Bolivia Halts Extradition of Drug Suspects Pending New Treaty
LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) _ Bolivia will stop extraditing suspected drug traffickers to the United States unless an extradition treaty is expanded to include drug violations, a government official said Saturday.
″We have no plans for further arrests and extraditions to the United States of Bolivian citizens without an extradition treaty,″ said Gen. Lucio Anez, commander of an special anti-drug force.
President Jaime Paz Zamora’s administration was criticized by opposition parties and others after Thursday’s extradition of Erlan Echeverria, who has been indicted on drug-trafficking and other charges by a federal grand jury in Miami.
″Echeverria has been the last,″ said Anez, calling the extradition ″a political decision.″
He said there is ″a list of extraditables,″ or suspected drug dealers, wanted for trial in the United States. He did not elaborate.
Bolivia, one of the top coco leaf-growing areas along with Peru and Colombia, has a 89-year-old general extradition treaty with the United States, but it does not include drug trafficking among the extraditable charges.
President Bush and Paz Zamora agreed to a new treaty in Washington in May, but the document has not been signed.
Anez said the new treaty ″is under discussion,″ but he did not give further details.
U.S. officials have praised increased coca leaf eradication efforts in Bolivia, where cocaine production has risen following crackdowns on major cartels in neighboring Colombia.
Earlier this year, Bernard Aronson, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Latin American affairs, estimated at least 99,000 acres of coca crops are growing in Bolivia.
Echeverria, who was handed over to U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents, was a close aide to Col. Luis Arce Gomez, an interior minister under Bolivia’s former military regime who was extradited to the United States last year.
Arce Gomez - dubbed the ″minister of cocaine″ by DEA officials - is presently jailed near Miami awaiting trial.
Paz Zamora ordered the extradition of Arce Gomez, although he still faces charges in Bolivia for human rights violations under the regime of Gen. Luis Garcia Meza.
Colombian President Cesar Gaviria in September modified his nation’s year- old extradition policy with a pledge that suspected cocaine traffickers who surrender to Colombian authorities will not be extradited.
Gaviria, however, said the decision does not apply to those captured by police.
Colombia, the main supplier of cocaine to the United States, has extradited several suspected top-level traffickers. But Pablo Escobar, head of the Medellin cartel, remains free.
The cartel, named for the Colombian city where much of its activity is based, has demanded an end to the extraditions. Officials in Colombia blame the cartel for more than 500 deaths this year, including the assassinations of three presidential candidates.