July 18, 2024

Chiquita Brands was ordered Monday, June 10, by a Florida jury to pay $38.3 million to the families of eight people killed by a paramilitary group in Colombia, which the banana grower had funded for years during that country’s violent civil war. Chiquita representatives continue to try to fight the claims.

Chiquita had previously acknowledged funding the paramilitary group, pleading guilty in 2007 after the U.S. Department of Justice charged the company with providing payments to the group known as the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, or AUC. They received payments from Chiquita from about 1997 through 2004, which the company had described as “security payments” during the country’s internal conflict.

According to EarthRights International, a human rights firm representing one family in the case, the decision marks the first time a jury has held a monopoly liable for a human rights violation in another country. Chiquita still faces thousands of other claims from victims of the AUC, and Monday’s decision could pave the way for more cases to come to trial or for a “global settlement,” said Marco Simons, EarthRights general counsel, in a press conference to discuss the jury’s decision.

This case demonstrates the use of paramilitarism by the monopolies to maintain their power and protect their investments. By paramilitarism, we mean all those organizations or armed groups structured similarly to an army but aren’t officially part of the State. The paramilitary groups consist of police, soldiers, and mercenaries who make up commands and squads, mostly irregular troops that are not governed by any law or convention of bourgeois democracy or war, allowing them to use extreme violence to achieve their goals. Some of the best-known and documented methods, such as kidnappings, torture, rape, extrajudicial murders, and forced disappearances, are considered crimes against humanity. The AUC specifically is a state-sanctioned paramilitary formed between 1996 and 1997 out of the military, the right-wing forces, and drug traffickers to combat the Colombian insurgency.

The bourgeois State, its political, legal, and social institutions, deny the existence of paramilitarism and its relationship as another armed wing of the bourgeoisie, as well as its connection to drug trafficking. While serving to protect the pockets of the monopolies, another primary aim of paramilitaries is their political objectives. They target all manifestations of popular discontent, whether the communists, unions, students, or mobilizations for social and economic demands. This way, they can stop the revolutionary forces from politically influencing the working, peasant, and popular masses. The bourgeoisie, as the ruling class, has to create private military bodies for its security and to maintain its social order, regardless of legality. In the case of Chiquita, the murder of union leaders and workers is the price of maintaining an order favorable to its profits – the “cost of doing business.”