Colombia holds drug lords on floating prisons —but can’t keep ’em straight

Colombian authorities have decided to hold a top drug lord and a former paramilitary boss, both wanted by the US, in prisons fashioned on navy warships. But authorities were embarrassed Sept. 14 when they picked up the wrong prisoner in the high-security transfer. Helicopters and troops were mobilized to move accused drug lord “Don Diego” Montoya and former para commander Carlos Jimenez from their prison cells to navy ships, in response to death threats against them and claims that they continued to run their networks from behind bars. Instead of picking up Diego Montoya, authorities moved Diego “Don Berna” Murillo to Bogota from Combita prison (Boyacá department). Murillo is another ex-para commander jailed under a peace deal with President Alvaro Uribe.

“I don’t think we can qualify it as chaos. That would not be appropriate. But it was an error because there was an order to transfer Diego Montoya and they understood Diego Murillo,” Interior Minister Carlos Holguin told local radio. “It was a mistake in interpretation.” Authorities returned Murillo to Combita and moved Montoya to a ship patrolling in Pacific waters. Jimenez (whose nom de guerreMacaco” might reveal an element of self-hatred) was sent to another Colombian vessel in the Caribbean. (DPA, Reuters, Sept. 14)

Attorney Gilberto Lozano, wearing scuba gear over his business suit as a publicity stunt, filed a formal complaint in Bogota Sept. 18, saying he is unable to provide counsel for Jimenez on the navy frigate. “It is of primary importance to respect and guarantee the constitutional rights” of prisoners, Lozano told AP, “and the most fundamental of these is the right to a defense.” (AP, Sept. 18)

See our last posts on Colombia and the paramilitaries.