Banana giant Chiquita has spent around $780,000 in the past year and a half to block a 9/11 victims’ bill in the US Congress. The legislation aims to aid victims and families in their claims against supporters or sponsors of terror attacks.
Chiquita, the world’s largest banana producer, has lobbied in opposition to the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), The Daily Beast reported. The bill would attempt to impose civil liabilities on those found to have aided and abetted US-designated terrorist groups overseas. Saudi financiers of the World Trade Center attacks are the main target of the bill, as families of victims of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks seek an avenue to hold terror funders accountable in American civil courts.
Though Chiquita is not associated with the 9/11 attacks, it pleaded guilty in 2007 to making over 100 payments beginning in 1997 to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a right-wing paramilitary group the United States considered a terror organization. Chiquita, which has operated in Colombia for over 100 years, handed AUC $1.7 million in cash and checks before ending the practice in February 2004.
Chiquita claims it was extortion, saying that the payments were in reaction to threats of violence against the company’s workers in Colombia, home of Chiquita’s most lucrative subsidiary.
The fruit company, represented by now-Attorney General Eric Holder, was fined $25 million in the deal struck with the US government.
The company, formerly known as the United Fruit Company, has a track record of poor labor practices and associating with questionable Latin American governments to further its profits and thwart collective worker action.
Chiquita, in acknowledging payments made to terrorists, fears JASTA would subject it to civil claims against the company.
“Chiquita supports the stated objectives of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act,” the company told The Daily Beast. “Chiquita’s sole interest is to ensure that the legislation does not inadvertently promote litigation against individuals and companies who, like Chiquita, were victims of extortion by terrorist groups.”
JASTA was conceived after a group of 9/11 victims’ families ran into roadblocks in their efforts to sue sponsors of terrorism, as various federal courts disagreed on whether those aiding or abetting terror groups could be found civilly liable. The group, known as the 9/11 Families United for Justice Against Terrorism, consists of about 6,500 family members of those killed or injured in the attacks.
“It would also make it clear that victims of terrorist attacks both outside and inside the US could seek damages against perpetrators,” said Matt House, a spokesman for Sen. Chuck Schumer, of New York, the top sponsor for the JASTA in the Senate.
The lead sponsor in the House is Rep. Peter King.
Chiquita targeted lawmakers with the company’s facilities in their districts, as well as those with influence over Rep. King.
The company found success in Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, where the legislation has hit a dead end.
The 9/11 victims’ families told The Daily Beast they separately approached Goodlatte and a senior aide about the bill, but to no avail. The group said they tracked down the congressman in his home district. They characterized him as impatient with the group, at one point remarking that one of the 9/11 widows was not even one of his constituents.
Last month, Goodlatte’s office quietly announced he would not support the advancement of JASTA.
“The Chairman and the lead staffer on this issue examined the legislation and received feedback from various companies and organizations about the effects of the legislation,” a House Judiciary aide told The Daily Beast. “Numerous high-level groups in the business community oppose the legislation because the breadth of the proposed changes risks exposing law-abiding U.S. companies to frivolous lawsuits and potentially massive civil liability.”
The congressman’s office said 20 groups opposed JASTA, but it would not name any of the organizations. Other lawmakers have refused to comment on the status of the bill.