US corporation Drummond Coal accused of murdering Colombian trade unionists

This video is about a Colombian miners demonstration.

A video, no longer on the Internet, used to say about itself:

Colombian trade union leader Jesús Lorenzo Brochero Erazo talks about his union Sintracarbon, the union representing workers in the Cerrejon coal mine, one of the largest open pit coal mines in the world. He is visiting Canada to highlight Colombian union and social movement opposition to the 2008 Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

By D. Lencho:

US: Testimony in Drummond Coal lawsuit on murders of Colombian union leaders

Five years after its filing, a civil lawsuit against Drummond Coal, an Alabama-based energy corporation, began in US District Court in Birmingham, Alabama on Monday, July 9, before a 10-member jury. The suit, filed by the United Steelworkers (USW) and the International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF)—representing families of the victims—alleges that the coal giant’s Colombian subsidiary arranged and financed the assassinations of three union leaders in Colombia in 2001.

In April of that year, members of the right-wing paramilitary organization Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) stopped a bus carrying workers at the firm’s La Loma operation. The gunmen pulled Valmore Locarno, local president of the Sintamienergética miners union, and Vice President Victor Orcasita off the bus and murdered them. Gustavo Soler, who replaced Mr. Locarno as president of the local, was shot later that year.

Update: here.

8 thoughts on “US corporation Drummond Coal accused of murdering Colombian trade unionists

  1. Bush & Columbia’s cocaine death squads
    Posted by: “Compañero” chocoano05
    Thu Aug 16, 2007 11:42 pm (PST)

    Bush, Colombia & Narco-Politics

    By Andr€ ¦és Cala
    August 8, 2007

    George W. Bush’s strategy of countering
    Venezuela’s leftist president Hugo Ch€ ¦ávez by
    strengthening ties to Colombia’s rightist
    government has been undercut by fresh evidence of
    high-level drug corruption and human rights
    violations implicating President Alvaro Uribe’s
    inner circle.

    These new allegations about Colombia’s
    narco-politics have tarnished Uribe’s reputation
    just as Bush has been showcasing the Harvard- and
    Oxford-educated politician as a paragon of
    democratic values and an alternative to the
    firebrand Ch€ ¦ávez, who has used Venezuela’s oil
    wealth to finance social programs for the poor
    across the region.

    Despite the corruption disclosures – and Uribe’s
    failure to stem Colombian cocaine smuggling to
    the United States – the Bush administration
    continues to shower Uribe’s government with trade
    incentives and billions of dollars in military
    and development aid.

    With other regional leaders unwilling to side
    with the United States against Ch€ ¦ávez, Bush may
    see little alternative but to stay the course
    with the 55-year-old Uribe and hope Colombia’s
    corruption doesn’t draw too much attention in the
    United States or across South America.

    Ironically, the latest evidence against Uribe’s
    government emerged from a U.S.-backed peace
    process that offered leniency to right-wing
    paramilitary death squads and their financial
    backers in exchange for giving up their guns and
    disclosing past crimes.

    The right-wing paramilitaries and their
    cocaine-trafficking benefactors testified that
    elements of the Colombian government collaborated
    in a decade-long scorched-earth campaign that
    killed almost 10,000 civilians while seeking to
    dislodge a leftist guerrilla army known as the
    Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

    The confessions include blood-soaked tales of
    political murders, cocaine smuggling and
    staggering government corruption. As a result,
    dozens of former and current congressmen,
    governors, government ministers, military
    officers, prominent business leaders and
    multinational corporations are being investigated
    or have been arrested.

    This so-called “para-scandal” revealed that a
    counterinsurgency force, known as the United
    Self-Defence Forces of Colombia, or AUC,
    collaborated with drug lords to control the
    cocaine trade and simultaneously worked with
    Colombia’s elites, including Uribe’s family, to
    fend off the guerrilla threat.

    Another troubling offshoot of the peace process
    was the creation of a safe haven for drug lords,
    who flocked to a 370-square-kilometer sanctuary
    set up for the AUC.

    Colombian mafia boss Fabio Enrique Ochoa Vasco,
    47, who was indicted in Florida in September 2004
    for drug trafficking and money laundering,
    claimed he was one of 10 U.S.-wanted traffickers
    who found protection in the Santa Fe Ralito

    AUC leaders “promised to include their financial
    backers in the negotiation” as a way to shield
    alleged cocaine traffickers from extradition to
    the United States, Ochoa Vasco told a Colombian
    magazine in June.

    It was all prearranged in 2001, according to
    paramilitary and drug lord accounts. If Uribe won
    the presidency, paramilitary leaders would be
    offered generous sentence reductions and be
    allowed to serve their time outside prison walls
    if they demobilized and confessed.

    Ochoa Vasco, who allegedly ships eight tons of
    cocaine monthly to the United States, was told
    that he and other AUC allies would be sentenced
    in Colombia to a maximum of 12 years, rather than
    face possible life sentences in U.S. prisons.

    Uribe’s History

    The new disclosures also have brought back to
    public attention the Uribe family’s long history
    of ties to drug lords and paramilitary militias.
    Colombia’s Supreme Court announced in July that
    it was investigating Senator Mario Uribe, the
    president’s cousin and his point man in the
    Colombian Congress, for alleged links to the AUC.

    Several paramilitary leaders have said Mario
    Uribe was one of their allies and an intermediary
    with the government. He has denied any wrongdoing.

    But the family link to purported drug lords dates
    back several decades. As a young man and an
    aspiring politician, € ¦Álvaro Uribe lost his
    position as mayor of Medell€ ¦ín – after only five
    months on the job – because the country’s
    president ousted him over his family’s suspected
    connections to traffickers, according to media
    reports at the time.

    His father Alberto Uribe, a wealthy landowner,
    reputedly had been a close associate of the
    Medell€ ¦ín cartel and its kingpins, such as Pablo
    Escobar and the Ochoa brothers, who were personal

    In 1983, Alberto Uribe was reportedly wanted by
    the U.S. government for drug trafficking when he
    was killed in a kidnapping attempt by the FARC.
    According to media accounts, his body was
    airlifted back to his family by one of Escobar’s

    In the early 1990s, € ¦Álvaro Uribe’s brother,
    Santiago, was investigated for allegedly
    organizing and leading a paramilitary militia
    that was headquartered at the Uribe family
    hacienda. He was never charged and the case was
    dismissed for lack of evidence. But Santiago was
    photographed alongside Fabio Ochoa at a party
    even after the government had declared Ochoa one
    of the most notorious Medell€ ¦ín cartel kingpins.

    The incident with Santiago Uribe coincided with
    € ¦Álvaro Uribe’s eight years in the Senate, where
    he opposed extradition of drug suspects. His
    critics accused him of working for the Medell€ ¦ín

    But the relationship between right-wing
    narco-financed paramilitaries and the Colombian
    government has been a long and complex one, with
    shifting alliances based on the self-interest of
    the moment.

    In 1992, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the
    CIA and the U.S. military, along with Colombian
    intelligence services, joined forces with the
    Cali cartel to train, equip and coordinate an
    undercover group of mercenaries known as the
    Pepes, an acronym for Persecuted by Pablo
    Escobar. Among its leaders was Carlos Casta€ ¦ño,
    who would later run the AUC.

    Systematically, the Pepes assassinated Escobar’s
    top henchmen and their families, finally killing
    Escobar himself in 1993. The Pepes then split up.
    Some went on to create their own drug empires,
    while Casta€ ¦ño built a paramilitary army financed
    by rich landowners and drug dealers.

    Since the war on Escobar’s organization, Casta€ ¦ño
    and the Cali cartel – as well as Colombian
    military officers – have claimed that they work
    side by side with U.S. agencies, but U.S.
    authorities have denied such an alliance.

    The alienation from Washington widened in 1994
    when President Ernesto Samper came to power amid
    disclosures that his campaign had received
    generous donations from drug cartels. President
    Bill Clinton cut most aid and severed some
    military support to Colombia because of Samper’s
    ties to drug traffickers.

    With less U.S. aid, the Colombian army was unable
    to contain the FARC and coca acreage soared.
    Colombia’s rulers responded with the creation of
    paramilitary militias that used terror to reduce
    popular support for the guerrillas.

    The Samper government pushed what was known as
    the Convivir project. It armed, trained and
    organized local defence cooperatives to provide
    “special private security and vigilance services”
    alongside the armed forces, creating another
    cover for right-wing paramilitary forces.

    Rise of Uribe

    Alvaro Uribe’s political rise was tied to the
    success of Convivir. In 1995, Uribe became the
    governor of Antioquia, a north-western district
    with Medell€ ¦ín as the capital.

    Uribe was the country’s most vocal supporter of
    the defence cooperatives, authorizing dozens of
    them with almost 20 of these Uribe-backed
    cooperatives run by paramilitary leaders,
    including the AUC’s current top commander,
    Salvatore Mancuso. [Casta€ ¦ño, who operated in a
    different state, wasn’t one of them.]

    Casta€ ¦ño is quoted in a biography as saying Uribe
    was the presidential candidate of the AUC’s
    social support base.

    “Deep down, he’s the closest man to our
    philosophy,” Casta€ ¦ño said, adding that Uribe’s
    support for the Convivir was grounded on the same
    principle that gave rise to paramilitarism in
    Colombia, the right to self-defence against

    When confronted with accusations of complicity
    between Convivir and drug-connected
    paramilitaries, Uribe said that at the time
    nobody knew who the right-wing leaders and the
    cocaine traffickers were.

    After an international outcry, however, the
    government slowly phased out Convivir. By the
    time it was outlawed in 1998, however, over 200
    defence cooperatives, counting thousands of men,
    defied the order to demobilize and joined
    Casta€ ¦ño’s new paramilitary alliance, the AUC.

    The Convivir project had other long-term
    consequences. Beyond establishing and arming
    paramilitary militias, the project created a web
    of cooperation between Colombia’s military and
    right-wing death squads. Some paramilitary
    leaders, such as Casta€ ¦ño, claimed the CIA and DEA
    also gave the AUC discreet support.

    At least two top paramilitary commanders have
    claimed that the Colombian military coordinated
    counterinsurgency operations with the AUC.

    “I am living proof of state-sponsored
    paramilitarism in Colombia,” said the AUC’s
    Mancuso in his deposition earlier this year.

    The AUC leaders have named several high-ranking
    Colombian officers as collaborating with the
    paramilitaries, including former General Rito
    Alejo del Rio, Antioquia’s commanding officer
    during Uribe’s governorship.

    While running for the presidency in 2002, Uribe
    cited the perceived success of the Convivir
    program in damaging the FARC’s infrastructure in
    Antioquia as a key reason why Colombians should
    vote for him.

    Despite the drug suspicions – and the links to
    paramilitary death squads – Uribe benefited from
    public disenchantment with a sputtering peace
    process that had failed to end the civil war.
    Uribe emerged as the winner with 53 percent of
    the vote.

    After Uribe’s election, several drug barons
    claimed they had financed his campaign. Indicted
    drug trafficker Ochoa Vasco said he contributed
    $150,000 of his own money at the AUC’s request.

    Ochoa Vasco also said he witnessed a conversation
    between the AUC’s leaders and supposed
    representatives of Uribe’s campaign before the

    “They talked about the peace process,” Ochoa
    Vasco said. “They said anyone with problems with
    the U.S. could get involved. And in another
    meeting, there were businessmen, landowners and
    drug traffickers who [the AUC] thought they could
    also include, so they told them to get ready for
    the peace process.”

    All the paramilitary leaders who negotiated the
    peace agreement “know the truth. They know that
    to be there, they invested more than 10 million
    dollars,” Ochoa Vasco said.

    Government negotiations with the AUC began four
    months after Uribe took office. Casta€ ¦ño
    repositioned himself as an opponent of the drug
    corruption that, by then, clearly pervaded the
    AUC. He resigned as AUC military leader.

    In April 2004, Casta€ ¦ño was ambushed by 20 elite
    paramilitaries following orders from the AUC’s
    top leaders. He was shot almost two dozen times
    in the face, chopped into pieces, and burned.

    Surviving AUC leaders and drug traffickers said
    Casta€ ¦ño was killed because he was negotiating his
    surrender to the DEA along with all trafficking
    information about the AUC and its government and
    military allies. U.S. authorities have denied any

    Uribe-Bush Alliance

    Meanwhile, Uribe lined up solidly behind
    President George W. Bush by becoming the only
    South American leader to endorse Bush’s invasion
    of Iraq. Uribe also sought more U.S. military aid
    as he defined the civil war against the leftist
    FARC as part of the “global war on terror.”

    The backbone of U.S. policy in Colombia is Plan
    Colombia, a mostly military aid program to fight
    both drug production and irregular armies, most
    notably the FARC and the AUC. Since 2001,
    Washington has sent over $5 billion to Bogot€ ¦á.

    Nonetheless, Plan Colombia put little dent in
    cocaine production. The coca acreage in 2006 was
    slightly more than in 2001, when Plan Colombia
    was implemented. Acreage was reduced in 2003 and
    2004 but shot up again in 2005 and 2006.

    But Uribe’s success in curbing political violence
    boosted his popularity in Colombia. He vigorously
    pressed the war against the FARC, forcing the
    leftist guerrillas into a tactical retreat.
    Overall, Uribe reduced the number of murders,
    kidnappings and massacres by about one-third.

    The Uribe-controlled Congress also passed the
    Justice and Peace Law, which launched a peace
    process with the right-wing paramilitaries that
    demobilized 30,000 men and women. The law was
    written by Sen. Mario Uribe, the cousin now being
    investigated for his AUC ties. Even the Bush
    administration criticized the law’s terms as
    overly lenient.

    With Uribe’s popularity soaring, he got his
    congressional allies to change the Constitution
    to permit a second presidential term. Uribe then
    swept to reelection in 2006, winning 62 percent
    of the vote.

    Still, accusations of corruption and unpunished
    human rights violations dogged him.

    Several investigations, especially those led by
    Colombia’s Supreme Court, slowly amassed evidence
    against former and current government officials
    and prominent figures among the country’s elite.

    Those implicated included dozens of current and
    former members of the Congress; high-ranking
    military officers, including the current chief of
    staff; entire army battalions allegedly working
    for drug cartels; prominent businessmen; and some
    of Uribe’s closest allies, including the father
    and brother of Colombia’s former foreign minister
    Mar€ ¦ía Consuelo Ara€ ¦újo.

    In March 2006, a laptop belonging to a top
    paramilitary leader was seized in a raid. The
    computer was found to contain detailed
    information on drug-trafficking operations,
    killings committed during the peace process,
    potential hit lists of other victims, the AUC’s
    plan for influencing the government, and a list
    of contributors and political allies.

    One of the hit lists was linked to Colombia’s
    intelligence service and to its director, Jorge
    Noguera, a close Uribe ally who the president
    named consul in Milan after the initial
    investigation was opened.

    Noguera was later arrested for his ties to the
    AUC and drug traffickers, for filtering
    information to the AUC, for erasing incriminating
    evidence of several drug traffickers and
    paramilitary leaders, for complicity in the
    assassinations of several union leaders, and for
    obstructing operations to capture his allies.

    Other Colombian intelligence officials also were
    arrested, including one high-level official,
    Rafael Garc€ ¦ía, who testified that he erased
    evidence at the request of Noguera. Garc€ ¦ía also
    accused Noguera of plotting to assassinate
    Venezuela’s president Ch€ ¦ávez in coordination with
    high-level officials in Uribe’s administration,
    though Garc€ ¦ía didn’t give their names.

    Paramilitary leader Mancuso also accused Uribe’s
    Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos in his
    deposition of plotting with the AUC to kill
    Venezuela’s Ch€ ¦ávez, although it’s not clear
    whether Santos was one of the men whom
    intelligence officer Garc€ ¦ía was referring to.
    Santos denied the accusation.

    Then, in December 2006, embarrassed by the
    ongoing criminality in the AUC’s Santa Fe Ralito
    safe haven, the government put some paramilitary
    leaders in prison. But even there, they continued
    to live the high life and kept on top of their
    criminal operations.

    The local press published in May transcripts of
    police wiretaps revealing AUC leaders continuing
    to order killings and to direct drug trafficking
    from prison, while also enjoying dance parties,
    sexual orgies and alcohol. They hosted “Mexican
    friends” and had unrestricted access to cell
    phones and the Internet.

    In one conversation, the frustrated former prison
    warden complained to a colleague that her orders
    were constantly overruled by her superiors when
    paramilitary leaders called to complain to the
    peace commissioner, government ministers and even
    the president. The warden soon requested to be

    Infuriated by the wiretap disclosures, Uribe
    ordered the firing of the top 12 generals in the
    police, but he said little about the evidence of
    AUC criminality beyond promising another

    AUC leaders also threatened to break off the
    peace process, accusing the government of
    changing the terms. They felt betrayed, they
    said, and threatened to incriminate all their
    elite allies, including politicians, businessmen,
    and multinationals.

    Regional Trouble

    The Organization of American States, which has
    overseen the peace process with the AUC, has been
    critical of the results. The OAS warned that the
    paramilitaries are rearming and reorganizing
    under different names, with stronger ties to drug
    traffickers, and are being led by some of the
    same leaders who supposedly had surrendered.

    OAS Assistant Secretary General Albert Ramdin
    said this year that the AUC demobilization
    process might well fail to solve Colombia’s
    problem with drug-financed paramilitary groups.

    Colombia’s approach “could trigger a truth and
    justice process that would put an end to
    paramilitary groups in the regions, and lead to
    reconstruction of the State,” Ramdin said. “Or,
    on the other hand, it could accentuate the
    influence of paramilitary groups linked to drug

    Despite Colombia’s problems – the corruption, the
    shaky peace process and the shortcomings of its
    anti-drug program – Bush has continued to show
    unstinting support for Uribe. Calling Uribe a
    true democrat and a strong leader, Bush has
    visited Colombia twice, including earlier this
    year, and met with Uribe several times in

    “I’m proud to call [Uribe] a friend and strategic
    ally,” Bush said during one of Uribe’s visits.
    In Bogot€ ¦á, the U.S. president said: “I appreciate
    the [Colombian] president’s determination to
    bring human rights violators to justice. S I
    believe that, given a fair chance, President
    Uribe can make the case.”

    Bush asked the U.S. Congress to increase
    financial support for Plan Colombia, but
    Democrats cut military aid from 80 percent to 65
    percent of the total allocation, while increasing
    economic and humanitarian aid. Moreover, the
    Democrats attached strict conditions on the total
    $530 million.

    Democrats also have conditioned their
    ratification of a free-trade agreement with
    Colombia on Uribe improving the country’s human
    rights record and prosecuting paramilitary

    In South America, Uribe has slowly backed himself
    into a corner by siding with Bush. While most
    South American countries have grown more critical
    of U.S. foreign policy and its Free Trade
    Agreement of the Americas, Colombia has staunchly
    supported Bush’s policies, distancing itself from
    its neighbors.

    Brazil and Ecuador have closer relations with
    Venezuela, as do most countries in the region, in
    stark contrast to a decade ago. Colombia has been
    kept out of South America’s Mercosur regional
    trade union, while Venezuela is expected to join
    sometime this year.

    Uribe also has lost some regional backing in his
    fight against the FARC. Ecuador has resisted
    labelling the FARC a terrorist organization, but
    did criticize Plan Colombia and sought
    reparations for collateral damage inflicted by
    Colombian forces on Ecuador’s border population.

    Meanwhile, the drug and corruption scandal keeps
    growing. Though Uribe has denied most of the
    accusations, drug lord Ochoa Vasco has said he is
    willing to negotiate his surrender to the DEA
    along with proof to support his charges.

    Ochoa Vasco said some AUC leaders and drug
    traffickers now are willing to negotiate their
    surrender to U.S. law-enforcement agencies to
    avoid being murdered in Colombia, as powerful
    forces seek desperately to silence them and end
    the “para-scandal.”

    In July, Henao G€ ¦ómez Bustamante – the biggest
    reputed drug lord since Pablo Escobar – was
    extradited to face trafficking charges in the
    U.S. He is believed to have been a key player in
    right-wing politics and one of the main financers
    of the AUC.

    The target of at least half a dozen assassination
    attempts while he was in prison, G€ ¦ómez Bustamante
    told a magazine that he preferred being
    extradited to being murdered. He also said he
    will disclose all the information about drug
    corruption in Colombia, AUC infiltration, and
    Mexican cartels, in exchange for a more lenient

    Whatever is ultimately proven, however, the
    spilling out of evidence linking Uribe to
    Colombia’s vast cocaine industry and to the
    country’s history of political murders is bad
    news for President Bush as he counts on Uribe to
    serve as the model for South America’s future and
    as a bulwark against Hugo Ch€ ¦ávez.

    Madrid-based Andr€ ¦és Cala has written about
    Colombia’s civil conflict since 1998. An
    award-winning journalist, he’s worked in six
    countries for several outlets, including the Wall
    Street Journal, Dow Jones Newswires, and the
    Associated Press. Cala’s e-mail is


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