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It's the Real Thing: Murder | The Nation

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It's the Real Thing: Murder

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On March 12, at the end of a shift, Valmore Locarno and Victor Orcasita left the mine together, in the second of four daily company-chartered buses into town. Union officials say that when the bus passed a toll booth, about ten paramilitaries in a four by four pulled it over. Soler says, "We think that some person from the mine had contact with the assassins because they knew exactly which bus [Locarno and Orcasita] were on." Union officials say a man in the front seat of the paramilitaries' vehicle seemed to pick out the victims, as the workers were lined up seated on the dirt road before him. Locarno's life ended there with a bullet in the head and the chest. Orcasita was taken elsewhere, and his body was found the next day, hands tied.

Research support provided by the Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute.

About the Author

Aram Roston
Aram Roston is the winner of the 2010 Daniel Pearl Award for Outstanding International Investigative Reporting. He is...

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The company issued a statement deploring the killings and maintaining that it has always had good relations with the union. The company spokesman, Mike Tracy, says, "We are really concerned about the safety of our employees. We feel like we've taken appropriate measures." Now, says Tracy, escort cars accompany the buses taking the workers from their shifts.

Far from the tropical heat of La Loma mine, in Drummond's hometown of Birmingham, John Stewart is, roughly speaking, Gustavo Soler's counterpart in the United States, as president of the United Mine Workers local. He is furious about the killings and riled up about Drummond's Colombia mine. "They're not going to want any union over there," the 59-year-old union veteran says in an Alabama drawl. "That's why they moved there." Stewart says that since 1995, when Drummond began production in Colombia, the company has shut down all but one of its mines in the United States. Drummond says it was no longer economically viable to extract the coal; Stewart claims Drummond went to Colombia for the cheap labor.

"This is a company that has laid off 1,700 American coal miners in the last decade," says Kenneth Zinn of the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions, "and has chosen to relocate its production to a place where they murder trade unionists." He adds, "These union leaders were threatened repeatedly by the paramilitaries. The union leaders brought it to the attention of the Drummond executives. Drummond executives chose to ignore those pleadings, and if I were them I sure wouldn't sleep easy at night."

Meanwhile, a loose consortium of US labor leaders has come together to help highlight labor rights violations in Colombia. A new program of the AFL-CIO's Solidarity Center plans to bring threatened union activists to the United States for temporary sanctuary, while the United Auto Workers is targeting the Colombian Embassy in Washington with a postcard campaign.

Some US union leaders, weaned politically on protests against US involvement in Central America, see Plan Colombia as a traditional counterinsurgency intervention. "Colombia is a case that smells like those other cases," says Dan Kovalik, deputy counsel for the Steelworkers, who protested against aid to El Salvador's military in the 1980s. But Colombia, he says, has an added dimension. "I mean, look, Colombia is sort of everything we hate about globalization gone to its extreme, right? Companies are there; they're not only oppressing people, they're working with paramilitaries."

Kovalik is one of the lawyers who brought the case against the biggest brand in the world, Coca-Cola, charging that the company and its Colombian subsidiary and bottlers should be held responsible for paramilitary attacks on union leaders and workers. The lawsuit cites one shooting just this past June, a union | negotiator gunned down on the street; but Colombian labor leaders have made these charges against Coca-Cola for years. Sinaltrainal, a food and beverage workers' union, alleges that workers have been killed, threatened and harassed at various bottling plants. One high-ranking labor official says simply, "Everyone knows that Coca-Cola works with the paramilitaries."

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