On 12 March 2001, trade unionists Valmore Locarno Rodríguez and Víctor Hugo Orcasita Amaya ended their shift at a mine in César, northern Colombia, and boarded the company bus to head home. However, armed men halted the bus shortly afterwards and forced all the passengers to disembark. Upon identifying the two trade unionists, they shot Valmore dead before taking Víctor away in a utility vehicle. He body was found not long after.
The assailants were members of the AUC paramilitary organisation which worked closely with sections of the military and business establishment, routinely targeting community activists, peasant farmers and trade unionists.
Following a long legal struggle for justice for Valmore and Víctor, who respectively were president and vice-president of the mine and energy sector workers trade union Sintramienergica, Colombia’s Attorney General has formally connected the US-owned mining company Drummond to the killings. In a declaration to judges on 28 November, prosecutor Diana Mercedes Salazar Solís said the Attorney General’s Office had ‘link[ed] Drummond Ltd. as a civilly liable third party’ to the murder of the two trade unionists. The Attorney General’s suit names several Drummond employees who are implicated in the killings, among them Gustavo Alberto, Greysy Paola Locarno Larios and Josefina Matilde Larios Henríquez.
In 2019, a judge ordered an investigation into allegations that Drummond had financed and collaborated with the AUC’s northern bloc in the zones of Becerril, El Paso, La Jagua Ibirico, Agustín Codazzi and Chiriguaná, where the company’s mines were located, between 1996 and 2001.
The families of Valmore and Víctor have long campaigned for justice. In 2009, two AUC paramilitaries, Alcides Maneul Mattos Tavares and Jairo Charris Jesús, were sentenced to 30 years in prison for their murder. In 2018, Colombia’s Specialised Criminal Prosecutor’s Office No. 247 concluded there was enough evidence to launch criminal proceedings over Drummond’s alleged funding of the AUC. However, the company’s relationship with the AUC, which may have killed as many as 600 people in the zones where Drummond was operating, has yet to be fully proven in court. Relatives of victims will hope that the latest developments can finally bring accountability to those behind their loved ones’ deaths.