Mayor Fired; Reward Offered for Drug Lords; Bomb Damages Medellin Bank
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ The government offered a $250,000 reward for the capture of two cocaine barons, and said today it would appoint a military mayor in a town infested with death squads employed by drug traffickers.
Meanwhile, a reputed money launderer for the Medellin cocaine cartel arrived in the United States, the first person extradited from Colombia during the recent crackdown on drug traffickers.
Two men on a motorcycle tossed a bomb made of dynamite at the Banco Central Hipotecario in Medellin, the cocaine center of the nation, said a Medellin police official who identified himself only as Cardona, his last name.
The blast Wednesday night caused $45,000 in damage and came just a few hours after authorities defied drug traffickers’ threats and carried out the extradition.
The government said Wednesday night that President Virgilio Barco would use his state of siege powers to name military mayors of violence-plagued cities.
Today, Alvaro Garcia, spokesman for the governor’s office of Boyaca state, said Mayor Marino Estrada of Puerto Boyaca, 95 miles north of Bogota, would be summarily replaced by a military officer, Army Maj. Alvaro Matallana.
Estrada was elected in March.
Puerto Boyaca has been a stronghold of right-wing death squads that the government says are controlled by Colombia’s notorious cocaine cartels, and it is in a region that is believed to be rife with cocaine-processi ng laboratories. In 1988, a judge order the arrest of Luis Rubio, a former mayor of the town, on allegations of links to drug traffickers. Rubio fled.
The opposition Conservative Party issued a communique declaring hat Barco’s decision to impose military rule on some towns was unconstitutional.
Barco’s Liberal Party has supported him in previous instances when he has named military governors in areas where leftist guerrilla violence has been prevalent.
The decree is the latest in the extraordinary measures Barco has taken to quell violence by drug traffickers.
Eduardo Martinez Romero, who was flown out on Wednesday, is the first drug figure extradited to the United States under the special emergency powers decreed last month by Barco.
He arrived in Atlanta today under heavy guard and was being held at a federal courthouse pending a hearing.
Martinez, 35, is charged in Atlanta in connection with the laundering of $1.2 billion worth of illicit cocaine cash.
High-ranking U.S. diplomats and drug enforcement officials in Bogota have said that once extraditions start, they expect drug-related terrorism and violence in Colombia to worsen.
Colombia’s drug lords have said they would rather die in Colombia than suffer ″life in death’ in a U.S. prison. The traffickers threatened last month to kill 10 judges for every extradited drug suspect.
For years, the traffickers had largely succeeded in evading justice through bribery and intimidation. They have had politicians, police, judges and journalists killed and reportedly purchased influence in high places.
In 1987, the Colombian Supreme Court threw out an extradition agreement with the United States. The last Colombian drug trafficker to be extradited, the Medellin cartel’s Carlos Lehder, was sent to the United States early that year. He is serving a life sentence in a U.S. prison.
The extradition agreement was revived by Barco last month when he invoked emergency powers after the assassination of Sen. Luis Carlos Galan, the leading presidential candidate and an outspoken foe of the drug lords.
Barco pledged a relentless campaign against drug traffickers and police say the government has since virtually paralyzed cocaine production, raiding labs and sending drug bosses into hiding.
The drug lords have declared ″total and absolute war″ on Barco and practically the whole Colombian establishment and, in retaliation, drug gangs have bombed factories, newspapers, restaurants and government installations.
The Defense Ministry said Wednesday that in 2,042 raids conducted against suspected drug traffickers under emergency legislation, anti-narcotics squads confiscated 1,190 weapons, more than 20,000 rounds of ammunition, 499 cars and other vehicles, 48 boats and 358 airplanes and helicopters.
On Wednesday, the government announced a $250,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of either of the two men it calls olombia’s top cocaine barons, Pablo Escobar and Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha.
The Justice Ministry, showing ″wanted″ posters on television, announced a cash reward for information leading to the arrest of either Escobar or Rodriguez Gacha. Both are wanted by the United States and both are in hiding.
All tips will be ″absolutely confidential″ and all calls will be toll- free, the government announcement said.
Fortune magazine has estimated Escobar’s net worth at $3 billion.
The National Security Council the day before issued a ban on public demonstrations in Bogota, the capital and largest city with 6 million people.
Colombian impresarios reported a rash of cancellations, due to the unstable situation here, by foreign artists and entertainers who had scheduled Colombian appearances.
In a statement on Wednesday, Barco called President Bush’s support for Colombia’s war on drugs ″a very favorable start″ but said the key to the battle is to stop drug use in the United States.
Barco called the United States ″one of the countries that has the greatest number of drug addicts.″
He was responding directly to the $7.9 billion drug initiative Bush announced Tuesday night, which pledged financial and even military support to this violence-plagued republic that produces 80 percent of the cocaine consumed in the United States.