Relatives of dozens of slain Colombians sued an Alabama-based coal
company in federal court Thursday, accusing it of making millions of
dollars in payments to a paramilitary group that sowed terror in the
South American country.
The suit said 67 victims of the The United Self-Defense Forces of
Colombia, also known as AUC, included unionists, farmworkers and
others. It claimed the rightwing group received payments from
operatives for Drummond allegedly to assassinate top union leaders and
protect the company’s large coal mine and railroad in Colombia.
lawsuit is much broader than one filed in March by the children of
three slain Colombian union leaders against Drummond Co. Inc.
similar lawsuit ended in 2007 with a verdict for Drummond, which has
repeatedly denied any connection with the Colombian violence. The
verdict was upheld by a federal appeals court in December.
plaintiffs in the latest lawsuit include hundreds of parents, children
and siblings of people allegedly killed by AUC, mostly in Colombia’s
Cesar and Magdalena provinces.
A spokesman for Drummond, Bruce
Windham, was out of its Birmingham headquarters Thursday and not
immediately available to return a call for comment.
Terry Collingsworth, who represents the plaintiffs, said the latest
lawsuit was filed because of new information alleging that Drummond
made payments to the paramilitary group, which he said “terrorized
people up and down Drummond’s railroad corridor.”
The suit lists
both the victims and their relatives with pseudonyms such as “Jane Doe”
or “Peter Doe,” followed by a sequence of numbers. A motion is pending
seeking to allow the suit to go forward while keeping the plaintiffs
“Many of the AUC leaders are now speaking freely about
their relationship with the elites of the Colombian business community,
and their direct collaboration with the Colombian military,” the suit
The suit, like the earlier ones, was filed under the more
than 200-year-old Alien Torts Claims Act, which allows foreigners to
file suit in U.S. courts for alleged wrongdoing overseas.
The initial suit was the first filed against a U.S. corporation under the law to ever make it to trial.
latest suit seeks unspecified financial damages and other relief. It
says the political situation in Colombia prevents the plaintiffs from
addressing their complaints in their home country.
by plantiffs to seek redress would be futile because those seeking to
challenge official or paramilitary violence, including prosecutors and
human rights activists, are at great risk of retaliation,” the lawsuit
The suit names as defendants Augusto Jimenez, the CEO of
Drummond’s Colombian subsidiary; Alfredo Araujo, Drummond’s community
relations manager in Colombia; and James Atkins, director of security
for Drummond in the South American country.
The suit alleges that Araujo is a close friend of a Colombian paramilitary leader, Rodrigo Tovar Pupo, also known as “Jorge 40.”
suit claims that from 1999 to 2006, Drummond paid millions of dollars
to “Jorge 40” and a wing of the AUC called the Juan Andres Alvarez
Front. It alleges that the payments were negotiated by Drummond through
Araujo and Atkins and approved by Jimenez.
According to the suit,
the victims were killed in such places as a kiosk, on a sports field,
in a shop — and some are said to have “disappeared,” apparently killed
and their bodies never found.
The suit alleges Drummond knew that
“because of the lawless environment created by the civil conflict in
Colombia, the paramilitaries acting as their agents, could murder trade
unionists employed at their mines — including Locarno, Orcasta and
Soler — with impunity.” (AP)