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U.S. Indicts 50 Leaders of Colombian Rebels in Cocaine Trafficking

  1. klaatu
    www.nytimes.com
    Published: March 23, 2006

    BOGOTÁ, Colombia, March 22 — A federal grand jury in Washington has indicted 50 commanders of Colombia's largest Marxist rebel group, accusing them of running an extensive cocaine trafficking cartel that protects its operations through widespread killings and intimidation, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales announced Wednesday.

    The indictment accuses the group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, of being behind 50 percent of the world's cocaine trade and 60 percent of the cocaine exported to the United States.

    "We believe these men are responsible for not only manufacturing and exporting devastating amounts of cocaine, but enforcing their criminal regime with violence," Mr. Gonzales said.

    The practical impact is unclear, since 47 of the 50 commanders remain free in this vast country, leading thousands of fighters in the group's relentless effort to topple President Álvaro Uribe's government. Three are in Colombian custody, and the United States will seek their extradition, American officials said.

    The indictment says rebel commanders ordered their fighters to shoot down crop dusters and to kidnap and kill American citizens, in an effort to dissuade policy makers in Washington from continuing to sponsor a fumigation campaign against the coca plant, from whose leaves cocaine is made.

    Some charges in the document may be hard to prove, like those linking commanders to drug operations years ago when the rebel group was believed to be far less involved in the cocaine trade.

    But high-ranking Colombian government officials interviewed in Bogotá on Wednesday welcomed the indictment, saying it demonstrated the Bush administration's long-term commitment to Mr. Uribe, the United States' closest ally in Latin America.

    "We see this as a recognition of the clear relationship between terrorism and narcotrafficking," said Defense Minister Camilo Ospina. "This shows that a big decision has been made to carry out the final battle against narcotrafficking and terrorism."

    The indictment came just days after a coalition of pro-government parties took control of Colombia's 268-member Congress, a decisive political victory for Mr. Uribe. The victory strengthens his chances of winning re-election in May and gives him the political leverage to follow through with his agenda, including aggressively fighting the rebel group with Colombia's Washington-backed army.

    With billions of dollars in backing from the United States, Colombia has sprayed much of its drug-crop acreage and carried out army offensives against the rebels. The chief of the national police, Jorge Daniel Castro, said Wednesday in an interview that the group was "in a defensive position" as a result of the military offensives and the fumigation. "We're seeing that they don't have the capacity that they had before," he said.

    But the group continues to control wide swaths of territory and has been increasingly active in neighboring Ecuador and Venezuela, where it operates camps for its fighters and traffics cocaine. The group also continues to attack civilians; last month, rebel commandos burst into a meeting in the town of Rivera, southwest of Bogotá, and gunned down nine council members.

    Cynthia Arnson, a Colombia expert who is director of the Latin America program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, noted that it remained difficult to gauge whether the group had suffered big setbacks or had voluntarily withdrawn into the jungle. "This indictment," she said, "could be the beginning of an enormous political and diplomatic offensive to capitalize on whatever military momentum has been achieved."

    Mr. Gonzales did not elaborate on what American officials would do to go after individual commanders but said that there were "effective options" and "they all remain on the table." The State Department said it would provide rewards of up to $5 million for information leading to the arrests of members of the rebel group's governing seven-member secretariat.

    The leader of the group is Pedro Antonio Marín — better known by his nom de guerre, Manuel Marulanda — a former chicken farmer who first took up arms in the 1950's during Colombia's internecine political conflict of that era. He later helped found the rebel group, turning a peasant army into the richest, best-equipped Marxist insurgency in Latin America.

    The indictment offers a look at how the group went from leveling taxes on farmers who grew coca to operating clandestine airstrips and helping to build an international cocaine distribution network. It also details the brutality used by the group to enforce its dominance of the drug trade. It says commanders ordered the killing of farmworkers who did not comply with the group's rules, in some cases dismembering them or filling their corpses with rocks and sinking them in rivers.

Comments

  1. enquirewithin
    More US hyprocrisy. Uribe's government and right wing groups also have connections with the cocaine trade and Colombia has an appalling record for human rights abuses.
  2. Mr. Giraffe
    Even the DEA said a couple of years ago that the Colombian government (and their paramilitary groups) was responsible for most cocaine coming to the US.

    It might be that this has something to do with Marc Emery and creating the atmosphere to presure Canada to hand him over.
  3. enquirewithin
    Latin America: US Puts $75 Million Bounty on Colombia's FARC Leaders

    [FONT=Arial,Helvetica][SIZE=+1] Latin America: US Puts $75 Million Bounty on Colombia's FARC Leaders [/SIZE][/FONT] [FONT=Arial,Helvetica][SIZE=-2] 3/31/06 [/SIZE][/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial,Helvetica][SIZE=-2]http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/429/farcbounty.shtml[/SIZE][/FONT] [FONT=Arial,Helvetica][SIZE=-1]In a March 22 press conference in Washington, DC, US Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez and DEA administrator Karen Tandy announced cocaine trafficking charges against 50 leaders of the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC), the leftist guerrilla army that has waged war against the Colombian state for the past four decades. At the same time, the State Department put up a $75 million reward for their capture. The FARC was responsible for smuggling 60% of all cocaine snorted in the US in the past decade, or some 2,750 tons, according to the 54-page indictment.[/SIZE][/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial,Helvetica][SIZE=-1]"This is the largest narcotics-trafficking indictment ever filed in US history and fuels our hope to reduce narco-violence in Colombia and stem the tide of illegal drugs entering our country," Gonzales said.[/SIZE][/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial,Helvetica][SIZE=-1]"We're hoping the amounts being offered, up to $5 million each for some of the suspects, result in some arrests and in us being able to request further extraditions," Justice Department spokesman Bryan Sierra said.[/SIZE][/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial,Helvetica][SIZE=-1]The US has spent more than $4 billion on Plan Colombia, its effort to wipe out coca and the cocaine trade in Colombia, without achieving noticeable reductions in the price or availability of cocaine. Congress is considering this year's tranche of $743 million.[/SIZE][/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial,Helvetica][SIZE=-1]The US has long accused the FARC of financing its operations through cocaine trafficking, and this indictment formalizes that suspicion. It alleges that FARC leaders collected millions of dollars in cocaine trafficking proceeds after switching from merely taxing the coca crop to being actively involved in the manufacture and distribution of cocaine. Those funds were used to buy weapons to wage its guerrilla war against Bogota, says the indictment. It also accuses the FARC of killing farmers who refused to cooperate and of ordering its troops to shoot down US planes spraying herbicides on suspected coca fields.[/SIZE][/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial,Helvetica][SIZE=-1]The indictment's impact on either the FARC or the cocaine traffic is likely to be insignificant. Only three of the 50 mid- and high-level FARC leaders indicted are in custody, and given their demonstrated ability at eluding Colombian security forces for the past 40 years, chances that the remaining 47 will be captured are iffy at best.[/SIZE][/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial,Helvetica][SIZE=-1]While the indictment's impact on the FARC leadership is doubtful, it could have an adverse impact on efforts to reach a negotiated settlement to the conflict, some observers said. "You negotiate peace with a military organization that has a recognized political status," Colombian military analyst Alfredo Rangel told the Los Angeles Times. "If you reduce the FARC to just a drug cartel, you make the possibility of negotiating a political settlement more difficult."[/SIZE][/FONT]
  4. enquirewithin
    In this case cocaine trafficking is as much of an issue as WMD was in Iraq. FARC is left-wing. Uribe is right-wing and a friend of America in an ever more Bush-hostile South America. Also, Colombia borders on Venezuala. Luckliy for Chavez, the US is rather mired down in the Middle East! The US have already considered sending in troops to aid Colombia's government to fight FARC.
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