Colombia has sent fourteen senior paramilitary leaders and accused drug traffickers to trial in the United States, an unprecedented move demonstrating its commitment to the campaign against drugs and narco-terrorism.
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said the men, believed to be responsible for shipping tons of cocaine to the U.S., as well as ordering thousands of murders, violated the provisions of the Justice and Peace Process by continuing to run criminal activities from prison or failed to fulfill their obligations under the Justice and Peace Process.
"We cannot afford to react weakly to the recidivists who return to their murders and other crimes," Mr. Uribe said. His announcement followed the extradition a week earlier of another major paramilitary leader, Carlos Jimenez.
Paramilitary groups were formed in the late 1990’s to protect landowners from Marxist rebel groups. Like their guerilla counterparts, these illegal armed groups relied on the drug trade to finance their activities and killed thousands of peasants, politicians, police, journalists and others who challenged their activities.
Some critics have charged Colombian officials haven’t done enough to halt the paramilitaries, trying their leaders in local courts. Colombia has extradited over 700 people involved in the drug trade to the United States for trial, but most of the paramilitary members on that list have not been high caliber leaders. That changed with Mr. Jimenez’s extradition to the United States, where he and the other 14 paramilitary leaders could face long prison terms.
"It’s a day of historic action," said John Walters, Director of U.S. National Drug Control Policy.