Bogot'a Tackles Drug Trafficking Threat
COLOMBIA'S new antidrug measures - and the weekend's unprecedented raids on properties of suspected cocaine traffickers - show political decisiveness for a president who has come under fire for his failure to face the trafficking threat. The new measures, which include summary extradition, will be tested by the arrest of Eduardo Martinez Romero, considered to be the ``finance minister'' of the Medellin drug cartel. Mr. Martinez is on the list of Colombian drug figures that Washington would like to extradite on money-laundering charges.
During Colombian President Virgilio Barco Vargas's three years in office, hit men and death squads believed to be on contract by the drug cartels have killed his attorney general, Carlos Mauro Hoyos, murdered over 600 peasants, and attacked other political personalities. Traffickers also killed Rodrigo Lara Bonilla, justice minister under President Belisario Betancur, in 1984.
President Barco had repeatedly used state-of-siege powers to respond to the bloodshed, including augmented prison sentences, creation of an elite police strike force, and restricted habeas corpus. But almost all of these measures proved ineffective.
The president announced fierce new measures against cocaine traffickers on Friday, minutes after leading presidential candidate Luis Carlos Gal'an was killed by gunmen near Bogot'a during an open-air political rally.
Police and military have arrested more than 11,000 people in continuing raids this weekend on ranches, homes, companies, soccer academies, and even discoth`eques owned by members of Colombia's powerful drug cartels.
``There has never been a raid like this in Colombia's history,'' a Defense Ministry press aid said. ``All of the properties of the narcos are occupied by government troops.''
The results of the weekend crackdown were announced just hours after tens of thousands of Colombians attending Senator Gal'an's funeral shouted, ``Death to the drug traffickers,'' and ``Justice, justice,'' in Bogata's streets.
``The drug traffickers, because of their actions, are responsible for Gal'an's death,'' a man shouted, wiping tears from his eyes. ``But the government is guilty because of omission.''
When Attorney General Alfonso Gomez Mendez passed through the central Plaza Bolivar to attend the mass held for Gal'an, the crowds shouted, ``Coward, coward, coward.''
The Barco administration also received biting criticism from political leaders attending the wake.
``This is a reckless government that doesn't lead. That doesn't delegate. That for most practical matters, doesn't exist,'' said Social Conservative Party leader Rodrigo Lloreda in a speech in front of Gal'an's tomb.
The offensive, at a first glance, is impressive. But, leftist politicians from the Patriotic Union Party said they believe the armed forces are not attacking the principal source of the violence - the training schools of the network of paramilitary groups.
Investigations from the judges and the government detective force, DAS, have linked the paramilitary groups and the drug cartels, and identified the town of Puerto Boyaca as the headquarters of a network of private armies that move about the country killing left-wing politicians, union members, and organized peasants.