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Chiquita’s Terrorist Problem

On Tuesday, The Daily Beast broke an unlikely story that involves the world’s largest banana producer, a bill in Congress and the families of 9/11 victims.

Now, if there’s one thing most of us can agree upon, it’s that 9/11 was an unforgivable tragedy, and the families of the victims have suffered unimaginably. In fact, I’m sure that any of us would stand behind a measure aimed at aiding those families.

Except, it seems, for Chiquita Brands International (CQB).

You see, Chiquita – purveyor of one of America’s most popular fruits – has a problem with a 9/11 victims bill that’s currently in Congress, and it stems from the company’s rather dubious relationship with groups that the U.S. government has labeled terrorists.

Two Sides to the Story

Does this mean that Chiquita actually supports terrorists? Well, the answer is “Yes” and “No.” Like so many Facebook relationship statuses, it’s complicated.

“For years,” The Daily Beast writes, “the conglomerate paid off Colombian militias.”

This much is true… Records show that Chiquita started regularly paying the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) in 1997. Then, a decade later, the company pled guilty to making more than 100 payments totaling $1.7 million. As punishment, the company was forced to pay the U.S. government a $25-million fine.

To this day, Chiquita maintains that the payments were “extortion,” as the AUC allegedly threatened the safety of the company’s workers in Colombia. Given the no-holds-barred climate between Colombia’s various paramilitary organizations, this wouldn’t be all too surprising.

And yet, Chiquita’s recent attempts to stymie the 9/11 victims bill cast serious doubt on the banana clan’s side of the story.

Over the last 18 months, the company has spent close to $800,000 lobbying against the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA). The bill, which would help 9/11 victims and their families sue anyone who supports terrorist groups or acts of terrorism, is now completely stalled.

Had the law passed, it could’ve been extremely damaging for Chiquita, which has already admitted to paying off a terrorist organization for nearly a decade. That means the company could become free game for victims looking to file a lawsuit.

“Does [AUC] financing make Chiquita liable for the acts of terrorism and murder committed by those terrorists? That’s the question,” said Terry Collingsworth, a lawyer involved in a lawsuit against Chiquita. “To the extent that JASTA changes that or clarifies that standard, it would present a threat to Chiquita.”

Not surprisingly, 9/11 victims aren’t too pleased with Chiquita’s meddling.

Terry Strada, who lost her husband in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, told The Daily Beast, “The path to justice for me and the other 9/11 family members and survivors is being blocked by a banana company. I think Chiquita should mind their own bananas and let justice be served.”

Indeed. If Chiquita was truly extorted by the AUC, then it may have nothing to fear from the JASTA bill. On the other hand, if Chiquita’s relationship with the AUC was slightly cozier, blocking a bill that aims to help the most sympathetic of victims isn’t exactly righting a wrong.

It’ll be interesting to see how Chiquita responds now that the standoff between the banana company and 9/11 victims is in the spotlight. At some point, facing litigation and even making payments to victims will likely be less damaging than being seen as the company that tried to prevent 9/11 victims from seeking justice.

In Pursuit of the Truth,

Christopher Eutaw

Christopher Eutaw

, Staff Writer, Politics

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