Washington makes for strange alliances—and even stranger enemies. But this could wind up being the oddest confrontation of all. Chiquita, the world’s largest banana producer, is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to block a 9/11 victims’ bill, The Daily Beast has learned. And outraged supporters of the legislation accuse a senior lawmaker, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, of working with the fruit kings to stand in their way.
According to Congressional lobbying disclosures, Chiquita has spent some $780,000 over the past year and a half lobbying against the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), a bill conceived of and supported by a group of 9/11 victims and families to aid their claims against actors who supported the terrorist attacks.
The result is a stalled piece of terrorism legislation that shows the dizzying influence of a deeply pocketed corporation, and how its tremendous power is prevailing over the interests of the most sympathetic of little guys: 9/11 victims. And it illustrates how the influence of major fruit companies—such a core component of 20th-century American policy that they gave rise to the phrase “Banana Republics”—endures today.
“The path to justice for me and the other 9/11 family members and survivors is being blocked by a banana company. I think Chiquita should mind their own bananas and let justice be served,” said Terry Strada, whose husband was killed in the terrorist attacks.
The major fruit supplier is not in any way connected with 9/11, but in 2007 it pleaded guilty to making over 100 payments to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a right-wing paramilitary group designated by the United States as a terrorist organization.
Chiquita, which had operated in Colombia for over 100 years, began making payments to the terrorist organization after a 1997 meeting between an AUC leader and a senior executive of its Colombian subsidiary. Nearly every month,additional payments followed. The fruit company has maintained that it only made payments due to extortionary threats of violence, and reacted to protect the lives of its workers.
Through a deal in which Chiquita was represented by now-Attorney General Eric Holder, the fruit company agreed to pay a $25 million fine. Chiquita acknowledged that between 1997 and 2004, it made over $1.7 million in payments in cash and checks to the terrorist group.
“Does [AUC] financing make Chiquita liable for the acts of terrorism and murder committed by those terrorists? That’s the question,” said Terry Collingsworth, a lawyer involved in a lawsuit against Chiquita. “To the extent that JASTA changes that or clarifies that standard, it would present a threat to Chiquita.”
By 2003, Chiquita’s most profitable operation was its Colombian subsidiary. That same year, Chiquita officials consulted the opinion of outside lawyers in Washington, D.C., who pointedly advised that the payments were illegal and needed to be halted. They did not stop until Feb. 4, 2004. The subsidiary was sold off later that year.
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