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Terrorism & Security

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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Veloza is just one of some 17 Colombian paramilitary leaders extradited to the US in the past year; the Associated Press writes that the 16th, reputed cocaine kingpin Miguel Angel Mejia, was flown to the US on Tuesday. But The Miami Herald reports that a recent ruling by the Colombian Supreme Court may stem the flow. The Supreme Court last month barred the extradition of several leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, who were involved in the kidnapping of French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and three American contractors.

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The Supreme Court blocked the extraditions, ruling that the United States had no jurisdiction over Colombians in some crimes committed in Colombia, including "taking hostages." However, the court authorized the extradition of one of the men because he also was charged with drug trafficking....
The rulings were a major setback because the mere threat of extradition can help dismantle a criminal organization.
"The risk I see with these decisions in that they endanger extradition, which has been vital to the fight against drug trafficking," former Vice Minister of Justice Rafael Nietosaid in a telephone interview. "This is restrictive interpretation [of the extradition law] that I think favors delinquents."

But an article in Time magazine notes that extradition has its critics, who say that the procedure is too expensive and has been ineffective at stopping drugs being smuggled into the US.

"Every day we extradite more people, but the problem continues," says Maria Victoria Llorente, director of the Bogotá think tank Ideas for Peace. (While the U.S. says Colombia's cocaine production has decreased from 680 tons in 2002 to 535 tons in 2007, the United Nations says it has increased from 580 tons to 630 in the same period.)
Besides the cost to U.S. taxpayers of prosecuting all those extraditados – which often involves transportation and housing for witnesses, hiring bilingual lawyers and translating paperwork – tens of thousands of dollars are also spent annually to incarcerate each foreign detainee. What's more, for every Don Diego [drug lord Diego Montoya, who was extradited to the US in December], there are dozens who rarely merit the trouble of extradition. "There is no system to filter the important from the unimportant," says Joaquin Perez, a Miami-based lawyer who defends accused Colombian traffickers. Many of those caught in the net are small-fry – like the smuggler's driver, the document forger or the guy who prepared the box lunches for the crews of the go-fast boats.

Time adds that "many law-enforcement experts vigorously defend extradition" as a means to prevent drug lords from manipulating the Colombian justice system. Time notes that just last year a high-ranking government prosecutor was arrested for collaborating with a drug baron.


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