FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida. – The families of six Americans kidnapped and murdered in Colombia in the 1990s by the FARC a terrorist organization, reached a settlement with banana giant Chiquita Brands International on Monday, the morning trial was to begin, according to the court documents.
A notice of settlement is filed, just as jury selection was to begin in West Palm Beach federal court. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.
The lawsuits accused Chiquita of violating the Anti-Terrorism Act by the pay of FARC — the Spanish acronym for the Revolutionary armed Forces of Colombia), about $ 220,000 over nearly a decade. These payments, the families claimed, made the company an indemnity for the Americans’ deaths because of its financial support to a terrorist group.
“It is a very long journey for the families of the victims, and we hope that this agreement can bring them some closure,” said family attorney Ramon Rasco in an e-mail statement.
Chiquita, whose parent company is based in Switzerland, is one of the world’s largest fresh produce companies and employs approximately 20,000 people in 70 countries. Executives will not respond to an e-mail seeking comment on the settlement Monday.
Chiquita said earlier that the paid FARC only to protect its banana operation of employees and the interests in the Uraba region of Colombia of violence. At the time, court records show Chiquita owned 35 companies in the region employed approximately 3,000 people.
Although the amount of the Chiquita settlement has not been revealed, other cases brought under the Anti-Terrorism Act have resulted in large judgments. A federal appeals court upheld a $156 million judgment against an entity named the Holy Land Foundation, about the killing of a 17-year-old American in Israel by the Hamas group — for the Holy Land, had collected money.
FARC and other paramilitary groups were engaged in a decades long civil war in Colombia, that cost thousands of lives. The bloodshed finally ended in 2016, when a peace accord was signed. Chiquita also admitted paying $ 1.7 million to a right-wing group opposed to the FARC, eventually plead guilty in 2007 to a U.S. crime and pay a $25 million fine.
It was only after that case became public that the relatives of six Americans killed by FARC learned that Chiquita had also paid FARC, which leads to the lawsuits.
Five Americans killed by the FARC were members of a group of missionaries located in Sanford, Florida, called New Tribes Mission: David Mankins, Rich Tenenoff, Mark Rich, Stephen Welsh and Timothy Van Dyke. The sixth, Frank Pescatore, Jr. was a geologist for an Alabama company is working on a project in Colombia. He was shot trying to escape from his kidnappers.
FARC, the first payment of the demand of Chiquita came in 1989, when the group sought $10,000. Court papers show Chiquita executives decided to make the payment, the first of 57 it would give to the FARC over the next ten years.
A consulting company called Control Risks who worked with Chiquita outlined the urgent nature of the problem in a memo to the time, court documents show:
“You have to pay. These people are serious. The army is not able to control them,” the memo said. “You can’t just take them, give their names to someone. Because they take retribution for that, and you can expect violence.”
That first payment was delivered to the FARC’s hidden in the wheel well of a Jeep, court documents show.
“Unfortunately, not a trial, regardless of the outcome, can meaningfully address the tragedy of these families to suffer,” said Gary Osen, another lawyer for the family, “but we hope this helps to some comfort to them.”
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