ATLANTA, GEORGIA _ A civil lawsuit charging an Alabama coal company executive paid paramilitary forces to assas...
ATLANTA, GEORGIA _ A civil lawsuit charging an Alabama coal company executive paid paramilitary forces to assassinate three Colombian union leaders got new life Thursday, Feb. 3 when a federal appeals court ruled the victims' children could sue in the US. The Colombia mine operator, Drummond Company Inc., was absolved of wrongful death charges by a federal jury in Birmingham during a 2007 trial in a similar lawsuit brought by the union and the victims' widows.
The new ruling paves the way for a Colombia witness, Rafael Garcia, previously in jail in Colombia to testify that he saw a Drummond executive give a briefcase full of cash to an illegal right-wing militia to have two of the union heads murdered. Drummond has consistently denied all the allegations. Drummond's corporate headquarters is in Birmingham, Alabama.
A lower court judge had dismissed the children's lawsuit, saying they should have sued "on behalf" of their parents instead of seeking their own personal unspecified damages. A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit in Atlanta disagreed.
"The complaint alleges an intricate and vindictive plot, orchestrated by the defendants, that ultimately led to the assassinations of the children's fathers," the panel stated. "If true, such conduct establishes a violation of international law sufficient for purposes of triggering liability under the federal law."
The lawsuit was filed by eight children of Valmore Locarno, Victor Orcasita and Gustavo Soler, who all worked at Drummond's coal mine at La Loma. The children live in Colombia and Canada. The civil action is being brought by the Colombians in the US in Drummond's corporate home of Alabama under the obscure Alien Torts Claim Act of 1798. Drummond operates a gigantic open pit coal mine in La Loma in northeast Colombia. Drummond is considering selling the entire lucrative operation for $8 billion to Xstrata, a Swiss-based company.
Locarno, a maintenance worker and president of the local union, and Orcasita, another union official, were snatched off a company bus outside the mine in 2001 and shot to death, Colombia authorities have confirmed. Soler, who succeeded Locarno as the union president, was killed seven months later in a similar fashion.
The new lawsuit hinges on the testimony of Garcia. Garcia told LatinAmericanPost.com journalist Stephen Flanagan Jackson in La Picota prison in Bogota that he witnessed in a Valledupar hotel blood money passed by Drummond's Augusto Jiminez to right-wing death squad operatives. Jackson dubbed Garcia the Colombia Canary. Garcia has been released from prison and is living in another country.
Terry Collingsworth, a Washington, DC attorney for the children, says Garcia is prepared to finally sing in a US court.