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Bruising Chiquita

The cast of villains in Latin American politics always seems to feature the same players: left-wing guerrillas, right-wing death squads and Chiquita Brands International. The leftist rebels want to take from the rich and give to the poor, the right-wing death squads want a political system that favors a wealthy elite, and Chiquita wants bananas. And in pursuit of an endless supply of tropical gold, it is even willing to placate Colombian terrorists.

Although the U.S. State Department placed the left-wing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC, on the list of terrorist organizations in 1997, and added the right-wing United Self Defense Forces in 2001, Chiquita did business with both, making “protection payments” it said were necessary to safeguard the lives of its employees. U.S. law prohibits such deals with terrorists, but when the government caught Chiquita in violation, it graciously agreed to fine the company $25 million -- the precise amount the company had suggested. None of that money, however, will reach the victims of the terrorists that Chiquita’s money helped arm.

That’s why a lawsuit filed this month by the widows of five men killed by the FARC gives such grim satisfaction. It joins several others, also in federal district court in Miami, accusing Chiquita of complicity in the deaths of Colombians killed by the two paramilitary groups. This most recent suit seeks unspecified damages, but we can only hope the company is punished severely for a business strategy that enabled terrorists in order to protect Chiquita’s people and profits.

While the FARC was dragging three American military contractors off to the jungle -- where, five years later, they are still being held, along with hundreds of other hostages -- Chiquita was doing business with their captors. And while American taxpayers were sending Colombia billions of dollars in military aid to fight drug trafficking -- the primary source of funding for the terrorists -- Chiquita was countering that effort by providing revenue to the thugs.

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Maybe it’s true that Chiquita couldn’t have done business in rebel territory without negotiating with the rebels, but that was its choice. And if dealing with terrorists is a legitimate business expense, then so is compensation for terrorists’ victims. Having made a deal with the devil, it’s time for Faust to pay up.


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