A former paramilitary has testified before a U.S. court that coal giant Drummond Ltd. paid paramilitaries $1.5 million to murder union leaders, Colombian media reported Tuesday.
Alcides Mattos Tabares, alias “El Samario,” claimed that as part of the Northern Bloc of the AUC he took part in the murdering of employees ordered by Drummond.
Drummond’s union president and vice president, Valmore Locarno and Victor Hugo Orcasita, “had” to be killed because they were organizing a strike that would have generated losses for the company, said Tabares.
From 2002 until his 2005 capture, Tabares patrolled Drummond’s railway lines, where he participated in killings, sometimes directed by Drummond employees, he claimed. He spoke of the trade unionists’ murder saying,”I was not exactly the shooter, but I participated in the event as [paramilitay commander] ‘Tolemaida’s’ security chief.”
Tabares spoke about a November 2000 meeting with Jaime Blanco, the brother of former lawyer Edgardo Maya, who worked with the employees of the company to discuss the killings. “I knew that there was an agreement between commander ‘Tolomaida’, Jaime Blanco, and other officials that had been reached earlier,” he said.
The Northern Block had the strength to expand to the Perija mountains because of the monthly payments of $100,000 or $150,000 were made by Drummond to the AUC through attorneys, the ex-paramilitary told the court.
Drummond began operating its Colombian branch, Drummond Inc. in 1995. The company’s two open-pit coal mines, near La Loma in the Cesar department, produce some 25 million tons of coal a year, according to Bloomberg News.
Lawyers for the company have claimed that Drummond relied on the Colombian military and its own security forces to defend against guerrilla attacks on company trains, which transports coal 120 miles to a port in Santa Marta. Officials for the Alabama-based Drummond Ltd. have denied all claims that the company had connections to the AUC or any other paramilitary group.
None of the company’s directors have been convicted for the coal giant’s alleged dealings with the death squads, and although Drummond was ordered to pay a $25,000 fine to the U.S. Justice Department the victims’ families were never compensated.
Tabares was testifying during the first hearing in a civil lawsuit, in which more than 600 alleged victims and relatives are filing a class action against Drummond. The next hearing will be on March 22 in Barranquilla, during which another ex-paramilitary, John Jairo Esquivel Cuadrado, alias “El Tigre,” will testify.