In an Oct. 1 editorial, the Los Angeles Times echoes the sentiment that the United Steelworkers union has been expressing for years -- corporate supporters of paramilitaries in Colombia who murder trade unionists must be held criminally accountable.
Specifically, the Los Angeles Times is applauding the order of a Colombian judge that top officials of the Alabama-based mining corporation, Drummond, be investigated as the intellectual authors of the brutal slayings of three union leaders in 2001.
As the Los Angeles Times opines:
"[I]t is troubling . . . that when a defendant is convicted [in Colombia], it is generally a hit man or low-level thug and almost never the mastermind or shot-caller who ordered a labor leader's murder. That's why it is significant that a judge in Colombia has asked the attorney general to launch a criminal investigation of top executives at Alabama-based Drummond Co., a multinational coal company."
The Los Angeles Times explains:
"[a]t issue is whether Drummond executives collaborated with the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC in Spanish), a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, to murder union leaders organizing the Drummond coal mine in La Loma in 2001."
This issue arises in the context of an epidemic of anti-union violence in Colombia unprecedented in the world. As the Los Angeles Times notes:
"Colombia is the most dangerous place in the world to be a union organizer. In the last 17 years, more than 2,700 teachers, farmworkers, coal miners and other laborers have paid with their lives for seeking rights that Americans have long taken for granted, such as safe working conditions. During that same period, there were more than 4,000 reported death threats against labor leaders, 350 disappearances and kidnappings, and 75 cases of torture."
It is in light of this problem of anti-union violence that Colombia, and the U.S. as well, must vigorously prosecute corporations that have supported paramilitary groups, which in turn have gone on to kill literally thousands of innocent civilians. According to Colombia's Attorney General, Mario Iguaran, the support that Chiquita Brands International admittedly gave to the AUC paramilitaries over a 7-year period (guns as well as $1.7 million), facilitated the AUC's murder of about 4,000 civilians. And, while Chiquita was indicted and pled guilty to this support of a designated terrorist organization, it was merely fined $25 million, which it was allowed to pay over a five-year period.
Meanwhile, just as the Los Angeles Times says, "Ex-paramilitary soldiers are naming top Drummond executives as having requisitioned and paid for two of the murders." Top ex-paramilitary commanders have also fingered other U.S. multi-nationals for supporting the AUC over the years. Most notably, Salvatore Mancuso, a former top AUC paramilitary commander who is currently in U.S. custody on drug-trafficking charges, has claimed that Del Monte, Dole, and Drummond have all made regular payments to the AUC over the years.
While there have been a number of civil actions against U.S. multi-nationals for their role in supporting paramilitary atrocities in Colombia, the Los Angeles Times rightly points out that there:
"is no substitute for a criminal investigation in Colombia. The perilous environment for workers there exists not only because of the violence they face but the historical impunity of their attackers."
The USW would further submit that there is no substitute for a criminal investigation by the U.S., which has the tools to effectively investigate and prosecute corporations on its own soil for the wrong-doing they committed in Colombia. Both Colombia and the U.S. should carry out such investigations and prosecutions to put an end to impunity for corporations which bankroll the killing of labor leaders and innocent civilians.