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Nazi-Linked ‘Cocaine Minister’ Found Guilty

January 9, 1991

MIAMI (AP) _ A former Bolivian colonel known as the ″Minister of Cocaine″ was convicted Wednesday of conspiring to smuggle drugs into the United States.

Luis Arce Gomez, 52, is also charged with human rights violations in his homeland for the alleged used of Nazi-trained death squads during a 1980 military coup.

As interior minister in 1980-81, Arce Gomez allegedly worked with Klaus Barbie, the Nazi officer later deported to France as the ″Butcher of Lyon.″

The U.S. District Court jury deliberated about two hours before finding him guilty of conspiracy to import cocaine into the United States and conspiracy to distribute the drug.

He faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison. Sentencing was set for March 22. Defense attorney Stephen Finja said he would appeal.

In closing arguments Wednesday, Finja called the trial ″a public whipping,″ and emphasized to jurors the political nature of the case.

″You are not to judge the popularity of Mr. Gomez,″ Finja said. ″This is not about the coup, or about the ’Bridegrooms of Death,‴ as the squads were called.

Prosecutors in turn listed a series of witnesses, including drug traffickers and one of Arce Gomez’s top aides, who said the interior minister demanded and received protection money from drug smugglers - up to $75,000 every two weeks.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan ridiculed Arce Gomez’s testimony that his goal was to protect Bolivian traffickers to induce them to inform on higher-level international smugglers. The defendant said he wanted to impress the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration with Bolivia’s crackdown on smuggling.

″It was a concoction by the defendant to fit the facts he heard in this courtroom,″ Sullivan told jurors.

The prosecutor also disputed the defense contention that the real motive behind the trial was the unpopular military leadership that seized power in 1980 and has since been replaced by a civilian government, not drug offenses.

″Nothing is being done to him that’s unfair or hasn’t been done to anyone else,″ Sullivan said.

The defense had pounded away at the deals prosecution witnesses made in return for their testimony. Sullivan said that in each case, a mound of telephone logs, hotel bills and Bolivian government records entered as evidence backed up their testimony.

Arce Gomez, who had testified animatedly the day before, sat quietly during closing arguments, whispering on occasion to his attorneys.

Arce Gomez was arrested in Bolivia in December 1989 and flown to the United States.

Prosecutors said he organized Bolivia for cocaine production, protecting dealers who paid him and arresting those who refused. He then sold cocaine - including some right out of police vaults - to more cooperative traffickers, according to testimony.

Outside the courtroom Wednesday, the head of the Miami DEA office joked about Arce Gomez’s defense.

″It’s got to be the first case in history in which the defendants said he was trying to impress the DEA,″ said Tom Cash.

Bolivian human rights groups say that in addition to drug smuggling, Arce Gomez was responsible for at least 18 people killed in raids by his troops following the coup, as well as the torture of opponents.

He was forced out of the Bolivian junta in 1981 under U.S. pressure, and fled to Argentina. He left that country when its military government fell in 1983, and hid in Bolivia until his arrest.

Arce Gomez is being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center outside Miami. Also held there is another former Latin American military leader accused of drug trafficking, deposed Panamanian ruler Manuel Noriega.

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