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Drummond Corporation and Colombia's Death Squads

By staff

Birmingham, AL – In northwestern Colombia in 2001, the president and vice president of the mining union Sintramienergetica were taken off a Drummond bus and shot to death by paramilitary death squads hired by the corporation. Later that year, paramilitaries also killed the new president. These men were all killed during negotiations with Drummond.

The miners union and the International Labor Relief Fund filed a civil suit against Drummond in 2002. Despite the court case, even more Drummond workers have since been threatened and murdered by paramilitaries. The civil suit was going to start on July 9 in Birmingham, Alabama. But on June 20 Bush-appointed judge Karen Bowdry ruled that Drummond will not have to stand trial on ‘wrongful death’ charges, even though there are numerous Colombian citizens willing to testify that Drummond paid right-wing death squads to kill union organizers. “Drummond, which made $2 billion last year strip mining coal in Colombia, is an Alabama firm, owned by Republicans, being tried in a Republican court,” explains Birmingham community activist Reverend Jack Zylman.

At the trial multiple witnesses were scheduled to testify that Drummond made regular payments to the U.S. government-sponsored death squads, and a paramilitary officer was going to testify to being hired to ‘neutralize’ union leadership.

Peace and student groups are organizing a demonstration for what would have been first day of the trial on July 9 at the federal courts building in Birmingham. This case brings further national and international attention to the crimes of U.S. corporations in Colombia and to the role of U.S. sponsored death squads. Chapin Gray of Tuscaloosa Students for a Democratic Society explains, “Corporations should not be allowed to literally get away with murder. Period. When Colombians try to improve their working conditions, they are killed so that big corporations like Drummond can continue raking-in high profits. We want to bring attention to these charges so that more people will realize what is going on, will see the ties between the U.S. government, the Uribe administration and the paramilitaries, and to demand that those ties be severed. We want Drummond to know that we’re watching them. We want justice.”

U.S. Aid Funds Colombian Death Squads

“Colombia is a country dominated by U.S. economic and political interests. There is growing U.S. intervention with soldiers on the ground engaged in combat, and $5 billion given to Colombia since 2000. The U.S. is running Colombia for the benefit of corporations. Worker after worker and peasant after peasant told the Colombia Action Network delegation that U.S. military aid goes straight into the hands of U.S. government-sponsored death squads that terrorize their communities,” said Meredith Aby of the Colombia Action Network.

Colombia receives more U.S. military aid than any other country outside of the Middle East. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Colombia Action Network delegations have documented that the right-wing Colombian government uses U.S. tax dollars to kill and threaten trade unionists, human rights workers, and campesinos (peasants) who organize against the U.S.’s free trade agenda.

As a result Colombia is the most dangerous place to be a trade union activist in the world. U.S. corporations like Coca-Cola, Chiquita, Drummond and Occidental Oil hire paramilitaries to target trade unionists in order to kill union organizing and negotiating efforts. This corporate-death squad link has come under increasing scrutiny recently. Since 2002, the Colombian Action Network has been leading a boycott of Coca-Cola products for Coca-Cola’s collusion with death squads and the murders of eight trade unionists. Campuses across the country have been ending their contracts with ‘Killer Coke.’ This spring, Chiquita pled guilty to arming and funding paramilitaries in Colombia.

The ruling comes at an important time. The Bush administration and Colombia’s President Uribe want the U.S. to pass a new free trade agreement. Drummond has laid off 1700 U.S. miners who earned $18 an hour and moved their operations to Colombia. In comparison, Colombian miners earn an hourly wage of $2.45, receive no other benefits, and are threatened, kidnapped and murdered by paramilitaries for union organizing. Passage of this free trade agreement would only further hurt workers in both countries.

Despite the increasing publicity of the atrocities that the Colombian government really does with U.S. support, President Bush has requested $600 million more in military aid for Colombia. However, Congress is currently debating whether to discontinue U.S. military aid. “Drummond’s crimes give us the opportunity to make the impact of U.S.-sponsored death squads real to the American public and to Congress,” explained Aby. “Trade unionists and peace activists should come demonstrate in support of the workers in Colombia and to protest the judge’s unjust ruling.”

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