Colombia: US court throws out suit against Drummond

On July 25 US District Judge David Proctor in Birmingham, Alabama, dismissed a 2009 lawsuit seeking to hold the Alabama-based Drummond Co. Inc. coal company liable for killings by right-wing paramilitaries near a Drummond mine in Colombia. The suit, Balcero Giraldo v. Drummond Co., charged that the company had been paying the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), which the US listed as a terrorist organization in 2001, to protect a rail line used to ship Drummond coal. Judge Proctor based his decision on the US Supreme Court’s April 17 decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, which sharply restricted the use of the 1789 Alien Tort Statute for foreign nationals to sue for human rights violations that took place outside the US. Proctor ruled that under the Kiobel decision the plaintiffs would need to present sufficient evidence that the alleged crimes were planned in the US; the judge said they had failed to do so.

This was labor rights attorney Terry Collingsworth’s third failure in an effort to have US federal courts act on evidence that Drummond was responsible for the murders of Colombians, including unionists working for the company in Colombia. In January a Colombian court found former Drummond contractor Jaime Blanco guilty in the 2001 murders of two union members; Blanco has charged that Drummond senior managers ordered the murders, and the judge that convicted Blanco asked Colombian authorities to investigate Drummond’s role. (Birmingham Business Journal, July 31; Bloomberg News, Aug. 1)

As of Aug. 2 Drummond was still confronted with an open-ended strike that miners in the company’s Colombian mines started on July 23 over wage issues. Labor Ministry officials were trying to organize direct talks between the two sides in Santa Marta in the Caribbean department of Magdalena; the company’s Pribbenow and La Loma mines are located in the nearby department of Cesar. A union negotiator, Humberto Suárez, told Bloomberg News that a deal might be made “in the next few days.” (Business Week, Aug. 2, from Bloomberg) Meanwhile, a group of former Drummond employees with health problems occupied the cathedral in Santa Marta on Aug. 2 and began a hunger strike to protest the lack of attention by the company and the government to their situation. (El Tiempo, Bogotá, Aug. 2)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, August 4.

  1. Colombia fines coal company in spill

    Colombia’s government is fining US-based Drummond Co. almost $3.6 million for dumping tons of coal into the ocean at the Caribbean port of Santa Marta last year. Environment Minister Luz Helena Sarmiento said in a news conference Dec. 19 that the Alabama-based company must also clean up the fouled beachfront. Drummond is Colombia’s second-biggest coal exporter. It didn’t immediately comment on the decision. (AP, Dec. 19)