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Colombian Drug Cartels May Be Moving South, Official Says

May 29, 1991

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) _ Colombian drug cartels are starting to dismantle operations in their own country and may be planning to move further south, Argentina’s chief narcotics official said Wednesday.

″The transfer initially will be to Bolivia,″ Alberto Lestelle said, because it produces coca leaves, the raw material for cocaine production, and may include Peru, another coca-growing nation, and Brazil.

″We can’t ignore the fact that they eventually will reach Argentina as well,″ said Lestelle, secretary for prevention of drug addiction and narcotics trafficking in Argentina.

The official said Argentina was preparing for that possibility by organizing a federal anti-narcotics force, ″with personnel trained by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and the German federal intelligence service.″

Lestelle said Argentina’s armed forces will not take part in fighting drug trafficking aside from providing logistical support when asked.

He told a meeting of foreign correspondents that social chaos brought on by drug activities forced Colombia to reach an agreement with drug barons.

He said that as a result of that accord, the most important cartel leaders are turning themselves in to the government in return for assurance that they and family members will not be extradited to the United States for trial.

Lestelle said Colombian authorities also assured drug lords they will get preferential treatment, be housed in special jails and be tried in local courts within a year at most, provided evidence can be found against them.

Lestelle predicted that cartel leaders who surrender will continue to direct operations from prison and ″will all be free in a short time.″

He said the agreement with the government prompted drug producers to begin to dismantle operations in Colombia, with production transferred elsewhere.

″I believe that the dismantling ... will produce what I call ‘the southern effect,’ or the ‘southernization’ of production and of criminal groups and crimes connected with narcotics trafficking,″ Lestelle, a physician, said.

Lestelle said drug barons’ interest in Brazil stems from the growing there of a variation of the coca plant, containing a smaller amount of the narcotic.

He said he heard information that drug producers in Brazil ″are experimenting with several variations of the plant, called epadu, in an effort to increase the amount of cocaine that can be obtained from its leaves.″

If that fails, traffickers are likely to import coca paste from Bolivia to be refined into cocaine in Brazilian laboratories, Leselle added.

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