Osen LLC (together with a team of law firms across the country) represents the families of five missionaries kidnapped and murdered by the Colombian terrorist organization Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC). In March 2008, the Firm filed a federal lawsuit in the Southern District of Florida against Chiquita Brands International, Inc., the worldwide banana and produce distributor headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio. The suit alleges that Chiquita knowingly provided weapons, ammunition and funding to FARC before and during the time the missionaries were brutally abducted, held hostage and ultimately murdered. The Plaintiffs’ suit is brought under the civil provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act, which permit American citizens or their heirs and estates to recover damages for injuries that they suffered by reason of acts of international terrorism.
On February 4, 2010, in largely denying Chiquita’s attempt to dismiss the Complaint, United States District Judge Kenneth A. Marra held:
Plaintiffs adequately allege that Chiquita, knowing that FARC was a terrorist organization, intentionally agreed to provide money, weapons, and services to it as part of a common scheme to subvert local trade unions, protect Chiquita’s farms and shipments, harm Chiquita’s competitors, strengthen FARC’s military capabilities, and that Plaintiffs were injured by overt acts done in furtherance of the common scheme.
Background of the Families’ Ordeal
According to the Complaint, in two separate incidents, FARC terrorists attacked and then kidnapped missionaries of the New Tribes Mission. The first three missionaries – Mark Rich, Dave Mankins and Rick Tenenoff – were abducted on January 31, 1993 from the village of Pucuro, on the Panamanian-Colombian border. FARC struck again on January 16, 1994, when it raided a New Tribes Mission school near Villavicencio, Colombia, abducting Steve Welsh and Timothy Van Dyke, who were bound in front of their families and taken off into the jungle. All five men were later determined to have been murdered by FARC.
Chiquita’s Material Support of FARC
The Complaint alleges that from 1989 through at least 1997, Chiquita (through its controlled agent, Banadex) made numerous and substantial secret payments to FARC and provided it with weapons, ammunition and other supplies through Chiquita’s transportation contractors, knowing that FARC was a violent terrorist organization. According to the lawsuit, Chiquita made monthly cash payments to FARC ranging from $20,000 to $100,000. Some of the payments were allegedly delivered furtively by Chiquita to members of FARC’s 5th Frente (front) by a Chiquita employee known in the region as “Kaiser,” who traveled to the Uraba region with his bodyguard to deliver the cash to FARC.
Chiquita Acknowledges Making Payments to Terrorists
In March 2007, Chiquita pled guilty to violating U.S. anti-terrorism laws by funding another Colombian terrorist organization, Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (United Self-Defense of Colombia, or the AUC). (Both FARC and the AUC have been officially designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) by the U.S. State Department.) In the U.S. Justice Department’s Factual Proffer to the Court in conjunction with Chiquita’s plea agreement, the Justice Department stated that it could prove that Chiquita made similar payments to FARC from 1989 through 1997. Chiquita ultimately agreed to pay a $25 million fine to the U.S. government as part of its guilty plea.
Chiquita internal documents that have been publicly disclosed suggest that guerrillas actually provided security at some of Chiquita’s plantations. In a 1994 internal memorandum, the general manager of Chiquita operations in Turbo told company attorneys that guerrillas were “used to supply security personnel at the various farms.” Documents further suggest that Chiquita actively worked to conceal its payments to Colombian guerillas.