CINCINNATI -- A man who says a Colombian terrorist group kidnapped him is suing Chiquita Brands International and several former company executives, accusing them of giving financial support to the terrorists.
Jorge Porter, a U.S. citizen, was held hostage and tortured by the United Self-Defense Groups of Columbia (AUC) for several days in 1999, according to a lawsuit filed in U.S. district court in Cincinnati last month.
The U.S. government designated the AUC as a foreign terrorist organization in 2001. The AUC paramilitary groups fought leftist guerillas in Colombia's lengthy civil war, but also brutally attacked civilians suspected of sympathizing with the guerillas and any others they considered "socially undesirable."
The group tortured and kidnapped Porter's brother, U.S. veteran Juan Carlos Puerta, according to the lawsuit. The AUC also killed Puerta after two years.
Chiquita made more than 100 payments to the AUC, totaling more than $1.7 million, hoping to protect its profitable banana-producing operations in Colombia's Santa Marta and Urbaba regions, according to the lawsuit. The company continued making payments to the group for about 18 months after U.S. officials designated it a terrorist group.
"These payments made it possible for the AUC to finance a widespread and systematic campaign of massacres, extrajudicial killings, murders, torture, kidnappings, forced disappearances, forced displacements and other violent acts against civilians," the lawsuit states.
Chiquita sold off its Colombian banana operations in 2004 after learning about the AUC's terrorist designation.
The company pleaded guilty in 2007 to a charge of engaging in transactions with a specially-designated global terrorist. They were fined $25 million.
Michael Cioffi of the law firm Blank Rome, who is defending Chiquita the employees, said the payments "were made under duress and were necessary to protect the lives of its employees."
He said Chiquita was confident it and its officers and directors will be "fully vindicated" once the evidence is considered in court.
"Chiquita offers its condolences to all Colombians who suffered during this regrettable period in the country’s history," Cioffi said. "But we have been clear that, at all times, the company prioritized the safety of its employees and their families, and acted accordingly."
Porter and two of Puerta's other family members are seeking $250 million in the lawsuit.