International and the families of six Americans who were killed in Colombia by the FARC terrorist group. Chiquita reportedly paid the FARC group $200,000 over the course of a decade, and it’s for that reason that the families demand that Chiquita should be punished, and everybody looking at this story certainly will conclude that same thing.
Joining me now to talk about this is Mollye Barrows, legal journalist for The Trial Lawyer Magazine. Mollye, as I look at the story, what’s the story about the victims being involved in this lawsuit? What actually happened?
Mollye Barrows: Well, there are a number of victims, and the more you dig into this story, this is really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to large corporations, and basically, how they’re undermining the global war on terror. In this particular instance, you’ve got six Americans, five that were missionaries and one that was a geologist. They were kidnapped and held for ransom by FARC, which is the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia group, very active during that time.
In fact, peace was only reached in their civil war in 2016. So, in the mid-’90s, at the height of all this violence, FARC and another very right-wing group were actively fighting. There were thousands, tens of thousands of casualties. Chiquita was right in the middle of it. When these Americans were killed and later … or were kidnapped and later killed, essentially, the families didn’t even realize that Chiquita was paying money to FARC until an entirely different Federal investigation revealed that Chiquita had paid $1.7 million to the right-wing paramilitary group that was also actively working in that region against FARC.
So when the Federal government was pursuing that case against Chiquita, and Chiquita did admit to criminal charges, in that case, and they were forced to pay a fine, I think it was to the tune of about $25 million or $15 million. At any rate, the families of the six Americans that were killed realized that Chiquita had also made payments during that time to FARC, and that’s when they realized that they could sue Chiquita through the Anti-Terrorism Act, and that’s exactly what they did.
Right before the trial was supposed to start, Chiquita and the attorneys representing those families did reach a settlement. Now, the terms of that settlement are … We don’t know what they are. It was basically under lock and key. So, they’re not talking about it, but there have been similar settlements in other cases, where Americans have sued under the Anti-Terrorism Act and received extremely large settlements, multi-million dollar settlements-
Mike Papantonio: Mollye-
Mollye Barrows: … in other countries, but it’s such an interesting story, just the sweeping opportunities for these countries to get involved in these civil wars and basically cause mass murder.
Mike Papantonio: Yeah, yeah. Well, that’s really the bottom line here, isn’t it? I mean, there’s no way to dress this up.
Mollye Barrows: Yes, it’s human rights.
Mike Papantonio: Okay, here you have an international company that knows that they are paying thugs, murderers. I mean, they know they’re paying for murder of people who are objecting to the way that Chiquita does business. We’ve seen this with other international companies as well. This is a story … and I can take you back in time on this story. This is a story that, when it first came out, that Chiquita was paying these psychopath murderers to go and kill people and cause disruption to anybody who objected to the way they were doing business.
Chiquita was saying, “Oh, no, no, no, no. That is crazy talk. It’s conspiracy talk. There’s no truth to it at all,” and now, we find out that the feds did an investigation, the same story. You know, Chiquita pays a fine, $25 million and nobody goes to prison for committing murder. You see, in the United States, they have something called felony murder, and what that means is any conduct that you’re involved with, if you perpetuate conduct by giving somebody money, even if you don’t touch it, or, you know, you’re not involved directly at all, the fact that somebody’s murdered in that chain, in that conduct that you’ve had with that individual, you can be charged with felony murder.
But in this situation, you’re telling there were only fines after Chiquita for years denied that it ever happened, called the people that were talking about it, conspirators, the conspiracy nuts, that they were just making this up, the same thing we’ve seen with so many corporations internationally that create the same type of pandemonium where they do business. Do you know why Chiquita chose to settle this case rather than face trial?
Mollye Barrows: Well, it’s interesting. They didn’t comment on it directly. So I can only surmise based on some of the evidence that has been revealed in some of these documents, but it’s just as you said. I mean, in essence, they were funding both sides of a civil war, which was creating more bloodshed. They’re directly tied to a faction that broke off from those two groups that was being funded by local leaders and a number of military folks, and this particular subgroup was bringing in a number of automatic weapons, which was leading of course to more mass murder and more bloodshed.
So I think that, apparently, also, the correspondence in these court documents revealed that Chiquita did know at the very least that they were breaking the law by making these payments and sliding them under the table, so I don’t think they wanted any more of this information to get out. They continue to be one of the largest produce companies in the world. They’re doing business in 70 different countries.
If this is the way that they do business internationally when they think no one’s seeing, heaven only knows what they would do right here in the United States, if they could get by with it without any oversight, or what may be going on in some of those other countries. So, my guess is, they wanted to settle to make it go away as quickly as they could.
Mike Papantonio: Tell me, I mean, there’s very little guesswork here. They settled because they were caught. They had to make this case-
Mollye Barrows: Red-handed.
Mike Papantonio: They had to make this story go away, and then I want you to … I want somebody to please do some research. If you’re watching this program, go online. Find out how much corporate media actually covered this story. I can tell you it started out being covered by corporate media, and corporate media attacked the people who were making these charges. Chiquita made it sound like they were conspiracy nuts that there was no truth to it.
But the interesting thing about this story, to me, and I want your take on it, Mollye, is it’s not as if they give $200,000 or $1.7 million to the other side all on one day, and this happens the next day. You see, there’s nothing sudden about it. It took place over years. In other words, they give money on day one. On day two, they see 10 people are murdered or whatever ugly thing happens. Day three, they give more money, and they see more murder takes place or more victimization takes place.
Mollye Barrows: That’s right.
Mike Papantonio: Now, so, it’s not as if there’s any guesswork. The same people who are paying the money live in these places. They follow the news. They see the stories. It’s no question that they understood what FARC, this organization, was doing with this money. It was being used to buy guns, and it was used to victimize people who objected to the way that Chiquita was victimizing the people there, in the neighborhood, so to speak. What is your take on it? In other words, there’s nothing sudden about this.
There was nothing day one, “Gee, we gave the money. We didn’t know what was going to happen.” They clearly saw what was happening, didn’t they?
Mollye Barrows: They absolutely did. FARC was paid over a period of two decades $220,000. The other group that was opposed to FARC, the right-wing group that Chiquita was also funding, that was $1.7 million. Of course, that money is being used to buy weapons, and Chiquita would claim in these court documents, when they were faced with these lawsuits, that, “Hey, we had to. We were being extorted by these groups. It was the only way we could do business.” And in fact, some of the correspondent said, “This is the cost of doing business. We have to work with these people. Even though they’re terrorists, we have to give them money if we want to continue to be able to do business.”
So they’re holding their hands up like, “Well we were victims too. We did it to protect our workers. They were claiming they were going to kill our workers, if we didn’t pay both sides of this war in order to protect them.” But the funny thing about that is that Human Rights Watch groups basically said, “Well if you were so concerned about the safety of your workers that you were willing to fund these terrorist groups, then why didn’t you take a look at their working conditions and do things like give them pay raises or have a pesticide-free working environment?”
So it doesn’t really hold up. Essentially, the cost of doing business for Chiquita was essentially how many payments you can make under the table, in order to keep running an operation exactly like you wanted, so that you’re untouched, you get your way when it comes to making millions off of a country and off the people that live there and off the land. But in the midst of the civil war, instead of doing what you can to alleviate the situation, they only made it worse. Their money just got in there and made it possible for these people to buy more weapons and to kill more people and to fuel this rage that just continued on for decades.
Mike Papantonio: Mollye, I saw a case that came out of the Seventh … I mean, the Eleventh Circuit … excuse me … where you had foreign citizens that were affected by this company. Chiquita obviously does business in America. They’re in America. You know, there’s no question. The contacts in America are overwhelming. So you had foreign nationals bring the case in the United States, which they should have had the right to do. They said, “You got an American company. Your company is killing people in our country. In fact, they killed my daughter; they killed my wife. Now, we should have the right to proceed with court, with court hearings in the United States.” How did that turn out?
Mollye Barrows: Not very well, and that was another case that got the attention of human rights groups. This was in 2014. A number of families from Colombia also went after Chiquita, basically saying, “Hey, you funded that other alt-right group, basically, to the tune of 1.7 million, and as a result, my family was wiped out; my friends’ families were wiped out; my neighbors’ families were affected, and they were claiming potentially billions of dollars in damages. They also wanted to move forward against this company.
But basically, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals said, “No, I’m sorry. You’re not an American. You don’t have standing to bring the suit against Chiquita.” So, in here, Chiquita is facing criminal charges. They’d already admitted to it. They’d already had a settlement with the federal government, which by the way was millions under the money that they made off of already doing business in Colombia. So, unless you’re an American who can fall under the Anti-Terrorism Act, all these other families that have been impacted even more directly in Colombia and other countries, they don’t have any rights.
So, Chiquita, I’m sure, knows that. These corporations know that. They can go in there, and essentially, they’re undermining the global war on terror, and the only people that can hold them accountable are rich countries like the United States it would seem.
Mike Papantonio: Yeah. Mollye, the public policy of course for allowing a foreign national to come into the United States and sue a company like Chiquita, who’s doing business all over the country, has its roots here in the United States. The public policy is that it discourages corporations from going into countries like Colombia and doing what occurred here, as we see in Nicaragua; we see in Colombia; we see in Peru; we see in Asia. This is a story that repeats itself again and again.
The logic of letting a foreign national come into the United States when a company is part, is doing business in the United States, and is a US company, the logic of doing that is, if they can come here ensue, and they can hit these companies for punitive damages for the horrible things that they’ve done in Colombia or Nicaragua or wherever it may be on that day, then it discourages the next company from going and saying, “Well I’m going to go try to do business the same way I’m going to hire for … I’m going to pay out murder money if I have to. I’m going to stop any objection to the way people think we’re doing business here. I’m going to keep them under my thumb.”
Mollye, this is a story I’d like-
Mollye Barrows: Yes.
Mike Papantonio: … to follow up a little bit more to see where this goes in coming weeks, because I think one thing we’re going to see, is we’re going to get very little coverage out of corporate media on this case, because Chiquita and its subsidiaries do so much advertising on corporate media.