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Cuba Arrests Drug Trafficker

March 18, 2002

HAVANA (AP) _ Cuba announced Monday it was holding an alleged Colombian drug trafficker sought in his homeland and the United States and challenged the U.S. government to sign an agreement allowing the two countries to cooperate in the fight against narcotics smuggling.

The Cuban government did not say whether it would hand over Rafael Miguel Bustamante Bolanos if such an agreement was signed. But it suggested it would be more cooperative if accords existed.

``The possibility now exists for the U.S. administration to show that it is truly willing to seriously undertake the fight against those grave scourges of humanity while avoiding a double-standard approach,″ the Foreign Ministry said in a statement published in the Communist Party daily Granma.

``It is in the hands of the United States government to prove, before American and international public opinion, that it can sidestep the petty interests of small anti-Cuban groups and defend the American people’s real interests,″ the statement added.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said he was unaware of Bustamante’s arrest. A spokeswoman for the Drug Enforcement Administration in Washington said she also had no immediate information about the developments described by the Cuban government.

For several years, Cuban officials have been trying to persuade Washington to sign such an agreement. They argue that this impoverished island has limited law enforcement resources and needs the technological resources and expertise of the United States in its fight against narcotics smuggling.

So far, the American government has expressed no interest in such an agreement. Cuba blames political pressures from anti-Castro Cuban exiles opposed to rapprochement between the two countries, which have had no diplomatic relations for four decades.

Bustamante entered Cuba on Jan. 6 from Jamaica using a Venezuelan passport identifying him as Alberto Pinto Jaramillo and was arrested at a Havana home on March 6, the statement said.

Cuban authorities said they learned of Bustamante’s true identity and the accusations against him from other countries’ anti-drug agencies.

The statement said authorities here established that Bustamante was involved with a major Bahamas-based trafficking organization and that about 10 years ago he escaped from a Colombian jail where he was serving time for trafficking.

Bustamante also is sought in the United States, both in an investigation into drug trafficking and for escaping from a federal prison in Alabama where he was serving time for money laundering and cocaine trafficking, the statement said.

Arrested with Bustamante was Robert Lewis, of the Bahamas. Still in custody, the men will be tried here for falsification of documents and drug trafficking, the statement said.

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