Chiquita’s former Colombia Ops Chief: “People’s lives were at stake”

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Chiquita’s former Colombia Ops Chief: “People’s lives were at stake”

Former Head of Chiquita Colombia Operations Charles Keiser testified on Thursday before the West Palm Beach Federal court in the ongoing civil trial against the company, Law360 reported. 

The firm is accused of funding the right-wing Colombian paramilitary group United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC).  AUC is linked to the deaths of 10 men during the Colombian civil war, which took place in the late 90s and early 2000s.

The case against Chiquita has been pending since 2008, when families of the allegedly killed men, along with other civilians, filed a lawsuit against the banana giant.

Family members of trade unionists, banana workers, and social activists targeted by AUC are currently being represented by EarthRights International.

In his statement, Keiser said the payments resulted from extortion and that the company had no other choice in the matter.

"Illegal or not, when you're being extorted, you're going to pay. People's lives were at stake," said Keiser during examination.

Related articles: Chiquita hit with witness issues in ongoing paramilitary financing case

Additionally, the ex-op chief stated Chiquita made payments to left-wing groups that had also threatened employees. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were among said groups.

However, attorneys representing the affected Colombian families argue that Chiquita took advantage of the war situation to purchase cheaper farmland.

The company began buying land in the late 80s to grow its fruit instead of buying it from local providers.

Chiquita went on to buy 35 farms and more than 10,000 acres of land in Santa Marta and Urabá, northern Colombia. The farms were consolidated under its subsidiary Banadex, through which Chiquita was accused of making the payments.

Another bellwether trial is set for mid-July.

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