Colombia Peace Presence Update, August 2003
Colombia Peace Presence Update, August 2003
Civil lawsuits are charging three US corporations with involvement in serious human rights violations in Colombia. According to the International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF) and the United Steelworkers Union (USWA), Coca-Cola bottler Pan American Beverages (Panamco) and Alabama-based Drummond Company, Inc, which operates a large coal mine in Colombia, provide support to the paramilitary group AUC. Occidental Petroleum has been accused of involvement in the killing of 17 civilians in the oil-rich Arauca department.
Kill for a Coke?
Soldiers search the car of Colombian family, while a child looks on. Photo: NK
Paramilitaries in Colombia are well known for murdering, abducting and torturing trade union leaders. One union representing workers at Coca-Cola, SINALTRAINAL, has suffered heavy losses of leaders and members employed by the company. Union leader William Mendoza earlier this year urged consumers in the United States to stop buying Coca-Cola products. Mendoza talked about the low wages in the bottling subsidiaries in Colombia and said that the company is planning to close several plants.
“The only obstacle is the union, that’s why they want to finish us off,” Mendoza said in a presentation in Missoula, Montana. Mendoza said that Coca-Cola bottlers give their products to paramilitary groups in Colombia, which then use the money from their sales to fund themselves. Paramilitary forces killed eight Coca-Cola union members and kidnapped two dozen others. Mendoza also has been threatened repeatedly, and paramilitaries attempted to kidnap his 4-year-old daughter last year.
According to the Resource Center of the Americas, Drummond Company with headquarters in Birmingham, Alabama, opened a coal mine in Loma in 1994. Loma is a town in northern Colombia and the Loma operation has become the country’s second largest mine.
Since opening in Loma, Drummond has closed five mines in Alabama and laid off 1,700 members of the United Mine Workers of America. While a unionized Alabama miner earns $3,060 a month, plus benefits, a Loma miner earns only $500 -1,000 a month.
In March 2002, ILRF and the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) filed suit against the Drummond Company and its owner, Garry Drummond, on behalf of the families of slain workers and their union, the Mining and Energy Industry Workers Union of Colombia. The suit says Drummond hired paramilitaries to kidnap, torture and kill three union leaders in Loma in 2000.
Occidental Petroleum complex in Colombia, surrounded by open waste pits. Photo: NK
In April, the ILRF and other human rights lawyers filed suit against Occidental Petroleum and its security contractor, Airscan, Inc., for their role in the murder of 17 civilians in the hamlet of Santo Domingo, Colombia on December 13, 1998.
Alberto Galvis, a young man currently living in exile in the US, lost his mother, a sister and a cousin, who were among those killed. He escaped because he was working on the family’s fields outside of the community. But he saw the helicopter and heard the explosion of a bomb. He tried to make his way to the community, but couldn’t and only found out about his loved ones’s deaths from a phone call he managed to make the next day from a nearby town. In an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in April of this year he summarized what happened: “The Colombian Air Force bombed my hometown of Santo Domingo, Arauca. In the attack, seventeen people died, including seven children. Among the dead were my mother, my sister, and my cousins. The Air Force justified the attack by claiming there were guerrilla fighters in the community, but this was false.” (See box below)
Campaign to End Corporate Violence Against Colombian Trade Unionists
The ILRF and USWA have brought lawsuits against Coca-Cola and Drummond seeking to stop the corporate complicity in human rights violations by the AUC. In both cases, the courts have acknowledged links between the Colombian state and paramilitary groups.
1. Support campaigns against companies that violate human rights in Colombia. Regular updates are available at www.laborrights.org. The first target is Coca-Cola for its ongoing support for the AUC in a campaign of terror against trade unionists. For more information about the Coca-Cola campaign, contact Corporate Campaign, Inc. at www.killercoke.org. For a sample letter, visit www.cokewatch.org/indivletter.htm.
2. Divest from companies supporting terrorist groups in Colombia. Contact investment firms you know and urge them to do the same.
3. Write to Attorney General John Ashcroft and demand that he take action to investigate and prosecute U.S. companies for violating 18 U.S.C.§ 2339B by providing support to the AUC, a designated terrorist organization. A sample letter is available at http://www.laborrights.org/
4. Write to individual companies and tell them that you are supporting the campaign and investment ban because of your concern that companies doing business in Colombia are getting away with murder. Sample letters to the companies is available at www.laborrights.org.
Or you can write to:
Garry N. Drummond, CEO
Drummond Company, Inc.
530 Beacon Parkway, Suite 900
Birmingham, Alabama 35209
Statement made by witness of massacre at Occidental Petroleum shareholders meeting early this year:
My name is Luis Alberto Galvis. I am from Colombia, the department of Arauca and the town of Santo Domingo. Four years ago, on December 13, 1998, my town was bombed by the Colombian Air Force, with the direct participation of Occidental Petroleum and Airscan, Oxy’s security contractor. 17 people were killed, among them my mother, sister and cousin. Seven of those who were killed, were children. 25 people were badly wounded, among them my father. I am a witness and survivor of this massacre. You cannot imagine the pain that this incident has caused, the frightening remains that were left of my loved ones: burned, mutilated and almost impossible to recognize, my mother’s head was left destroyed. Before the bombing, as a family we spent all of our time together, worked together and lived nearby. Today, we no longer share our lives together, as many of us are displaced and separated.
According to recent investigations, these deaths were a result of a cluster bomb dropped on my town by a Blackhawk helicopter donated by the United States. In addition, three US pilots flying the Skymaster plane were at the service of Occidental, and gave the coordinates of where to bomb.
In conclusion, I want to say, as a person who is directly affected, as a family member of victims, as a witness and survivor, I will continue my struggle. With this lawsuit, I seek truth, justice and reparations for the damages that were caused to my family.
I wish you could place yourselves in my shoes. What would you have done? Where is the original video about exactly what happened that day? Why was our town bombed if it is more that 30 miles away from the pipeline? Why, with all the technology available, can you not differentiate between children and the civilian population and guerrillas? I believe that I have the right to know exactly what happened. I am here to ask you, Occidental, why was your compound used to plan the bombing of my village?
Colombia Program Coordinator