Narco's Family Paid tUS $83Mn to Avoid Prosecution
Rightwing Narco's Family Paid $83 Million to the U.S. to Avoid Prosecution
March 9, 2006
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As Bill Conroy and Narco News continue to investigate and uncover documents regarding the allegations of massive corruption in the Bogotá office of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the Colombian newsmagazine Cambio (owned and directed in part by former drug legalization supporter Gabriel García Marquéz) has dug up a juicy tidbit of its own. In this week's issue, whose cover reads "The Price of Justice," the magazine reveals that on January 31 of this year the U.S. Justice Department received the last $1.3 million of an $83 million payment from the family of slain Colombian paramilitary boss and narco-trafficker Gonzalo "The Mexican" Rodríguez Gacha. In return for the massive payment, the family - Rodríguez' widow and seven of his "heirs" - received immunity from prosecution, which they were facing from the Jacksonville, Florida U.S. District Court.
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In early February, after several weeks of operations in towns in the northeast and the Magdalena Medio region of Cudinamarca department, Colombian intelligence agents sat down to look through a mountain of documents confiscated during raids that included the properties of people who more than 15 years ago belonged to the organization of drug trafficker and paramilitary Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha, "El Mexicano." One of the documents caught the investigators' attention: it was a copy of a legal agreement prepared in the United States about ten years ago by an attorney who represented the bloodthirsty capo's heirs.
Getting a glimpse of an unknown history, the agents discovered a secret operation that lasted more than a decade and just recently ended. As a result the U.S. Justice Department obtained more than $80 million, which had been deposited in 24 bank accounts in Europe and Asia managed by El Mexicano's front companies.
Offered in exchange was a type of legal immunity for the widow and seven of the principle heirs to the fortune of the drug boss, who died in a confrontation with elite National Police forces on December 15, 1989, near Coveñas on the Caribbean coast. They all unconditionally signed an agreement that required them to completely renounce all claims on those monies and to facilitate their "repatriation" (as the document calls it) to the United States. Rodríguez Gacha's inheritors thus remained free from any charges related to conspiracy to introduce drugs into that country or money laundering.
This deal is a first of its kind, as it breaks the traditional molds in Washington that granted benefits to Colombian drug traffickers only when they confessed to their own crimes or gave up names. The last episode in this story, unpublished until today, was written by its own characters on Tuesday, January 31, 2006, when the last payment of $1.3 million dollars was deposited in to the judicial bank account of the Jacksonville, Florida District Court from a bank in Douglas, capital of the Isle of Man, a tax haven between Great Britain and Ireland.
Analysts consulted about the implications of these secret accords feel that they detract from a great deal of the United States' official rhetoric on the war on drugs. "The common Colombian looks very badly upon the fact that, after so many years of suffering because of narcotrafficking and terrorism, generated by the cocaine consumers in the United States, the capos or their successors end up negotiating with that country's justice system, and receive lowered sentences or even immunity all because they handed over some money," explained former vice president Humberto de la Calle. "Especially," he added, "as is the case here, if that money is not returned, for example, to the victims of the violence committed by that capo's organization."
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The U.S. often shares the booty from big drug busts with the Colombian government, but decided to keep this one a secret.
The double standard for the elite and the rest does not need to be pointed out here. People much lower than the Rodríguez family on the cocaine food chain that have gotten caught in the last ten years - poor Colombian kids who tried to make a little extra money smuggling the drug into the U.S., poor folks in the U.S. that sell the drug there often because they have no other employment options, or unlucky folks simply busted for possession - have no laundered multimillion dollar offshore accounts with which to buy their way out of prison. Many of them have never touched a gun in their lives, while the Medellín cartel was responsible for the deaths of hundreds, perhaps thousands of people.
And in case avoiding the jail sentences their underlings faced wasm't enough, Cambio also quotes anonymous sources as saying the family was allowed to keep $4 million "so that they could live with some dignity."
Though not as well known to the world as his partner Pablo Escobar, "El Mexicano" is a legendary figure in Colombia. At the height of the Medellin cartel's success, Rodríguez Gacha may have actually been wealthier than Escobar. His death came in the early months of Medellín cartel's "war" on the Colombian state to avoid leaders' extradition to the U.S.
Unmentioned in the Cambio article beyond a passing reference is El Mexicano's role in the development of modern paramilitarism in Colombia. In the 1980s he gave his support to the project in the Magdalena Medio region to create extra-governmental death squads, supposedly to combat guerrillas that the military was unable to deal with. But the true result of the paramilitary project in the Magdalena Medio, a historic stronghold of the Communist Party, was not a defeat of the insurgency but a bloodbath that went on for years, killing hundreds of nonviolent leftwing community leaders and their supporters. At least one military leader receiving training from the United States was a key figure in this campaign of terror.
El Mexicano is also known to have been a major force behind the campaign of systematic extermination of Patriotic Union (UP) party candidates and activists. The Patriotic Union was a political party formed out of the peace talks between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the government in the mid-80s. Its first campaigns were a time of great hope for a political solution to the Colombian civil war and a space for the Colombian Left to participate in politics. The UP's extermination - thousands of members assassinated, including two presidential candidates - convinced many that democracy would never exist in Colombia and that armed struggle was the only logical response, and served as a justification for the FARC's later buildup into the gigantic military machine that it is today.
Coincidentally enough, on January 28, three days before the arrival of the final payment from El Mexicano's family, the Puerto Boyacá section of the Autodefensas del Magdalena Medio (Self-Defense Forces of the Magdalena Medio) "demobilized" as part of the Bush administration-supported peace process with the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). Every human rights group working in Colombia has denounced this process as being essentially a legalization of paramilitarism rather than a demobilization; despite the fact that nearly the entire United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) has "demobilized," paramilitary activity continues at outrageous levels in Colombia.
The Autodefensas del Magdelena Medio was among the first of the modern paramilitary groups, founded in 1978. It was integrated into the AUC in the 1990s and was still under the command of one of El Mexicano's former lieutenants, a man known as "Bolatón," when its guns were handed over in January.
Why was the U.S. government so eager to make a deal with El Mexicano's family? The Cambio article points out that the bargain was not even proposed by the family or their lawyers; the U.S. came to them to make the offer. But Cambio leaves the biggest question unasked: Why did the U.S. want so badly to avoid a prosecution that could be trumpted as a victory in the drug war? Did the DEA or someone else have an interest in preventing Rodríguez' family from taking the stand?
Or was it just about the money and some greedy folks within the Justice Department? And if so, what did that money end up getting used for?
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