Tag Archives: colombia

Claim against Chiquita for funding Colombian death squads to go to trial in U.S.

After almost a decade of litigation, victims of Colombian paramilitary death squads funded by Chiquita are moving forward in a U.S. lawsuit against the banana giant.

This week, federal judge Kenneth Marra rejected Chiquita’s argument that the case should be heard in Colombia rather than the United States. This ruling could clear the way for the historic case to advance toward trial.

In 2007, EarthRights International and other co-counsel, filed a class action suit against Chiquita Brands International on behalf of the families of thousands of villagers, labor leaders and community organizers murdered by the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, a paramilitary terrorist organization.

The suit alleges that Chiquita made illegal, concealed payments to the AUC for years, totaling at least $1.6 million.

The lawsuit also alleges that the AUC shipped arms and drugs through Chiquita’s ports and on Chiquita boats.

In March 2007, Chiquita pleaded guilty to the federal crime of funding a designated terrorist organization and paid a fine.

“Chiquita profited from its relationship with the AUC and paid the Department of Justice $25 million, but the victims of their conduct have received nothing — it is past time Chiquita compensates the families in Colombia,” said Marco Simons, ERI’s general counsel.

“We are pleased that the court agreed that ‘the United States has a strong interest in monitoring and deterring unethical and illegal conduct of American corporations in supporting foreign terrorist organizations.’ The plaintiffs sued Chiquita here in its home court where Chiquita will get a fair hearing on the merits, something the company seems to have been trying to delay for a decade,” said co-counsel Agnieszka Fryszman of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll.

Chiquita has pulled out of Colombia and now has no operations or assets there. Still, Chiquita argued that it was more “convenient” to litigate in Colombia than the United States.

The court rejected this claim, finding Colombia to be an inadequate forum in light of serious security risks for plaintiffs and their lawyers.

“Our clients chose to litigate in the United States because it is the only forum where they can litigate safely and where they can be sure that Chiquita will pay,” said Simons.

The plaintiffs also sued several former Chiquita executives who were allegedly responsible for making, approving and concealing the payments to the AUC.

On June 1, Marra ruled the claims against those executives, including claims for torture and extrajudicial killing under the Torture Victim Protection Act, could continue. That case now moves into the discovery phase.

In addition to ERI, the plaintiffs are represented by Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC and Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris & Hoffman LLP and attorneys Judith Brown Chomsky, Arturo Carrillo and John DeLeon.

The case, Doe v. Chiquita Brands International, No. 08-MD-80421, is joined with several lawsuits against Chiquita proceeding before Marra.­

Spanish police arrest woman smuggling cocaine in her breast implants

Spanish police say they have arrested a woman who landed at Madrid’s international airport with 1.7 kilos (3.7 pounds) of cocaine hidden in her breast implants.

Narcotics agents grew suspicious when the 43-year-old Venezuelan woman exhibited unspecified strange behavior during a routine screening of passengers who had just arrived from Bogota, Colombia.

A luggage search showed nothing unusual. But a frisk by female officers revealed irregularities and deformations in both of the suspect’s breasts.

The passenger then “became nervous and confessed to carrying cocaine implants,” a police statement said Friday.

The suspected drug smuggler was transferred to a hospital where she was detained for an alleged crime against public health, the statement says.

Spain employs a police unit to specifically check passenger arrivals from major drug-producing countries.

1st same-sex union legalized in Colombia

Colombia got its first legalized same-sex union on July 24 when a judge sanctioned the partnership of two men who have been a couple for two decades.

The newly legalized couple cheered the ceremony as a marriage, although experts cautioned that a high court ruling that deemed the union legal did not make it the equivalent of marriage.

“We are civilly married,” Gonzalo Ruiz, 44, told The Associated Press just after ceremony with his partner, Carlos Hernando Rivera, 57.

The ceremony follows Congress’ failure in April to pass a law setting up a legal framework for civil unions. A 2011 order from the Constitutional Court had ordered legislators to pass a law granting marriage equality to gay couples by June 20, 2013, or else such couple would be allowed to join in civil unions before judges.

A previous ruling by the high court had allowed same-sex couples in Colombia to enjoy since 2007 many of the benefits of marriage, including inheritance, pensions and health and death benefits.

“They entered as bachelors and exited married,” Marcela Sanchez, director of Colombia Diversa, an LGBT-rights group, said after about 100 guests celebrated the union by throwing rice at the couple.

However, former Constitutional Court president, Carlos Gaviria, said that while the contract that Judge Carmen Lucia Rodriguez sanctioned between Rivera and Ruiz is a kind of civil matrimony, it cannot legally be called marriage.

“It is an unnamed contract that is not matrimony,” he said.

Sanchez and other activists want same-sex marriage to be enshrined in Colombian law so gay couples can, for one, legally adopt.

The Roman Catholic Church and the office of the Public Attorney, which nominally represents civil society, are among institutions that oppose it.

Evan Wolfson of the U.S.-based group Freedom To Marry, said that while the ceremony is a step forward, civil unions are not enough.

“Legal protections, whether through civil union or partnership, are better than no legal protections – but fall far short of the full measure of security, clarity, and dignity, the tangible and intangible meanings, that come with marriage itself,” he said in an email.

In Latin America, gay marriage is legal only in the countries of Argentina and Uruguay and in Mexico City.