Former miner condemns DrummondBy Caroline Gazzara | 11/19/2013 11:00pm
Anibal Perez, a former employee of Drummond Company, was beaten in the streets of Santa Marta, Columbia, for speaking out against the Birmingham-based company in November 2010. Perez said it was the worst day of his life and the first time he feared for his survival.
“I remember the day,” Perez said. “It was the first time in my life that I experienced true fear.”
CEO Garry Neil Drummond and his international coal company have been at the center of the ongoing Shepherd Bend mine controversy affecting Birmingham. In 2007, the University submitted a request for proposals “to lease certain surface, mineral rights and fee simple lands to surface mine coal” on University-owned land just 800 feet from the Birmingham Water Works Board’s intake, which spurred concern among residents.
Although the Drummond Company did not bid on the request for proposal, they did pursue permits from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management and in 2010 from the Alabama Surface Mining Commission to mine in the area under the name Shepherd Bend, LLC, according to AL.com.
Garry Neil Drummond hasn’t just been causing concern in Alabama. The CEO has been under fire outside of the United States for violating environmental and human safety, such as in Perez’s case.
Perez spoke via a translator Tuesday night at Lloyd Hall while touring throughout the United States, speaking out against Drummond Company and the perils workers face in Columbia, one of the many places Drummond Company mines for coal. During his presentation, Perez and his translator Jessye Weinstein talked about the violence in Columbia and the environmental damages that have taken place during the 18 years Drummond Company has mined in Columbia.
After being fired from Drummond Company in 2009, Perez said he felt it was his duty to speak out against the company. Perez left Columbia after publishing photos he received from local fishermen that showed Drummond Company dumping coal into the Santo Marta Harbor in January 2013. Perez also received death threats directed at him and his family for his actions.
“Of course it hasn’t been easy, as unions, to speak out against the many, many violations these multi-national corporations have been committing,” Perez said. “However we’ve done a lot of work going out into the community to raise awareness. One of the big groups that we work with are the fishermen in the port. They were increasingly getting more and more frustrated with Drummond [Company] as [Garry Neil] Drummond declares areas of the water where fishermen can no longer go, so it was the fishermen that took the pictures of this incident. They sent them to me in a CD, and when I received it first, I got a phone call, a threat, saying not to publicize these pictures. However, being a unionist, I’m used to receiving threats. So then they began to offer me money not to publish it, but you can see that I didn’t.”
Perez, who presented in Spanish, showed both pictures and videos of the devastating events that take place. Among the pictures shown, workers with lung cancer and other diseases were displayed. Perez said more than 100 cases of lung cancer had been diagnosed.
“There have been many occupational illnesses that have resulted from [Drummond Company’s] operations in Columbia,” Perez said. “Added to that is a disease not only people within the mines, but also surrounding the mines are facing lung cancer and sarcoidosis.”
Drummond Company’s mining has also made Columbia and the United Nations call a state of emergency in the surrounding areas, Perez said.
“The location where the mining is happening, the wind blows from north to south,” Perez said. “This brings a lot of that dust and pollution into the areas where the communities are living. This has caused a big negative affect for these communities. Back in 2010, the Ministry of the Environment of Columbia actually stated the severity of the communities and order[ed] Drummond [Company] to relocate. The companies totally ignored that order. This year, the United Nations had to come out and declare a state of humanitarian crisis. We’re still waiting for the government to give a response to these rulings.”
Perez said he is afraid to return to Columbia, though his family remains there. He also said he is hoping his tour will raise awareness and help stop Garry Neil Drummond from continuing to ruin countries and the people in them.
“My message is that we must confront the monster even though it has so much power because it also has its weaknesses,” Perez said. “The administration of this company is flesh and blood just like we are, and it makes it so that as a worker and to come here and tell these stories, I hope that we are able to act in ways and inform a united group through solidarity that will prevent this from being a reality that you will all have to live.”