BFP Volume 4
the Right Thing
Co. Accused in Murder Conspiracy
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 theyre used to power our
electric blankets and X-Boxes. After depleting almost all
the coal here in Gods 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.
began operations in Colombia in 1995 when the company found
a 385-million-ton coal reserve. At the rate theyre
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 Drummonds mines and screen employees.
Colombian workers formed a union in 1996 despite their relatively
high wages of around $24,000 a year, five times the countrys
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.
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:
killings of Valmore Locarno Rodriguez and Victor Hugo Orcasita
illustrate the tactics Drummond and its paramilitary
associates use to silence workers and eliminate union leaders
at La Loma Mine.
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 Colombias 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 hasnt
made a move toward making the Drummond Colombian problem
2020: Whos Planning the Future?
the first in a series of reports on Region 2020, outlines
the scope of the groups 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
about information. Its about sustainable communities.
Its 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 2020s Master Plan.
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.
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. Chattanoogas revitalized downtown tourism
and creation of a riverwalk increased interest in housing
and commercial interests in the area.
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.
1996, the initial Region 2020 core group took the Chattanooga
projects 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.
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.
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.
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 2020s involvement are funded by both
corporate and non-profit sources.
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.
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.
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
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 dont surprise them
with information. Government agencies are necessarily
involved in some aspects of Region 2020s focus such
as transportation, and increasingly state officials communicate
regularly with the group.
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.
Consultant Tabitha Lacy added Region 2020 works in
collaboration with many organizations on these projects
the role of conveyer, catalyst or facilitator.
12 counties within Region 2020s focus are Bibb, Blount,
Calhoun, Chilton, Cullman, Etowah, Jefferson, Shelby, St.
Clair, Talladega, Tuscaloosa, and Walker counties.
overview has scratched the surface of Region 2020s
deep grain. Next issues 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