Bolivia Announces Colombian-style Leniency Plan For Traffickers
LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) _ Following neighboring Colombia’s example, the Bolivian government is promising drug traffickers they won’t be extradited to the United States if they surrender in the next four months.
The offer was announced Wednesday by Interior Minister Carlos Saavedra at a news conference. He said officials believe the decision will decrease drug trafficking in Bolivia and preven the escalation of violence by traffickers scared of being extradited.
Some of Colombia’s leading drug lords have turned themselves in under a similar deal that took effect last month in that nation, although the some U.S. officials have expressed doubts that the drug trade will suffer as a result.
It is difficult for poor South American countries to prosecute powerful and wealthy drug lords, who have for years used bribery and the threat of violence to escape prosecution.
A few senior Bolivian drug dealers have been jailed in the United States. Former Interior Minister Luis Arce Gomez was sentenced in Miami to 30 years in prison in March, and another top smuggler, Jorge Roca Suarez, faces trial in Los Angeles.
When the United States recently sought to extradite three of Roca Suarez’ relatives, political opposition in Bolivia was intense.
Bruce Wharton, press attache at the U.S. Embassy, indicated the United States did not oppose the new Bolivian plan.
″If this plan really offers the hope of reaching our objective of finshing with the illicit production and export of cocaine to the United States, it seems fine to us,″ he said.
Edwin Guzman, a top Bolivian trafficker linked to Colombia’s Cali cartel, surrendered last week, and Saavedra said two other traffickers were willing to turn themselves in if they were protected from extradition.
He identified one of the men as Jorge Flores, a former air force captain, but did not identify the other.
″Cocaine traffickers must confess their crimes, contribute to the detention of others, declare their properties and destroy cocaine-processing facilities in order to qualify,″ Saavedra said.
He added that the government ″guarantees their personal security and will consider reducing sentences according to the cooperation offered by traffickers who voluntarily turn themselves in.″
Officials said a special prison is being built in the Andean highlands to house smugglers who surrender. Saavedra said convicted traffickers will serve a minimum of five years.
Bolivia’s plan differs Colombia’s in that in Bolivia the extradition amnesty will exist for just 120 days.
In Colombia, a new constitution prohibits extraditions. Pablo Escobar and other top drug producers have surrendered under the Colombian program after being promised the ban on extraditions and lenient treatment.
Cocaine trafficking in Bolivia has not been marked by the high levels of violence found in Colombia, where hundreds of police, judges, politicians and journalists had been slain by smugglers pressing to end extradition.
Saavedra said Bolivian traffickers were willing to surrender because they had been worn down by the government’s war on drugs. The armed forces have been used in recent raids, and Bolivian and U.S. police agents recently seized the cocaine haven of Santa Ana, 250 miles from La Paz.
Bolivia produces one-third of the world’s coca leaf, which is processed into cocaine. Cocaine brings in up to $500 million a year to the economy.