California judge dismisses lawsuit that accused Dole Food of bankrolling Colombia death squads

Friday, September 17, 2010

Suit linking Dole to Colombia militias dismissed

LOS ANGELES — A judge on Friday dismissed a lawsuit that accused Dole Food Co. of making payments to illegal far-right Colombian militias that killed thousands of people in banana-growing regions, the company said.

The lawsuit claimed Dole paid some $10 million to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, with the intention of “keeping unions out of Dole’s banana plantations by murdering effective union leaders and using terror tactics to discourage workers from joining the unions.”

It was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court in April 2009 on behalf of 185 Colombians who are relatives of 51 men allegedly killed by an AUC militia.

A key witness for the plaintiffs was the jailed AUC commander named Jose Gregorio Mangones who demobilized as part of a peace deal with Colombia’s government and who has acknowledged responsibility for more than half the killings cited in the lawsuit, said plaintiffs’ attorney Terry Collingsworth.

Dole had denied the allegations from the outset, calling them “blatantly false.”

“It was based on the self-motivated declaration of a convicted Colombian terrorist in the custody of the Colombian government,” C. Michael Carter, Dole’s executive vice president and general counsel, said in a written statement Friday.

Collingsworth said he plans to file the case again in federal court.

His lawsuit accused the Westlake Village-based Dole of making payments from 1997 to 2007 to local AUC commanders and previously paying smaller far-right militias.

At least three other former senior AUC commanders also have said that foreign banana companies that operated in Colombia, including Dole and Chiquita, made regular payments to their militias, and they confessed to ordering several thousand murders and specifically targeting labor organizers.

Chiquita was ordered to pay a $25 million fine by the U.S. Justice Department after acknowledging it made regular payments to the AUC, which the State Department designated a foreign terrorist organization in September 2001.

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