Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Colombians Say Dole Funded Death Squads


LOS ANGELES (CN) - Dole Food Co. funded a right-wing death squad in Colombia that murdered peasants and union leaders and drove them off the land so that Dole could plant bananas, 73 Colombians claim in Superior Court. It is the latest in a series of legal claims in U.S. courts against the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) - United Self-Defense Forces of Columbia - who have been accused of killing thousands of poor Colombians in a fight to control the cocaine trade, and for millions in payoffs from international corporations that demand a docile workforce.

The 73 plaintiffs in this case say Dole made a deal with the AUC as long ago as 1997. The United States declared the AUC a terrorist organization in 2001.

The plaintiffs claim they found out about Dole's complicity in the death squads during Columbia's "Justice and Peace" campaign, in which the country offered former paramilitary members minimal jail time in exchange for full confessions. The public confession process revealed "long collaboration between major business interests and the [paramilitary] terrorists, now referred to as the 'para-business' scandal," according to the complaint.

In 2007, Chiquita Brands International pleaded guilty to federal charges of paying off the AUC and agreed to cut off all ties to the group and pay a $25 million fine.

In 2008, Salvatore Mancuso, then-leader of the AUC testified in Columbia, claiming that Dole and Del Monte also had bought the group's "security services." Several other group leaders made the same accusation.

Leaders of the AUC death squad, including its founder, Carlos Castano, operated openly for years, without interference or even much criticism from the United States, which regarded the right-wing group as an ally in the fight against Colombia's left-wing FARC guerrillas.

The plaintiffs want damages for pain and suffering. They are represented by David Grunwald with Conrad & Scherer.

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