Colombia extradites paramilitary commanders
Colombia extradited 14 top commanders of the right-wing paramilitaries to the US May 13 on drug trafficking and other charges. Security forces rousted the warlords from their prison cells in a surprise pre-dawn operation and took them to Bogotá's military airport. Several arrived in tanks under heavy guard. They were then shackled to the seats of a Drug Enforcement Administration jet bound for the US.
"These were the worst of the worst," José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director of Human Rights Watch, told the Houston Chronicle. But he warned the New York Times: "These men are not going to be held accountable for the human rights violations they committed. Victims in Colombia will not be able to confront their tormentors and receive the reparations they deserve." (HC, May 15; NYT, May 14)
Colombian authorities seized $25 million in properties—luxury ranches, farms and tracts of land—from warlord Salvatore Mancuso upon extraditing him. President Alvaro Uribe said one of his reasons for extraditing the warlords was their failure to make serious reparations to victims. A report released the day after the extradition by the Colombian prosecutor's office, the Fiscalía, revealed that the warlords have thus far had made only token offerings. One leading commander, Rodrigo Tovar Pupo AKA "Jorge 40", whose Northern Bloc had 21,000 complaints filed against it, offered a car. Another, Diego Murillo AKA "Don Berna", promised to hand over five properties. Eduardo Pizarro, who heads the National Reparations and Reconciliation Commission, said the warlords have handed over just $4.6 million, while Fiscal General Mario Iguarán estimates unforfeited assets to be worth more than $200 million. (AP, Europa Press, May 14)
Upon arrival in the US, the 14 were spread out over Miami, Tampa, Washington, Houston and New York for initial federal court appearances. They could face 30-year prison terms, although the Bush administration agreed not to seek life sentences in exchange for extradition. (AP, May 14)
Attorney Paul Wolf, on the scene in Washington DC, identifies the men as:
Rodrigo Tovar Pupo, alias "Jorge 40"
Diego Fernando Murillo, alias "Don Berna"
Ramiro Cuco Vanoy
Francisco Javier Zuluaga, alias "Gordolindo"
Eduardo Enrique Vengoechea Mola
Guillermo Pérez Alzate, alias "Pablo Sevillano"
Juan Carlos Sierra, alias "El Tuso"
Martín Peñaranda, alias "El Burro"
Uver Anibal Gómez, alias "El Mellizo"
Manuel Enrique Torregrosa
A number of Colombian commentators saw today's extradition of 14 AUC commanders to face drug trafficking charges in the US in the worst possible light. Many believe the militia bosses escaped punishment in Colombia, and that the public has lost the opportunity to implicate President Alvaro Uribe in their crimes. In my view, nothing could be further off the mark.
These extraditions dealt a crushing blow to the AUC's leadership and put a lot of distance between Uribe and some of his darker political supporters. Instead of 4 to 8 years in the relative comfort of Itagüí [prison, Medellín], these men now face prison terms up to 40 years, during which they will probably be treated as terrorists in the US prison system... [W]hat looked like an outrageously corrupt situation was actually a set-up. Itagüí was not Uribe's "La Catedral"—the palatial prison built to house Pablo Escobar 20 years ago. It was a trap.