Families Of Slain Colombian Workers Sue Drummond Coal

BIRMINGHAM,ALABAMA---The Colombian families of three murdered labor union leaders filed a federal lawsuit against Drummond coal company here March 14.

The unusual civil lawsuit alleges that Drummond---which operates a gigantic coal mining operation in northeast Colombia---used paramilitaries to eliminate union leaders during labor negotiations. The suit also contends that Drummond rejected union leaders' request for protection after they received death threats.

Drummond executives at its Birmingham headquarters and at its Bogota office denied the claims. For several years, The Latin American Post has reported about questions regarding Drummond and other corporations in Colombia knowingly or unknowingly hiring security personnel who moonlight as paramilitaries.

"Drummond has a strong policy that we do not pay any illegal organizations and we have not participated in any form with the paramilitaries," maintains Mike Tracy in Birmingham.

From the Drummond office on Chile Avenue in Bogota, Drummond's Colombia manager Augusto Jiminez said the lawusit surprised him "because we have excellent relations with the union." Jiminez denied Drummond works with the paramilitaries.

The lawsuit accuses Jiminez of making veiled threats to the union leaders, telling them "the fish dies from opening his mouth."

The lawsuit says the 2001 brutal killings of union leaders Vlamore Lacarno Rodriquez, Victor Hugo Orcasita Amaya, and Gustavo Soler Mora involved the systematic intimidation and murder of trade unionists in Colombia at the hands of the paramilitaries working as agents of Drummond. The three men's Colombians families are also joined in the lawsuit by their labor union, SINTRAMIENERGETICA.The suit seeks equitable relief and damages with a jury trial.

The suit was filed under an obscure 1789 law which permits non-US citizens to hold US citizens accountable for violations of international law. "Alabama is about to learn about international labor rights," said Terry Collingsworth, lawyer for the International Labor Rights Fund in Washington, DC. A similar suit was filed last July against a Coca-Cola bottler in Colombia by Collingsworth and Dan Kovalik, attorney for the United Steel Workers of America, who also worked on the Drummond case.

"You're talking about a life. It's hard to specify how much we will seek in damges," said Kovalik from his Pittsburgh, Pa. office.

"We are confident we will win quickly because Drummond owned these mines and was vicariously responsible for these men's murders" said Collingsworth at his Washington office.

Drummond operates a large open pit coal mine in La Loma as well as a railroad line connected to its Caribbean port where it ships coal worldwide. Ironically, one of Drummond's largest customers is the Southern Company and its subsidiary Alabama Power. "This coal dripping with the blood of the Colombian coal miners is being brought into Alabama through the Alabama State Docks in Mobile and our coal miners are getting laid offf and killed in Alabama," points out Gary Tramell in a Southern drawl. Tramell is the president of the United Mine Workers of America union in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. "Thirteen of our men died here in Alabama Sept. 29 in the deepest mine in North America because they are desperate for work and were pushed deeper into a dangerous mine by the threat of these Colombian coal imports coming into Alabama," says Tramell."This is terrorism---pure and simple!"

A recent report notes that Colombia is the world's most dangerous place for organized labor, with nearly three-quarters of the 209 union members who disappeared or were murdered in 2000.

The federal lawsuit also charges that Drummond operates in Colombia because that besieged country cannot provide justice for human rights violations that target trade unionists. The suit charges that the creation of Drummond Ltd.---the Colombian company---was a sham done for an unlawful purpose---attempting to shield Drummond Company of Alabama from liability.

The suit also charges that the paramilitaries in Colombia have a mutually-beneficial, symbiotic relationship with the Colombia's government military.

Drummond, according to the suit, uses the Colombian military to protect its mining facilities and railway lines in northeast Colombia. In return for these services, Drummond pays these military personnel. "As Drummond is aware," continues the suit,

"a significant number of these military personnel also operate as paramilitaries in Valledupar and elsewhere. In addition, Drummond permits known-paramiltaries to freely enter their mining facilities and Drummond provides supplies, including fuel to the paramilitaries."

The suit also points out that during labor negotiations between the union and Drummond in 2001, pamphlets were passed out at Drummond's coal mines which labeled Sintramienergetica a "guerrila union," and attacking Lacarno and Orcasita as supporters of the guerrillas.

The US State Departmaent considers both the Colombian left-wing guerrillas as well as the right-wing paramilitary "terrorists" though not of the bin Laden variety. Congress has authorized some $1.4 billion in foreign aid to Colombia---about 80 percent for military purposes---to help make peace and help fight drugs. Critics charge the US funds are actually used to fight a counter-insurgency war to make Colombia safe for multi-nationals under the banner of globalization.

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