Authorities in Colombia have reopened an investigation into the 2001 murders of two union leaders associated with Drummond Company's mining operations in South America. Should those deaths be viewed in a new light, considering recent events in Alabama?
Two individuals tied to a $75-million lawsuit against Drummond and the Balch Bingham law firm have met with violence that could have been deadly. David Roberson, a former Drummond executive and plaintiff in the lawsuit, had someone shoot out the left rear window of his vehicle as he drove south on U.S. 280 on Feb. 26. Burt Newsome, Roberson's attorney, was the target of a head-on vehicle crash that appeared to be intentionally staged and left him with a broken leg that required trauma surgery at UAB.
Do these incidents on U.S. soil, combined with those in Colombia, suggest Drummond and/or Balch (or their affiliates) have access to thugs who will carry out frightful acts of retaliation? The answer is unclear at this point, but it seems like a reasonable question to ask. From an October 2018 article at al.com about the investigation in Colombia:
Colombian authorities confirmed that they have reopened an investigation into whether an Alabama-based coal company financed a paramilitary group during the South American nation’s bloody civil conflict.
The chief prosecutor's office said the investigation into the Colombian subsidiary of Drummond Co. Inc. is focusing on irregular payments allegedly made to a contractor, Jaime Blanco Maya, who was convicted in 2013 in the killing of two union leaders who worked at Drummond. Maya was sentenced to 38 years in prison.
Accusations have long swirled that Drummond financed an umbrella paramilitary group, but U.S. courts have repeatedly ruled against the families of the Colombian victims.
Authorities declined to provide details on why the probe was being reopened now. The Colombian newspaper El Tiempo first reported the investigation.
Terry Collingsworth is a Florida-based attorney who has been involved with litigation against Drummond:
Terry Collingsworth, a lawyer representing relatives of those killed by right-wing militias during the conflict, said the new investigation is a "first step" toward holding Drummond officials accountable and paying reparations.
"Justice is coming," he said.
Drummond has been operating in Colombia for several decades and is one of the nation's biggest coal exporters. In repeated lawsuits, human rights activists and victim relatives have alleged that Drummond hired militias to silence union activists and suspected leftists.
Colombia's conflict between leftist rebels, the state and paramilitary groups left at least 250,000 dead, 60,000 missing and millions displaced over more than five decades.
Drummond is not the first U.S. corporation to be accused of financing paramilitary groups. Cincinnati-based Chiquita Brands International pleaded guilty to paying right-wing militias in 2007, saying it was extorted and paid out of fear of violent retaliation. . . .
Blanco, the convicted Drummond contractor, ran a food services concession for the company and told The Associated Press in a jailhouse interview in 2011 that senior management had ordered the two union organizers killed.
Union leaders Valmore Locarno, 42 and Victor Hugo Orcasita, 36, worked in a Drummond mine in the northern state of Cesar and were killed in 2001 by paramilitaries as they returned from a shift.
Recent events in Alabama might not help Drummond's cause beyond the U.S. border, according to a report at banbalch.com. Writes Publisher K.B. Forbes, under the headline "Drummond, the Roberson Shooting, and Colombia":
We have always said that we have no bones to pick with Drummond Company.
We believe the company was misled by embattled law firm Balch & Bingham and their convicted felon and ex-partner Joel I. Gilbert in the North Birmingham Bribery Scandal.
We also believe former Drummond CEO Mike Tracy foolishly marched goose-step with Balch and made a mistake firing David Roberson when the company had vowed to stand by their loyal employee.
Now comes the shooting at David Roberson last Friday on Highway 280.
Some of the initial reactions to the attempted assassination was to imply without a shred of evidence that Drummond Company was allegedly behind the alleged hit.
Why? Why would people say such a thing?
Drummond's history in South America might answer that question, Forbes writes:
Because of the reopening in 2018 of the investigation of Drummond Company in Colombia of the murder of two labor leaders by a far-right paramilitary death squad in 2001 in which a Drummomd subcontractor, Jaime Blanco Maya, was sentenced to 38 years to prison for his involvement.
Drummond Company operates one of the largest coal mines in La Loma, Cesar, Colombia.
Labor leaders Valmore Locarno Rodriguez, 42, and Victor Hugo Orcasita Amaya, 36, (pictured above) were murdered by the paramilitary organization United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC).
Both men were abducted from a Drummond company bus as they returned home from a shift at the mine. Locarno was shot dead in front of his colleagues, while Orcasita was taken away. The following day his lifeless and tortured body was found, according to news reports.
In 2007, a U.S. jury found Drummond not liable in the murders in a civil suit brought by the estates of both men.
In 2013, another case against Drummond Company was dismissed after the plaintiff’s attorney Terry Collingsworth allegedly paid bribes to former AUC guerrillas and witnesses.
Like Chevron in Ecuador, multinational corporations have become targets by law firms and lawyers who appear to engage inunsavory and unethical conduct to secure judgments against the companies.
So lets talk about the Drummond subcontractor that no one likes to talk about.
What did Blanco Mayo do for Drummond and why did he have two union officials slaughtered?
Blanco Mayo had a generous $600,000 a year contract for providing cafeteria meals to Drummond employees in Colombia. Union officials allegedly complained about the quality of the food and he feared he would lose the contract, according to news reports.
Greed not union negotiations or Drummond’s operations appear to have been behind the murders.
As Drummond stated after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal in the Collingsworth case, “At no time have we ever been involved in illegal activities or in relationships with illegal groups.”
Serving mediocre chicken empanadas may have nothing to do with a bullet flying on Highway 280.
However, now that Drummond appears to have lied in court filings with manipulated Balch invoices, authorities in Colombia may no longer believe corporate officials or value Drummond’s integrity.
March 12th marks the 20th anniversary of the murders.
“Confused” Blake Andrews, the General Counsel at Drummond, appears to have made Roberson the “fall guy.”
Will investigators in Colombia now believe that Blanco Maya was the “chivo expiatorio?”