24 August, 2009
Eight years after the murders of two trade unionist leaders, Valmore Locarno Rodriguez and Victor Hugo Orcasita Amaya, the Colombian judiciary has handed down the first convictions for their killers.
The two leaders of Sintramienergica worked for the American mining multinational, Drummond. Jairo Charris Jesus, a member of the paramilitary group United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment for his role in the murders.
Locarno and Orcasita, president and vice president of Sintramienergetica, were killed on 12 March 2001, when they left the mine at the end of a working day. The bus in which they were travelling was intercepted by an armed group of the Northern Bloc of the AUC, in the village of Casa de Zinc, in El Paso province.
Locarno was murdered there, while Orcasita was taken by the paramilitaries in a van, and found dead in a rural area the following day. Locarno’s replacement in the union’s leadership was Gustavo Soler Mora, who was murdered seven months after replacing Locarno.
Charris was employed as “security coordinator” at the time of the killings for the contracting firm Industrial Food Services (ISA), a company that provided food to the mining camps of Drummond in Cesar department. Charris was found by the court to have given the order for the union leaders to be killed.
Jairo de Jesus Charris sent written correspondence to the court, during his case, explaining that the murders had been planned with Colombian and American company executives.
Orcasita right, with other Sintramienergetica miners
Earlier this year Tolemaida Rodrigo Tovar Pupo, the Commander of the Bloque Norte, was extradited to the US for his part in the killings.
Drummond has denied all links to paramilitary organisations, and all allegations of complicity in the killings. On 26 July 2007, a US federal district court in Alabama acquitted Drummond of any responsibility in a case brought under the US’s Alien Tort Claims Act. A US appellate court later upheld the acquittal, despite the fact that witnesses from Colombia were not allowed to testify in the US federal court case.
However, in May 2009, an attorney for Colombian plaintiffs – the families of Locarno and Orcasita – filed another US lawsuit against Drummond, accusing the company of paying paramilitaries to murder union and community leaders, as well as paying paramilitaries to protect the transport of coal by rail from Drummond’s minds to the port of Cesar Ciénaga.