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NONVIOLENT ACTIVIST: The Magazine of the War Resisters League

Sept.-Oct. 2005:
Activist Editorial
Israel Divestment
Drummond, Merchant of Death
Student-Farmworker Alliance
Judith Pasternak
Activist Reviews

War Resisters League
The Nonviolent Activist

Merchant of Death of the Month
Drummond Coal

By Stephen Flanagan Jackson

Drummond Co., Inc.

Alabama Byproducts Corporation (ABC Coke), Perry Supply, Inc.

Corporate Headquarters
530 Beacon Pkwy. W, Ste. 900 Birmingham, AL 35209-3196

Primary Products/Services
Bituminous coal and surface mining, coke production, real estate

Garry N. Drummond Sr.

The Southern Company (subsidiary, Alabama Power), Alabama Electric Cooperative

Campaign Contributions
$285,750 in 2004

Colombian Nobel Laureate Gabriel García Márquez says that his homeland is “a holocaust of Biblical proportions.” Indeed, the 35-year U.S.-funded civil war in Colombia continues, claiming more than 4000 lives each year—most of which are civilian (see NVA, Jan-Feb 2004, Mar-Apr 2004). Exacerbating the turmoil are the multinational mining and energy companies who stop at nothing to gain rights to Colombia’s rich oil and coal reserves.

Francisco Ramirez Cuellar, president of Colombia’s National Mineworkers’ Union Sintraminercol, says that through legal maneuvers, corruption, and paramilitary violence, multinationals have usurped Colombia’s resources, displacing and murdering those who have challenged them.

These horrors play out in real, specific, and deadly actions by the multinational Drummond Coal Company. Drummond runs a lucrative coal mining operation in La Loma, Colombia, and through recent alleged chicanery, plans to drill for oil in northeast Colombia. Additionally, Drummond condones violent measures in its campaign of intimidation against its workers involved in union activity.

In March of 2001, 30 miles from the La Loma coal mine, 15 gunmen in the camouflage garb of the paramilitary stopped and boarded a bus of workers, including Valmore Locarno and Victor Orcasita, president and vice president of the La Loma coal miners’ union Sintramienergetica. The gunmen then snatched the union leaders off the bus and killed them. Months later, apparent paramilitaries also murdered Sintramienergetica’s new president, Gustavo Soler, after stopping a city bus and removing him.

While Drummond denies any involvement in the assassinations of its employees, the company maintains barracks for the Colombian military at La Loma, where it provides food and fuel to more than 300 troops. The company claims the troops are for security purposes to protect against left-wing guerrilla “sabotage.” Yet, eyewitness accounts by union officials and mineworkers allege that the right-wing paramilitaries have also eaten and received fuel at Drummond facilities.

“Whether Drummond brought in the killers of these union leaders for security purposes or to intimidate the workers … it brought them in, and it led to the murders,” charges Terry Collingsworth, a lawyer for the Colombia labor union. “If you hire the Mafia for security and they kill somebody, you are responsible.”

Joaquín Romero, another Colombian labor union leader, says, “In Colombia, the government and the multinational corporations like to lump us in organized labor into the same barrel as the left-wing communist guerrilla. That way, they justify killing us.”

Charged with colluding in the murders, Drummond faces a civil lawsuit in the United States. The case is being heard in a Birmingham, AL, federal court by Judge Karon O. Bowdre, a George W. Bush appointee.

Attorneys for the slain Colombians’ families and the union say the case is at least six months away from a jury trial—if it ever reaches that stage. Depositions in the case are due to be taken soon from CEO Garry Drummond at his plush Beacon Parkway offices in Birmingham, and from Augusto Jiminez, Drummond’s general manager in Colombia.

In addition to this lawsuit, Drummond Coal Co. must now contend with another that alleges a racketeering scheme to illegally divert Colombian oil concessions to the company. Filed in April in federal court in Orlando, FL, the suit charges Colombia’s President Álvaro Uribe, his closest adviser and head of Ecopetrol (the government agency that administers mineral rights) Fabio Echeverri, and other Ecopetrol officials with corruption, abuse of power, intimidation, and threats in order to seize oil rights and award them to Drummond.

The Dutch owners of Llanos Oil Exploration Ltd., a U.S.-based company with business in Bogotá, charge Drummond with stealing Llanos’ oil rights to vast, untapped oil reserves in Las Nieves near Drummond’s Colombia coal mines. Llanos officials compare the oil deposits, potentially worth billions of dollars, to the La Paz and La Mara oil fields of Venezuela—the major oil fields that make the Hugo Chavez-led country the world’s eighth largest oil producer.

“The litigation has no merit whatsoever,” says George Menico Jr., Drummond’s attorney in the civil action. Officials for the Uribe administration and Ecopetrol have told Bogotá media that no wrongdoing transpired, and that Llanos defaulted on its concession through its own mismanagement.

Llanos also alleges that Drummond is in a “symbiotic and cooperative” relationship with both the regular Colombian military and the right-wing paramilitaries at Drummond’s coal mine. “Drummond pays the paramilitary out of a slush fund account,” the Llanos lawsuit claims. Albert van Bilderbeek, Llanos’ majority owner, says the paramilitaries—specifically the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia—came into the picture when Echeverri falsely advised the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency that Llanos Oil was in cahoots with the paramilitary group “to launder drug proceeds.”

“Right now my brother Hendrik, the president of Llanos, is being held in La Modela prison in Bogotá on suspicion of drug-money laundering,” says van Bilderbeek.

Echeverri is named by the lawsuit as another “agent of Drummond … who had initiated the corrupt scheme to divert the mineral rights originally leased to Llanos.” In addition, the suit asserts that “Ecopetrol itself was widely suspected of operating a drug organization protected by the Colombian army.” Echeverri denies any wrongdoing, claiming that Llanos defaulted on its lease and that the suit is sour grapes.

Van Bilderbeek says once Ecopetrol terminated the concession to Llanos, the awarding of the contract to Drummond in December 2003 took place in the record time of 18 days. “This process normally takes a year or more,” says van Bilderbeek. Llanos’ Orlando attorney Harrison Slaughter states that it is unknown whether Drummond wanted this petroleum deposit—which could potentially become the most important oil deposit worldwide in years—for the extraordinary potential of light oil production or for the strategic location near its coal mine or for both reasons.

Arguing for the case to be heard in the United States, van Bilderbeek says Drummond—through its Colombian allies in high places—unduly influences Colombian law, law enforcement, and judiciary. The Llanos action is being brought in the U.S. District Court under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and Florida common law.

In the labyrinth of corporate greed and government corruption known as Colombia, it’s the people—workers, indigenous, farmers—simply trying to stay alive who ultimately bear the brunt of this political and economic violence. But to multinationals like Drummond, underhanded business, intimidating union leaders, and fanning the flames of civil war mean profit, earning the corporation the deserved title: Merchant of Death.

Stephen Flanagan Jackson is an editor and writer for the Latin American Post, Bogotá, and a professor of journalism at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, AL. Contact sfjackson10@hotmail.com. Material for this article was obtained from interviews Mr. Jackson has conducted over the past ten years.


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