Drummond Murders Case Explodes In Colombia & US
By Stephen Flanagan Jackson
He in his signature “guayabera” and me in my gringo cowboy shirt, we perch in the salubrious, balmy breeze of the Caribbean night in Cartagena, palm trees rustling over the balcony of the colonial restaurant. Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells me that “Colombia is immersed in a holocaust of Biblical proportions.”
Valmore Locarno would attest to that. Victor Hugo Orcasita would attest to that. Gustavo Soler would attest to that. The problem is the Colombians are all dead…slain, execution style. Assassinated in 2001 by the right wing paramilitary because they were union leaders at the coal mines of Drummond Limited in northeast Colombia. A controversial civil lawsuit charges that the hitmen were hired by Drummond—or at least that is what a Washington, DC attorney claims. His cross-town rival, from James Baker’s law firm, begs to differ.
“If you hire the Mafia and they kill someone then you are responsible” is the common sense approach, posits Terry Collingsworth, a Colombia labor union lawyer based at the International Labor Relief Fund in DC.
Drummond is mired in the tar baby called Colombia. Chiquita Banana got out—shaking off the tar, and paying a hefty price—$25 million. Drummond is sinking, sinking deeper into the Colombia quagmire, ironically piling up record profits from its worldwide coal sales, Israel its number one customer. Generous campaign donations from Drummond to both presidents—Bush and Alvaro Uribe of Colombia—will probably not stave off the inevitable—an embarrassing and revealing jury trial for wrongful deaths in a US Federal Court in its corporate hometown tentatively set for May 14.
The Colombia government March 20 announced an investigation into charges that the Birmingham, Alabama-based Drummond “aided and abetted” paramilitary to kill the three union members in 2001. “What we are seeing is some private businesses that recruit paramilitaries, aware of their conduct to kill,” said Mario Iguaran, Colombia’s chief federal prosecutor.
That same day in a US Federal Court in Alabama, the judge permitted the deposition of the Colombia Canary to go forward…if the key witness is not murdered first.
“I saw Drummond’s top man in Colombia, Augusto Jiminez, pass a briefcase full of about $200,000 to the right wing paramilitary with the orders to kill the two workers ,” Rafael Garcia told a LatinAmericanPost.com journalist from his prison cell in Bogota where he is doing time for manipulating computer data in his former job as a Colombia government intelligence official.
“I know the relation of Drummond with the Bloque Norte paramilitary,” claims Garcia. “Drummond paid the Bloque Norte to supposedly guard its transportation of coal from the mine to its Caribbean port. Drummond paid a terrorist group for safe passage…for protection!
“The paramilitary has secret employees at Drummond’s La Loma coal mines,” continues Garcia in his private prison cubicle. “Drummond knows who they are, but the other workers do not.
“Drummond also hires private security who are members of the paramilitary and Drummond knows they are part of the paramilitary,” swears Garcia . Drummond, Garcia charges, in cahoots with the Uribe administration, also was involved in the questionable takeover of a nearby oil concession from Llanos Oil.
The Colombia Canary, the caged Garcia continues singing a tune of corruption. “I can also tell you that there were two times that the paramilitary affixed shipments of cocaine to the bottom of the boats used by Drummond to send its coal to Europe, Israel, and the US,” offers Garcia, adding, “ I will go to hell to testify… if provided protection for me and my family.” Everything Garcia told the LatinAmericanPost.com journalist Jackson is repeated in his declaration…and he plans to repeat it all in another deposition in the next few weeks.
“Lies…damnable lies” is the tag put on the allegations by Drummond attorney Willliam Jeffress, Jr, also on the legal team of Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Jeffress’ lawfirm was rebuffed by the US State Department where it sent Ignacio Sanchez to lobby State to have the federal killings case dismissed on grounds of political action theory and international comity, unsuccessfully arguing a public trial could have an adverse effect on US foreign policy.
Reversing a longstanding trend of stonewalling in the case, Drummond has now turned to aggressive denials through the media. Drummond released a statement saying it will not settle with the plaintiffs. “Drummond publicly states that it has not nor will it make any payments, agreements or transactions with illegal groups and emphatically denies that the company or any of its executives has had any involvement with the murder of three labor union leaders,” said the coal company from its Colombia headquarters on Bogota’s Avenida Chile. A Drummond attorney, Hugo Palacios, confirmed that “civil and criminal charges for slander and defamation have been filed against Rafael Garcia.”
Washington’s Plan Colombia—millions in US aid—is a lurking issue in the Drummond predicament. The intrigue surrounding the case begs the specific application of the Leahy Amendment . Sources expect a closer look by the Vermont Senator, alarmed by the fact that Drummond has admitted in a deposition that it pays the Colombia military for security at its coal mines, nicknamed Camp Drummond due to the military and security build-up.
Washington also comes in to play with the involvement of warring factions in Colombia’s interminable civil war and in the volatile tensions surrounding Drummond coal mines. Both the right wing paramilitaries and the left wing Communist insurgents are officially declared “terrorists” by the US government.
“We are under constant threats from the paramilitary and ‘sicarios’ (hired assassins) while Drummond has the Colombian army—backed by US funds—guarding its La Loma facilities and we (union members) are left to fend for ourselves,” says Omar Estupinan, a union local officer.
Fernando Leyva, publisher of LatinAmericanPost.com. says Colombia is in the midst of a severe political crisis involving collusion and corruption by government officials and the paramilitary. “If it is not the narcotraffickers that destabilize Colombia, it is the left wing armed guerrilla,” observes the longtime Bogota businessman. “And now it appears the right wing paramilitary is causing great damage to our society.”
Colombia needs to find a way for this surge of multinational corporation investment to work to the advantage of all Colombians, or Colombia will fall under the sway of Chavez, he advises.
Leyva’s LatinAmericanPost.com, through its editor Jackson, successfully sued in Federal Appeals Court to have all the documents in the civil case open to the public and the media, including depositions by Garry N. Drummond, the coal company’s CEO, and other key witnesses.
( Stephen Flanagan Jackson is an editor with LatinAmericanPost.com and an associate professor, Stillman College, Tuscaloosa, AL.
US Judge OKs May Jury Trial
In Colombia Union Killings, Eyes Use
Of Garcia As Witness To Drummond Payoff
By Stephen Flanagan Jackson
(BIRMINGHAM, AL)—An Alabama coal giant faces a May 14 jury trial for the 2001 wrongful deaths of three Colombia employees—all union leaders at its Colombia coal mine.
US Federal Judge Karon O. Bowdre allowed the charge—a tort for damages—to remain in the unsolved homicides of the three coal mine workers. The judge threw out several other charges against Drummond Co. and its Colombia subsidiary for lack of evidence in a summary judgment hearing at the Hugo L. Black US Courthouse here Tuesday, Feb 27. The status of the blockbuster testimony of a key Colombia witness, Rafael Garcia, remains up in the air. The original civil lawsuit was filed in March 2002 under the obscure Alien Tort Claims Act of 1789.
Drummond, headquartered in Birmingham, operates a lucrative coal mine in northeast Colombia—a country mired in a long-running civil war. Drummond’s front in Colombia—Drummond Limited—ships its Colombia coal all over the world. One of Drummond’s largest customers is the Southern Company which receives the Colombia coal through the Port of Alabama in Mobile for its electric-generating plants throughout the Southeast, including Alabama Power. Other coal-burning electric plants around the US buy from Drummond. Drummond’s largest international customer is Israel.
“All we need is just one charge,” said a satisfied labor lawyer, Terry Collingsworth of Washington, DC. Collingsworth, of the International Labor Relief Fund, is one of the stable of attorneys for the Colombia labor union. He said the judge’s ruling allows the case to move forward to a jury trial not only under the ATCA, but—as a backup—under Colombia law. The union, SINTRAMIENERGETICA, claims Drummond employees were complicit in the three murders of the union officers, allegedly perpetrated by the paramilitary or right wing death squads, which, according to plaintiffs, share Drummond’s disdain for labor unions. The dead Colombians are Valmore Locarno, Victor Hugo Orcasita, and Gustavo Soler.
Drummond was represented at the hearing by William Jeffress, Jr. of Baker Botts, James Baker’s law firm of Washington. Drummond attorneys sought to have the entire case dismissed. Jeffress has characterized the charges as “lies…damnable lies.” He said the controversial witness, Garcia, is lying about seeing Drummond executive Augusto Jiminez pass to the right wing paramilitary money and orders to kill two of the union leaders.
At the conclusion of the three hour hearing, Judge Bowdre suggested that the opposing lawyers work toward arbitration or mediation “to save your clients’ money!”
The only news media attending the hearing was LatinAmericanPost.com, the English-language newspaper/website out of Bogota, Colombia.
One other key witness—also one of the original plaintiffs along with the slain men’s families and union—for the Colombia labor union is currently unavailable. Jimmy Rubio has gone into “deep hiding” in Colombia, according to attorneys, after his father was murdered by right wing paramilitary . The killers cut out his father’s tongue and stuffed it down his throat—a version of the Colombia necktie.
Judge Bowdre indicated she would consider testimony from Garcia but has already ruled she will not permit his May 2006 declaration obtained by a Colombia labor union attorney to be used at trial. The judge asked both sides to report back to her later in March concerning arrangements for deposing Garcia either in person from his Colombia prison cell or via videoconference so Garcia “can be properly cross examined.” Garcia, deemed the Colombia Canary, is a former Colombia government intelligence official. The jailed Garcia is fingering corruption at the highest levels in Colombia, all the way to the presidency.
The judge said she is unsure if, in Colombia, Drummond controls the right wing paramilitary or if the right wing paramilitary controls Drummond. The US State Department has designated the right wing paramilitary as terrorists as well as the communist guerrilla, Latin America’s last armed, left wing insurgents who operate throughout Colombia and pose threats to Drummond’s coal mining and shipping in northeast Colombia.
Judge Bowdre also pointed out that the trial date is subject to change, depending on the availability and acceptability of Garcia for a deposition. She said if the May 14 date cannot be met, then the trial would probably be re-scheduled for sometime next October.
The parade of pricey, prestigious lawyers continued for both plaintiffs and defendants in the case which is running under the US media radar. Joining the Colombia labor union counsel was the former University of Alabama linebacker and Academic All-American Robert “ Bob” Childs, accompanied by a partner, Rusty Johnson, from his Birmingham firm. Jeffress, also representing Lewis “Scooter” Libby in his perjury case, was aided by Anthony Davis of Starnes & Atchison of Birmingham.
The judge, citing lack of evidence, dismissed most of the charges made by the Colombia union, including all charges against Drummond Company, Inc. and all charges under the Torture Victims Protection Act. Not only did Judge Bowdre refuse to “pierce the corporate veil,” she dropped Drummond Company CEO Garry N. Drummond, the University of Alabama trustee emeritus and member of the UA Business School Hall of Fame, as a defendant.
Drummond himself has admitted in an affidavit that he pays the Colombian military “stipends” to protect his dangerous Colombia mine. At the hearing, Drummond’s lawyer said it is known that some of the Colombia military moonlight as paramilitary, but “there is no definite proof” of this in the killings of the three union leaders.
Drummond’s attorney—in a rather lengthy spiel before the judge—also defended a pair of Spanish idioms that ostensibly add fuel to the fires of the accusations of Drummond complicity.
Drummond’s top executive in Colombia, the Harvard-educated Jiminez, was heard on several occasions to comment about the union leaders bellyaching about poor pay and poor working conditions: “El pescado que abre mismo boca y se muere!” Loosely translated, Jiminez was making the point—not to be applied to fishermen—that the
fish that opens his mouth dies!
“Just a harmless idiom,” Jeffress told Judge Bowdre.
Then the Washington lawyer added that the same is true for another Spanish phrase. “The vulture is on the shoulder” comment attributed to Drummond management was not directed at any particular union member, and, therefore, according to Jeffress, innocuous.
Jeffress also told the judge that if the right-wing paramilitary had access to the Drummond coal mining compound “inside the fence, that had nothing to do with the murders.”
“From my understanding, the paramilitary engages in extortion, kidnapping, and drugs,” said Jeffress, “ Drummond has a policy not to cooperate with those people. They (paramilitary) are fulltime criminals.”
“All of our evidence shows that the paramilitary were in and around the coal mining compound and receiving logistical support from Drummond,” the Colombia labor lawyer told Judge Bowdre.
Garcia’s potentially incriminating testimony also points to a working relationship between Drummond and the powerful paramilitary of the Cesar state, the Bloque Norte, led by the notorious “Jorge Cuarenta”—Rodrigo Pupo. The Colombia Congressional representative from the area is looking into connections between Drummond and the paramilitary as well as Drummond’s suspicious links to a politically powerful family in Cesar, the Araujos. The solon, Miguel Duran, is also investigating charges that Drummond—allegedly evading royalty payments to Colombia—underreports coal sales and siphons money through the Cayman Islands.
Jackson is associate professor of Journalism at Stillman College, Tuscaloosa.Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or (205) 366-8858