Colombia extradites paramilitary leader to US over rights groups protests
Hebert Veloza Garcia's extradition will stymie efforts to find justice for his victims, say Colombian human rights groups.
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Colombia has extradited Hebert Veloza Garcia, one of its "most feared" former paramilitary leaders, to the United States on drug-trafficking charges, despite requests from Colombian human rights groups that Mr. Veloza's extradition be delayed until he had more completely detailed the crimes committed under his command.
The Los Angeles Times reports that Veloza was flown to New York in US Drug Enforcement Administration custody Thursday, and will face trial on drug charges in the US. Veloza, also known as "HH," led paramilitary fighters in northern Colombia who killed hundreds of leftist guerilla sympathizers and displaced thousands more before being captured in 2007, but human rights groups believe that he has yet to reveal all the crimes in which he was involved.
Half a dozen Colombian human rights groups wrote a letter last month to U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. asking that he delay the transfer of Veloza until after judicial proceedings here that focus on alleged paramilitary atrocities....
Seeking to avoid extradition, he became a highly cooperative witness before special tribunals set up to investigate paramilitary crimes. Paramilitary units were formed in the 1980s by cattlemen and farmers to defend against leftist guerrillas. However, they later branched out into drug trafficking and organized crime.
During dozens of appearances at the tribunals, Veloza acknowledged ordering massacres, personally killing more than 100 people, and participating in thousands of other crimes, including extortion and forced displacement of impoverished farmers.
The Associated Press reports that the US has promised to give Colombian prosecutors access to Veloza, but the human rights groups, which had already successfully delayed his extradition by six months, believe that Veloza's departure will leave many of his crimes unresolved.
"There was no reason for an extradition with such urgency," said Ivan Cepeda, spokesman for the National Movement of Victims of Crimes of the State. "We didn't ask that he not be extradited, just that it be delayed until he could confess to everything."
Prosecutor Nubia Chavez said Veloza has acknowledged 480 murders by fighters under his command, including multiple massacres and the 2004 killing of the Castano brother Carlos, who had been chief of the umbrella United Self-Defense forces of Colombia, or AUC.
"I think he was able to confess to about 50 percent of his crimes," Chavez told The Associated Press.
Along the same lines, Reuters cited CRIC, a Colombian indigenous peoples' group, which said in a statement that "When paramilitaries are extradited, the country and especially the families' victims lose out, they lose the truth and they lose justice."
The BBC writes that "victims' groups believe he was extradited because he knew too much about senior figures who were involved with the paramilitaries." The BBC notes that one government official that Veloza accused of being involved, Gen. Rito Alejo del Rio, has close ties to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. General del Rio is currently being held in Colombia on murder charges.