Miami (AFP) - A US appeals court on Thursday threw out a civil lawsuit by thousands of Colombians against Chiquita Brands International, whose funding of paramilitary groups allegedly cost the lives of their loved ones.
Ruling that the matter falls outside the jurisdiction of US courts, a panel of the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals, by two votes to one, declined to hear the case.
Some 4,000 Colombians were seeking legal redress in the class action suit, saying the banana company shared the blame after their relatives were killed by the United Self-Defense Committees of Colombia, known by its acronym AUC.
Ed Lloyd, a spokesman for Chiquita Brands International spokesman, praised the court decision.
"Chiquita has long maintained that these cases do not belong in US courts and that the claims should be dismissed. We are gratified that the US Court of Appeals has now agreed with us," he said.
"Chiquita has great sympathy for the Colombians who suffered at the hands of these Colombian armed groups, but the responsibility for the violent crimes committed in that country belongs to the perpetrators, not to the innocent people and companies they extorted," Lloyd said.
Chiquita has admitted that between 1997 and 2004 it paid $1.7 million to the AUC, one of Colombia's most notorious paramilitary groups, and was compelled several years ago to pay a $25 million fine for having done so.
The company has said that it was a victim of extortion when it paid the monies to the group.
But the plaintiffs claim that Chiquita Brands funded and armed the paramilitaries in a bid to maintain control of Colombia's banana growing regions.
Disagreeing with her colleagues on the court was Judge Beverly Martin.
"I fear we disarm innocents against American corporations that engage in human rights violations abroad," she wrote in her dissent.