By Stephen F. Jackson
He in his signature "guayabera" and me in my gringo cowboy shirt, we perch in the salubrious, tropical breeze of the Caribbean night in Cartagena, palm trees rustling over the veranda 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 deadslain, 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 labor 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. Domestically, the Southern Company is one of numerous US energy customers of Drummond. 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 set July 9. Labor's legal weapon is the recently resurrected 1789 Alien Tort Claims Act which permits foreigners to sue US corporations and citizens for alleged wrong acts abroad.
The first week of May in Washington, both president Uribe and Colombia's special prosecutor are in town. Uribe seeking US funds and support for a free trade agreement and Plan Colombia. The independent prosecutor, Mario Iguaran, seeking to inform US officials about his investigation of alleged ties between the Colombia-outlawed, left-wing and right-wing cadres---both deemed terrorists by the US. Iguaran is particularly interested in the rampant---with impunity---killings of Colombia unionists and the nexus between the right-wing paramilitary, the Colombia government and military, and US multinationals, especially the Chiquita Brands case and the murders of the Drummond Three.
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," Iguaran tells journalists in Bogota.
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 headed by Jorge 40 (Rodrigo Tovar Pupo) with the orders to kill the two workers," Rafael Garcia told a LatinAmericanPost.com journalist from his prison cell in Bogota. Garcia is doing time for manipulating computer date in his former job as a Colombia government intelligence official. Garcia is singing and swearing.
"I know the relation of Drummond with the Bloque Norte paramilitary," claims Garcia, a former Colombia intelligence officer, imprisoned for erasing computer data on right wing paramilitary. "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 passagefor protection!
"The paramilitary has secret employees at Drummond's La Loma coal mines," continues Garcia in his private prison cubicle where he is enduring fears of being rubbed out. "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," avers Garcia under oath . Drummond, Garcia charges, in cahoots with the Uribe administration, also was involved in the questionable takeover of a nearby oil concession from Llanos Oil.
"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."
"Liesdamnable lies" is the tag put on the allegations by Drummond attorney Willliam Jeffress, Jr, also on the legal team of Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Jeffress' Baker-Botts law firm 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. He vows, if Drummond loses, to take the case to the US Supreme Court to test the constitutionality of the erstwhile obscure ATCA.
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 Duran , publisher of LatinAmericanPost.com in Bogota, 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," says Leyva. "And now it appears the right wing paramilitary is causing great damage to our society.
"We need to find a way for this surge of multinational corporation investment to work to the advantage of all Colombians," says Leyva, "or Colombia will fall under the sway of Chavez."
Stephen Jackson is editor of LatinAmericanPost.com of Bogota and professor at Stillman College, Tuscaloosa, Ala. Contact sfjackson10 [at] hotmail.com.