Photo: Kelly Michals / Flickr

Colombian paramilitary groups with alleged ties to the coal-mining company, Drummond, murdered union leaders fighting to improve working conditions at a coal mine in Colombia.

Photo: Kelly Michals / Flickr

Witnesses have testified in court that Drummond ordered and paid for the killings. Although the criminal investigation is not yet finalized and Drummond strongly denies the allegations, if the allegations are even remotely true, this would exemplify an extreme example of how corporations sometimes seek to silence critics at all costs.

Drummond is a US-based coal mining company operating in the Cesar province of Colombia. According to witness testimony in a US District Court case[1], a chilling series of events played out in early 2001 that appear to implicate Drummond managers in the targeted killing of union leaders that were fighting the company for improved working conditions.

According to witness testimony, in January 2001, Jaime Blanco Maya, head of a Drummond food contractor and allegedly the intermediary through which Drummond directed and funded paramilitary security forces, and Jairo Charris Castro, head of security for Jaime Blanco Maya, attended a meeting with Drummond staff at which Drummond manager, Alfredo Araújo, said that “the ‘gringos’ [Drummond managers in Alabama] wanted the trade union leaders killed” because they “were paralysing production”.[2] Araújo apparently added that “Drummond’s American executives were fed up with the union.”

Then, according to Charris Castro, Drummond’s CEO instructed the company’s security manager, James Adkins, to meet on 6 March 2001 with local security personnel and Blanco Maya.  According to Charris Castro, the meeting concluded that the trade union leaders would be killed on 12 March. Charris Castro allegedly received a list of names of these trade union leaders from Adkins at this meeting, noting, “The list was for me to give to Commander Tolemaida [a paramilitary commander]. The first one to be killed was the president and vice-president [of the union, Valmore Locarno Rodríguez and Vice-President Victor Hugo Orcasita Maya, respectively]”.[3]  Later that month, the two labour leaders “were pulled off the Drummond company bus and executed by the paramilitary group Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC). In October of the same year, the union president’s successor was similarly taken from a public bus and executed by the AUC.”[4] The leaders killed were active in their dissent against the harsh working conditions at the Drummond mine as well as the presence of the AUC in the company canteen.[5]

An AUC paramilitary commander going by the alias “El Peinado” testified, “Shortly after the murders, we received one million Colombian pesos in cash from Jaime Blanco’s company […] that he confirmed had come from Drummond. AUC Commander alias Tolemaida received the money from Blanco, and he gave a cash sum to all of us who had taken a part in the operation.”[6] Families of those killed have filed cases in multiple jurisdictions, including the United States and Colombia.[7]

In two separate lawsuits, the US Court of Appeals decided that cases from the families could not be heard because the order for the killings could not be traced all the way up to Drummond’s Alabama headquarters. In another case, the court found that the case did not meet the ‘touch-and-concern’ criterion required for the Alien Tort Claims Act and hence did not fall under US jurisdiction.[8] Thus, the onus has been placed on the Colombian court system to provide families of the deceased with access to justice.

In 2009, Jairo Charris Castro was convicted of murder in this plot and sentenced to 30 years. On February 14th, 2013, the Colombian court convicted Jaime Blanco in the killings of two of the union leaders; he was sentenced to 38 years in prison. The Colombian judge asked the Colombian Supreme Court to conduct additional investigations into other parties involved.[9] In October 2018, the Colombian Specialized Criminal Prosecutor’s Office No. 247 concluded that there was “sufficient evidence to formally open a criminal case against Drummond Company Ltd. […] The prosecutor named the Drummond officials who provided funding, logistical support and other assistance to the AUC’s crimes from 1996 to 2006.”[10]

It should be noted that Drummond disputes all of these witness accounts and has alleged that these witnesses were bribed by the lawyer that brought the case against the company.[11] In fact, Drummond is now litigating against the lawyer in what could also be described as an example of the harmful corporate strategy of “filing lawsuits to intimidate critics”. The US district court judge in that case has found “probable cause” to believe that bribes may indeed have been paid, but no ruling has yet been made about the legality of any payments to the witnesses.[12] Expert testimony in the case highlights the fact that even if witnesses received payments, it does not necessarily mean that their statements are incorrect, and that payments to witnesses are sometimes necessary.[13]

Concluding, evidence presented in courts suggests that Drummond attempted to silence voices of those critical of working conditions at the mine by orchestrating their murder, instead of taking responsibility for improving the labour conditions at the mine. However, the criminal investigation is not finalized yet and Drummond has consistently strongly denied the allegations.

[1] Balcero et al. v. Drummond Company, Inc. (United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division, Case 2:09-CV-1041-RDP). More information available at: (accessed June 26, 2020).

[2] Written testimony of Peinado Balcero in Case 2:09-CV-1041-RDP, 1 March 2012, p.3. See also Moor and van de Sandt, “The Dark Side of Coal: Paramilitary Violence in the Mining Region of Cesar, Colombia.” Available at (accessed June 26, 2020)

[3] Written testimony of Charris Balcero in Letters Rogatory for Case 2:09-CV-1041-RDP, 16 March 2012, p.55. See also Moor and van de Sandt, “The Dark Side of Coal: Paramilitary Violence in the Mining Region of Cesar, Colombia.” Available at: (accessed June 26, 2020)

[4] Joseph Wilde- Ramsing and Kristóf Racz, “Colombian Coal in Europe,” SOMO Briefing Paper (Amsterdam: SOMO, May 2014), (accessed June 26, 2020).

[5] Marianne Moor and Joris van de Sandt, “The Dark Side of Coal: Paramilitary Violence in the Mining Region of Cesar, Colombia” (Utrecht: PAX, June 2014), (accessed June 26, 2020).

[6] Ibid.

[7] Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, “Drummond lawsuits (re Colombia)”, (accessed September 11, 2019).

[8] “Drummond Lawsuits (Re Colombia) | Business & Human Rights Resource Centre,” accessed July 8, 2019, (accessed September 11, 2019).

[9] “Colombian Mine Contractor Convicted of Murder,” IndustriALL, February 14, 2013, (accessed September 11, 2019).

[10] International Rights Advocates website, “Drummond Officials Charged with Financing AUC War Crimes in Colombia,” 11 November 2018, (accessed September 11, 2019)

[11] US District Court N.D. of Alabama, Case No.: 2:11-cv-3695-RDP (Drummond vs Collingsworth), “Memorandum Opinion and Order”, 7 December 2015.

[12] Ibid. p.26.

[13] Ibid. p.44.