Chiquita, the world's largest banana company, is locked in a legislative battle with 9/11 victims and families over a bill that could dredge up the fruit conglomerate's sordid past.
The company has spent nearly $800,000 lobbying Congress over the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, a bill created and supported by a group of 9/11 survivors and family members that would make financiers of terrorism more legally accountable, according to a Daily Beast scoop.
That bill may seem politically impossible to oppose, but Chiquita has its reasons — it has paid a Colombian terrorist group $1.7 million.
What? Chiquita paid off the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a right-wing paramilitary organization, after an AUC leader met with an executive with the company's Colombian subsidiary in 1997 and threatened the company's personnel and property, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Even though Chiquita senior executives became aware of the payments on or before September 2000, and even though the AUC was classified by the U.S. as a terrorist organization in 2001, the payments continued until 2004. They only ended after lawyers advised Chiquita that (surprise!) making secret payments to a terrorist group was a smidge illegal. The company came clean, and the U.S. hit it with a $25 million fine.
Chiquita is facing lawsuits brought by thousands of Colombians who lost relatives in a civil war. If the 9/11 victims' bill passes, it could mean a lot more liability in those lawsuits.
What would the bill do? The bill was born out of the efforts of 6,500 9/11 victims and family members to sue funders of terrorism after the 2001 attacks. After running into roadblocks when different federal circuit courts disagreed over whether terrorism supporters could be brought into civil court, the group pushed Congress to set a standard.
A spokesman for the bill's primary Senate sponsor, Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), told the Daily Beast the bill would "make it clear that victims of terrorist attacks both outside and inside the U.S. could seek damages against perpetrators." That's bad news for Chiquita, because the company's main argument in court so far has been that the lawsuits brought by Colombians don't belong in U.S. court.
Chiquita defended itself in a statement to the Daily Beast, saying the company "supports the stated objectives" of the bill but does not want to "inadvertently promote litigation against individuals and companies who, like Chiquita, were victims of extortion by terrorist groups."
See the full bill below: