BFP Volume 4

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Columnists:

B-Moe

Jim Reed


Classic BFP

Drummond Co. Accused in Murder Conspiracy

March 2004

When Heman Drummond founded Drummond Coal Company in 1935 he could only imagine the empire his small operation would grow into. Today this family-owned company digs up over 25 million tons of coal annually with revenues of $800 million. The coal, which was once mined in Alabama, now mostly comes from Colombia. These nuggets of black gold are eventually sold to Alabama Power where they’re used to power our electric blankets and X-Boxes. After depleting almost all the coal here in God’s country Drummond moved its operations south to the untapped fields of South America. The past few years has seen the closing of five mines in Alabama and the firing of more than 1,000 workers.

Drummond began operations in Colombia in 1995 when the company found a 385-million-ton coal reserve. At the rate they’re going it could be as depleted as Alabama before the 20-year contract with the banana republic expires. A big boon came in 2000 when Congress approved $1.7 Billion dollars to fight rebels and drug traffickers in the region. The package, which was strongly backed by President Clinton, provided helicopters and equipment to help defeat leftist rebels. That same year FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) kidnapped four Drummond employees who were eventually released. Fighting between the leftist FARC and right-wing United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia have continued unabated for the past decade. A railroad used by Drummond Co. to transport coal has been bombed no less than 40 times since 1995. The company has built barracks to house over 300 Colombian army troops who guard Drummond’s mines and screen employees.

Drummond’s Colombian workers formed a union in 1996 despite their relatively high wages of around $24,000 a year, five times the country’s average. According to the Wall Street Journal Drummond executives likened the union to “leftist guerrillas” and some advocated “getting rid of the union.” Whether or not the company has gone to lengths to get rid of the union may be decided in a Birmingham court sometime next year. A civil lawsuit has been filed against Drummond by the International Labor Rights Fund and the Steelworkers of America on behalf of Colombian mineworkers and their families. The $100 million suit filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of Alabama charges the company with “hiring gunmen to torture, kidnap and murder union leaders.” The irony is that $100 million is pocket change to the Drummonds, who have already invested over a billion dollars in Colombia.

The plaintiffs in the case have invoked a long-forgotten 1789 law called the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA). The Act polices the behavior of American Companies overseas. Supposedly Drummond supported paramilitary fighters who were responsible for the deaths of three Colombian union officials. The most dramatic rendition of the story can be found at nomorevictims.org and goes something like this:

“The killings of Valmore Locarno Rodriguez and Victor Hugo Orcasita illustrate the tactics Drummond and it’s paramilitary associates use to silence workers and eliminate union leaders at La Loma Mine.

“On Monday, March 12, 2001, Rodriguez and Orcasita were riding from their jobs at the Loma coal mine in north Colombia. Rodriguez and Orcasita were chairperson and vice-chairperson of the union at the mine, a local of Sintramienergetica, one of Colombia’s two coal miners’ unions. As the company bus neared Valledupar, 48 km from the mine, it was stopped by 15 gunmen, some in military uniforms. They began checking the identification of the workers. When they found the two union leaders they pulled them off the bus.


“Rodriguez was hit in the head with a rifle butt. One of the gunmen then shot him in the face as his fellow workers on the bus watched in horror. Orcasita was taken off into the woods at the side of the road. There he was tortured. When his body was found later his fingernails had been torn off.”

Just before the assassinations Rodriguez and Orcasita started receiving phone calls at home urging them to leave town or be killed. Pamphlets also had been distributed around the mine attacking the union leaders as leftist guerrillas. Seven months later the replacement union leader, Gustavo Soler Mora, was killed in a similar fashion.

Drummond Company denies any wrongdoing in Colombia and claims that a peaceful climate is what they desire to promote business in the country.
On April 23, 2003 the Court stated that the plaintiffs could pursue the case ruling that international law is an evolving concept. In doing so it found that Articles 20 and 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 22 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and International Labor Organization Conventions 87 and 98, all recognize the right to organize and form a union. It found these are sufficiently well established international norms and therefore have effect as law in U.S. Federal Court through the ATCA.

The Court found that the plaintiffs sufficiently alleged that Drummond Company engaged in war crimes that resulted in the extrajudicial killings of the union leaders and that laws of war contained in the Geneva Conventions apply to the paramilitary groups operating in Colombia. The plaintiffs also relied on the Torture Victims Protection Act, which the Court agreed applied to corporations. Also the court agreed to grant the heirs of the slain union leaders the right to proceed anonymously.

1,925 union workers were murdered in Colombia between 1991 and 2002. The Bush administration has intervened to seek dismissal on three similar cases arguing that such actions could complicate U.S. foreign policy. So far the Bush administration hasn’t made a move toward making the Drummond Colombian “problem” disappear.

Stephen Smith

Region 2020: Who’s Planning the Future?

This, the first in a series of reports on Region 2020, outlines the scope of the group’s influence, focusing on the Housing Enterprise of Central Alabama. Each report will provide overviews, while examining one of its goals in-depth. The Birmingham Free Press welcomes submissions from writers who have opinions about or connections to Region 2020 and its projects.

It’s about information. It’s about sustainable communities. It’s about citizens governing, not just choosing whom to govern. Region 2020 is so far-reaching within such a non-traditional framework, it is difficult, at first, to know what it is not. Issues relating to housing, education, transportation, natural resources and the arts all fall within the realm of Region 2020’s Master Plan.

Although many U.S. cities are now starting similar grassroots projects, Region 2020 has been around longer than most and differs also in its larger, regional scale.

The “Chattanooga Venture,” a Tennessee project started more than 15 years before Region 2020, influenced a number of civic-minded citizens of Birmingham to create a similar model here. Chattanooga’s revitalized downtown tourism and creation of a riverwalk increased interest in housing and commercial interests in the area.

Those who are concerned with improving neighborhoods and creating sustainable communities reason that the transformation of existing under-utilized space can be a profitable solution. Region 2020 seeks to improve the quality of life for central Alabamians by reaching further into communities than most other models before it.

In 1996, the initial Region 2020 core group took the Chattanooga project’s structure and broadened it to a regional scope, also making a commitment to cross political boundaries. They gathered a task force of about 60 Jefferson and Shelby County residents to identify and prioritize issues. About nine months later, Region 2020 incorporated and in 1997 they involved more than 5,000 citizens and legislators to identify problems and develop solutions.

The “visioning task force” has continued to hold public meetings to gather information about the biggest concerns of the citizens of 12 central Alabama counties. Region 2020 Director Ann Florie was part of that group of Birmingham initiators who brought together the task force.

Region 2020 recently became one of three partners in the Center for Regional Planning and Design, located in the historic Young and Vann Supply Co. building in downtown Birmingham. Florie explained “The center is a neutral space that belongs to governments and citizens in the region.”

The Hugh Kaul Foundation, The Robert R. Meyer Foundation, and The Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham are among the biggest sources of funding for research and staff. All areas of Region 2020’s involvement are funded by both corporate and non-profit sources.

Opponents to Region 2020 include many Libertarians and a host of other conservative organizations. Although Region 2020 operates without government funding, some opponents view the group as contributing to an increasingly expanding government. Other critics mistrust the economic impact of “sustainability.”

 


“The Mustard Seed” is the “official newsletter of the Alabama Committee to Get Us Out of the United Nations.” Its on-line publication pointed out that “The Book on Region 2020” is written using verbiage and structure very similar to United Nations materials.

Publishers of “The Mustard Seed” do not see Region 2020 as the grassroots project it appears to be and advised citizens to “ask yourself: ‘Do I really want a group of bureaucrats sitting in an office somewhere planning virtually every aspect of my life?’ By the time you finish looking at the many programs laid out in these plans, you should have realized that it is a master plan for control over nearly any human activity one may consider.” This group had several concerns about Region 2020 including a lack of confidence in the size of the initial sample groups

According to Florie, elected officials seek information and ideas from Region 2020 and they share information often. She explained “This has never been done before and affects a large region of elected officials, so we don’t surprise them with information.” Government agencies are necessarily involved in some aspects of Region 2020’s focus such as transportation, and increasingly state officials communicate regularly with the group.

Program Coordinator, Elizabeth Sims, said Region 2020 is involved with approximately 30 different “issues,” acting on about half that number at any given time. Current initiatives include the Arts and Culture Master Plan and Regional Cultural Alliance, the Regional Growth Alliance, Web 2020, Professional Development for Teachers, Framework for Growth, a Watershed Plan for the Cahaba River, a Regional Water Resource Assessment Project and a Birmingham City Center Master Plan update.

Media Consultant Tabitha Lacy added “Region 2020 works in collaboration with many organizations on these projects…(taking) the role of conveyer, catalyst or facilitator.”

The 12 counties within Region 2020’s focus are Bibb, Blount, Calhoun, Chilton, Cullman, Etowah, Jefferson, Shelby, St. Clair, Talladega, Tuscaloosa, and Walker counties.

This overview has scratched the surface of Region 2020’s deep grain. Next issue’s report will continue to clarify more of the connections and simplify what, at first glance, appear to be its complexities. This twenty-first century model has likenesses appearing rapidly across the United States, predicting a powerful shift in the way citizens create change.

Samantha Bonnie