It's the Real Thing: Murder
It also appears that the company had a relationship with the Colombian Army. According to case documents, after the episode, the ex-manager of the plant told investigators that he had an agreement to pay the army the equivalent of about $500 a month for protection. He said that the man they dealt with was Gen. Rito Alejo del Rio, a notorious violator of human rights who managed to surpass even what the military would tolerate, and was forced to resign in 1999. "He was an open supporter of paramilitary groups," says Robin Kirk of Human Rights Watch.
Three years after the killing, in 1999, prosecutors charged the former plant manager and the chief of production with setting up the whole thing: the murder, the abduction of Cardona, the destruction of union headquarters and the forced renunciations. But the case fell apart after the production chief claimed that he, too, had been a target of the paramilitaries, while the plant manager insisted that he hadn't been around. Moreover, the judge in the case decided that since the region of Uraba, where the plant was based, is notoriously dominated by the paramilitaries, the crimes were part of a larger attack on labor rather than a specific corporate conspiracy. The charges were dropped, and the case against the two former plant managers was closed this past April.
Richard Kirby, reached by telephone in Florida before the suit was filed, declined to comment. "I'm not political and I'm not interested in politics," he said. "As I understand it, I think that the matter was examined. I think I would say it was put on the shelf, wouldn't you?" After the suit was filed, Kirby's lawyer said the allegations were baseless. Emilio Urrea, the general manager for Kirby's company in Colombia, explained that the paramilitaries forced the union renunciations on their own. Urrea said he can't rule out involvement by the former on-site plant manager, but he insisted the US owners had nothing to do with it. The suit in the United States charges that there were human rights violations at other plants in Colombia as well; like Kirby, Coca-Cola and the other companies that were sued vigorously deny the allegations.
So who is responsible? If this were Alabama--Drummond's headquarters--or Atlanta, Coca-Cola's home, the same events would obviously lead to public outrage. But this is Colombia, where such violent transactions are relatively minor notches on the paramilitaries' belts. They can be explained away as the symptoms of ideological quirks: The paramilitaries hate unions; they attack them; it makes no difference what the company did; this is all part of a larger war. According to this logic, if the paras thought they were doing the corporations a favor by attacking their unions, then it is hardly the companies' responsibility.
While union activists acknowledge there is no direct proof that the companies commissioned the killings, they insist that this does not mean they are innocent. Hector Fajardo, the CUT's general secretary, who has survived three assassination attempts, says, "The companies benefit, even if it's indirectly."
Three months after the Drummond killings, when I interviewed Gustavo Soler, he was preoccupied with his cell phone, which wasn't working properly. He tested the phone, he tapped it, he checked the battery and he looked at the display.
His obsession became understandable when I asked him about the steps taken for his protection. He grinned with embarrassment and, shrugging, he held up the cell phone in his left hand. "This is my security," he said. It was given him by the Colombian government. Evidently, if the paramilitaries arrive, he's supposed to use it to call for help.