MAC: Mines and Communities

U.s Company Accused Of Having Union Leaders Killed In Colombia

Published by MAC on 2006-06-20
Source: El Nuevo Herald

U.S company accused of having union leaders killed in Colombia

El Nuevo Herald

20th June 2006

A former Colombian intelligence officer has claimed that he saw the head of the Colombian branch of a U.S. coal company hand over a suitcase full of cash to pay for the assassinations of two labor leaders, according to a document filed in a U.S. court.

The sworn statement by Rafael García was made to U.S. lawyers for U.S. labor rights groups who filed a civil suit in 2002 alleging the killers were ''acting as employees or agents'' of the Alabama-based Drummond. The trial in Birmingham is scheduled to begin in October.

Drummond has steadfastly denied any involvement in the 2001 murders of Valmore Locarno and Víctor Orcasita, president and vice president of one of the labor unions representing workers at its coal operations in northcentral Colombia. A Drummond attorney Thusday declined any comment.

García, a former official of Colombia's equivalent of the FBI, is jailed in Bogotá on charges of corruption. He has made a recent string of allegations of DAS links to illegal paramilitary groups and electoral fraud that have unleashed a mayor scandal there.

His allegations about Drummond came in a sworn statement he gave earlier this month during a jailhouse visit by U.S. lawyer Dan Kovalik, who represents the relatives of the slain labor leaders in their suit against Drummond, supported by U.S. labor groups.

The suit was filed under the U.S. Alien Tort Claims Act, an 18th Century law passed to fight piracy abroad but lately used by individuals to file suit over a broad range of allegations, from torture by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan to Central American human rights abusers and the Cuban firing-squad execution of a boat hijacker.

In his statement to Kovalik, García said he was present at a meeting during which Augusto Jiménez, Colombian president of Drummond's Colombian branch Drummond Limitada, produced a briefcase with $200,000 in cash that was to be paid to a paramilitary leader, Rodrigo Tovar Pupo.

''That money was to be delivered to ... Tovar Pupo to assassinate specific labor leaders at Drummond,'' he said in the statement, obtained by El Nuevo Herald. García identified the victims as Víctor Hugo Orcasita and ``a gentleman by the name of Locarno.''

García did not claim to know the actual killers of the two leaders of the labor union at Drummond, Sintramienergética. The right-wing paramilitaries have regularly killed leftist guerrillas and suspected supporters, among them scores of labor union and human rights activists.

Colombian prosecutors Thursday said the investigation into the Sintramienergética leaders was still in its preliminary stages, with no arrests or official suspects.

García has previously told Herald and Colombian journalists that the DAS at one point drafted a list of union leaders and others, alleged collaborators with leftist guerrillas, that was to be killed by the paramiliaries.

Drummond Limitada exploits a large coal mine in the northern Colombia province of César that employs about 3,000 workers.

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