22 Drug Suspects Extradited During First Year of New Policy
WASHINGTON (AP) _ A year after Colombia’s president resurrected extradition as a weapon in his country’s fight against drug traffickers, the South American government has sent 22 people to the United States for trial.
Although none of them were on the 12 ″most wanted″ list, most who have stood trial have been convicted and sentenced - albeit it not to particularly long prison terms.
Only one has received the maximum 30-year prison term allowed by the extradition decree issued last August by Colombia’s then-President Virgilio Barco.
Of the 22, three were convicted of U.S. charges, eight pleaded guilty and one was acquitted. Ten still await trial.
It was the Aug. 18, 1989 assassination by traffickers of Colombian presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan, an outspoken foe of the drug trade, that spurred Barco to crack down on the traffickers.
Barco’s state of siege included resumption of extraditions, even though the Colombian Supreme Court had tossed out the extradition treaty several years earlier as its members faced threats from drug traffickers.
John Walters, chief of staff to U.S. drug control policy director William Bennett, said in a recent interview that the extradition policy ″allowed an opportunity to bring to justice people who might not have been brought to justice otherwise given the disruption of the judicial system (in Colombia) that had occurred as a result of trafficker violence and intimidation.″
The Medellin drug cartel’s leaders, whose missives to the Colombian government have been signed, ″The Extraditables,″ recently said they will maintain a cease-fire they declared in July despite the killing of one of the cartel members earlier this month in a shootout with authorities.
It is believed they want to convince newly inaugurated Colombian President Cesar Gaviria to stop the extraditions.
In his inaugural address, Gaviria swore he would make no concessions to the traffickers, although he said extradition cannot be the only weapon used.
Fifteen people are awaiting extradition. The most recent extraditions occurred Aug. 3, a few days before Gaviria took office.
The only person extradited who has gotten the maximum 30-year sentence is Jose Rafael Abello Silva, a reputed high-ranking member of the Medellin cartel.
Abello was convicted in Tulsa, Okla., of two counts of conspiring to import cocaine and marijuana into the United States over a seven-year period. He was sentenced to two concurrent 30-year prison terms and fined $5 million.
Barco’s 1989 decree said no Colombian national could be extradited unless the requesting state guaranteed it would not impose a prison sentence exceeding 30 years, eliminating the possibility of life terms or death penalties allowable under some U.S. laws.
Several other Colombians have received 15-year terms:
-Bernardo Pelaez Roldan, convicted in absentia in 1984 in Detroit on a charge of conspiracy with intent to distribute cocaine.
-Guillermo Juan Bueno-Delgado, also known as Willy Bueno, pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy, one in San Francisco and one in Tallahassee, Fla. His two 15-year terms are to run concurrently.
-Victor Eduardo Mero-Mosquero, convicted in absentia in the early 1980s on a drug conspiracy charge in New York. He also faces a cocaine conspiracy charge in Florida, but he is fighting extradition.
Of the other defendants sentenced: one got 12 1/2 years in prison, one got eight, one got seven and two got three years each.
Nelson Cuevas Ramirez was acquitted in New York City of a charge of conspiracy to distribute cocaine.
Ten others await trial including the first person extradited, Eduardo Martinez Romero, who arrived in the United States last Sept. 6. He faces federal charges in Atlanta of conspiracy to possess cocaine with intent to distribute and conspiracy to launder proceeds of drug trafficking, part of an immense money-laundering arrangement uncovered by the government’s Operation Polar Cap.