A delegation from the Netherlands, including government ministers, parliamentarians and energy company executives is visiting northern Colombia after a local NGO had called for a boycott of Colombian “blood coal.”
Colombia sends 70% of its 75 million tonnes of annual coal exports to European countries, but two of the leading companies active in Colombia have been accused of funding and supporting the AUC paramilitary group, responsible for an estimated 2,600 homicides.
The former leader of the Front, John Jairo Esquivel, alias “El Tigre”, told a Colombian court that the Alabama-based Drummond Company agreed to pay the paramilitaries to guard the company’s railway.
A former member of the AUC, “El Samario,” has also testified before a US court that Drummond had paid the group $1.5 million to kill trades unionist leaders who were organizing a strike that would have caused losses for the company.
Swiss-based Glencore, meanwhile, resourced the AUC in return for the paramilitaries protecting of its infrastructure, according to ex-Army Officer turned Glencore contractor “El Canoso.” Glencore is the world’s tenth largest company, and one of the most powerful commodity traders.
The visiting delegation includes Dutch Minister for foreign trade and development cooperation, Lilianne Ploumen, executives of five Dutch energy companies that buy coal from Cesar, two members of the Dutch Parliament, and members of the civil society organisations PAX, Cordaid, SOMO and FNV Mondiaal.
PAX produced the report “The Dark Side of Coal” compiling evidence of Glencore and Drummond’s involvement with paramilitaries, and the organisation’s Sander Otten will be part of the delegation. He told Colombia Reports that the delegation and the threat of a Dutch boycott of Colombian coal could serve as leverage to make the companies recognize their histories of violence and to enter into dialogues under Colombian government auspices with the families of their victims to discuss reparations.
Colombia’s Minister of Foreign Relations and Minister of Mines and Energy may accompany the delegation, according to Otten, but their participation has not yet been confirmed. The NGO’s research into the links between the companies and the armed groups has been made difficult due to the intimidation of both former victims and victimizers, he says, and also due to the inefficiency and lack of transparency in Colombia’s justice system.
A Colombian judge who last year convicted a Drummond contractor for murdering trades unionists Valmore Locarno, 42, and Victor Hugo Orcasita, 36, in 2001, also ordered prosecutors to investigate whether Drummond executives were also involved. “So far they have not complied” says Otten.
On Monday, Dutch Minister Lilianne Ploumen signed a bilateral agreement in Bogota with Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin which allows Dutch airline KLM to make direct flights from Amsterdam to Bogota and Cali. Before leaving the Netherlands, Ploumen said that “our relationship with Colombia is undergoing a radical change, from a traditional aid relationship to a trade relationship between equal partners. This means opportunities for Dutch businesses, especially when it comes to agrifood, water and maritime technology.”
- Interview with Sander Otten
- Ploumen to visit Colombia with businesses and NGOs (Dutch Government)
- The dark side of coal (PAX)