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August 2007

Drummond Coal Acquitted

The federal jury returned a verdict in favor of Drummond on July 26. Colombia labor union lawyers say they plan to appeal the decision.


Colombia Widows Weep, Key Witnesses Missing At Drummond Murders Trial

by Stephen Flanagan Jackson

BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA. - Cinnamon-skin widows weep within a stone's throw of the 16th St. Baptist Church here, the site of one of the most horrendous civil rights atrocities in US history.

These Colombia ladies with a dark hue are not Afro-Americans. The Hispanic women are a mix of Amerindian, Afro, and Spanish—in various degrees. Their tears flow for their slain husbands—all working-class Latinos assassinated in the bloody, brutal civil war raging in their home country of Colombia. The emotion is poured out live and on video in front of a US jury in the Hugo L. Black US Courthouse across the park from the infamous site of the KKK's terrorist church bombing in 1963 which killed four black girls.

The civil rights, the human rights, of Valmore Locarno, Victor Hugo Orcasita, and Gustavo Soler took a mortal hit in 2001. Right-wing paramilitary allegedly massacred the trio—all workers and union leaders at Drummond Coal Co. of Alabama's massive open pit coalmines in northeast Colombia. The slain Colombia labor union leaders spoke out and pushed for improvement of Colombian workers' pay, benefits, conditions, and security at the Drummond coal mines.

The three Colombians' labor union and their families are suing Drummond's Colombia subsidiary in a landmark civil case in front of US Judge Karon O. Bowdre in the US Courthouse. This is the first case involving the 1789 US Alien Tort Claims Act to go to trial before a jury three black women, two white women, and five white men. No Hispanics are on the jury. Much of the testimony from the widows all listed as Jane Doe due to fear of reprisals in Colombia and the colleagues of the dead men is passed on to the jury through a Spanish interpreter.

The received a copy of a letter from a dozen US Congressmen sent July 18 to Colombia vice president Francisco Santos imploring that the critical testimony of The Colombia Canary, Rafael Garcia, not be blocked by the Colombia authorities. A Colombia labor leader, Francisco Ramirez, says that the Colombia Ministry of Foreign Relations, the Colombia judge favor Drummond by fighting and delaying Garcia's opportunity to provide a deposition. Garcia, from his Bogota prison cell, told journalist Stephen Flanagan Jackson that he witnessed in a Valledupar hotel money and execution orders from a Drummond executive to the paramilitary run by Rodrigo Tovar Pupo, alias Jorge 40. Garcia, the ex-DAS chief of computer systems, is chomping at the bit to re-count the allegations for the US jury on video.

Drummond denies involvement—"aiding and abetting"—in their three workers' murders—"wrongful deaths." Drummond also claims no involvement or pay-off to the paramilitary and that Drummond was never aware of the paramilitary presence in and near its mines. One of Drummond's largest customers in the US is the Southern Company of Atlanta, parent of Alabama Power. Israel is Drummond's top client for the Colombia coal.

The CEO of Drummond Coal Co. is Garry N. Drummond, a former University of Alabama trustee, a member of the UA Business School Hall of Fame, and a major powerbroker and political donor on the state, the national, and international level. The judge dismissed him from the case personally, but he is listed as a witness although he never took the stand.

Carlos Quintero, a former Drummond worker, and Edwin Guzman, a former Colombia army sergeant and an ex-para—both claimed to have seen paramilitary roaming freely and using the gasoline at the Drummond coal mines. Quintero put the finger on a "dark" para who, Quintero claims, filled up his gas tank at the Drummond pumps. Quintero swore that the same dark para, "I also saw in the truck of paras just minutes before the paras assassinated Locarno and Orcasita."

Conspicuous by their absence at the trial are key Colombian witnesses, Rafael Garcia and Alberto Visbal, both of whom tie Drummond's top executive in Colombia, Augusto Jiminez, also present at the trial, as the passer of the blood money and the execution targets to the Bloque Norte paramilitary, designated terrorists by the US. Garcia's declaration is being held up by Colombia authorities and Judge Bowdre says the Visbal deposition came too late.

Drummond's top man and proxy in Colombia, Jiminez, took the stand and blamed the murdered union leaders for inserting themselves in the middle of the left versus right civil war. Drummond has never been involved in the conflict, testified the Harvard-educated Jiminez cynically.

The Drummond defense wrapped up its case with testimony from Jim Mitchell, the Colombia mine manager, and Mike Tracy, Garry N. Drummond's top assistant. Both maintain the approximately 3500 Drummond employees in Colombia work under an Illegal Groups Policy. No deals, no payments, no association vis-a-vis the guerrilla or the paramilitary or any other outlaws group, the pair told the jury.

Legal pundits say the Colombia union will have a difficult time meeting the preponderance of evidence and the war crimes standards of the civil tort case without either Garcia's or Visbal's testimony.