Two More Colombians Await Extradition, Bomb Blast Hits Hotel
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ Authorities began extradition proceedings against two suspected cocaine traffickers, and the drug war injured six more people when a car bomb exploded in front of a Caribbean port hotel.
Police said the alleged smugglers, both wanted by U.S. federal courts, were brought to Bogota on Friday after they were detained the day before in other Colombian cities.
Police arrested Nelson Cuevas Ramirez, 55, in Cartagena. He was charged by a New York federal court with possessing cocaine and conspiring to distribute the drug, according to an official communique.
″I am a legitimate businessman and have a clear conscience,″ Cuevas Ramirez said shortly after his transfer to the capital.
Authorities said they initiated extradition proceedings against Cuevas Ramirez and another drug suspect, Robert James Sokolowski Salah, captured near the Caribbean port of Barranquilla. Sokolowski was also being held under tight security at a Bogota jail.
The U.S. Justice Department said Salah’s real name was Robert Sokol Jr. He was charged in 1984 by a federal court in Greensboro, N.C., with conspiring to distribute cocaine.
Department spokesman Daniel Eramian said Sokol was born in Colombia but is believed to have both Colombian and U.S. citizenship. He was arrested at the Cerrejon coal mine in the Guajira Peninsula northeast of Barranquilla.
The government of President Virgilio Barco has extradited four suspected traffickers to the United States since it began its drug crackdown Aug. 19, one day after a leading presidential hopeful was assassinated.
The latest arrests brings to six the number of Colombians being processed for extradition. Authorities have not, however, captured any of the dozen traffickers on a U.S. most-wanted list.
Traffickers have responded to the extraditions with a campaign of bombings and assassinations. Since the crackdown began, 165 bomb blasts have killed 16 people and injured 201.
The latest explosion attributed to traffickers rocked a hotel in Barranquilla Friday, seriously injuring five workers and a Colombian guest.
Authorities arrested one of two suspects who, according to witnesses, parked the subcompact Renault packed with 100 pounds of dynamite near the Royal Hotel shortly before the vehicle exploded.
Police identified the suspect as 24-year-old Jose Arena Ramirez. An army general said he worked for drug traffickers.
″I beleive that traffickers are responsible for the bombing,″ Gen. Juan Salcedo Lora, commander of the city brigade, told Caracol radio.
Three of the bombings have targeted Colombian hotels. A bomb at the Hilton in Cartagena Sept. 25 killed two people.
Anonymous callers saying they represented traffickers have claimed responsibilty for several recent assassinations, including te slaying of a federal judge Tuesday in Medellin.
The killing sparked a 72-hour strike by the nation’s judges and court workers to demand more government protection. The strike, which ended Friday, failed to force the government to adopt drastic security measures.
Gregorio Oviedo, a lawyer for the judicial workers’ union, said the government agreed to provide judges with some security equipment next week, including 25 motorcycles for guards, 72 bulletproof vests and 14 metal detectors.
But he said that would not even begin to protect the more than 1,000 judges who received death threats.
″They are still completely unprotected,″ he said, adding that none of the promised $19 million in U.S. aid for the judges had reached Colombia.
Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman Frank Shults said the agency sent 75 bulletproof vests to the American Embassy in Bogota.
In an operation unrelated to the drug war, police Friday rounded up 2,000 Bogota emerald dealers for questioning following last week’s massacre of seven dealers in Quipama, 60 miles north of Bogota, Caracol reported.
About 300 dealers remained in custody while the rest were released.