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Witness: Banana tax financed death squads

March 22, 2009 at 2:39 PM

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla., March 22 (UPI) -- A former Colombian paramilitary leader says he used a tax on U.S. banana exporters to pay right-wing death squads that terrorized the country for years.

Former banana grower Raul Hasbun, the star witness in a Palm Beach County, Fla., lawsuit brought by death squad victims against Chiquita Brands, told Sunday's Miami Herald, "I am the one who established the system." He said banana companies paid 3 cents for every crate of fruit exported, with the proceeds going to finance private armies.

The suit seeks damages on for the victims of paramilitary violence -- mostly leftists and union leaders -- from Chiquita, which has filed a motion to dismiss the case, the newspaper said.

Hasbun said he has the checks to prove the alleged payments to him, which will be crucial to lawsuit, the plaintiffs' attorney said.

"(Hasbun) gives us the details on the payments, but also, as mastermind of the money, he could convince a jury in the United States that these payments were considered by multinationals as part of doing business and were not extortion at all," attorney Bill Wichmann told the Herald.