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Colombia Congress Votes to Lift Ban on Extradition

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Colombian Congress voted late Thursday to remove a 6-year-old ban on extraditing its citizens for trial in foreign countries, reversing a stance that has been a major point of conflict with the United States.

U.S. criminal charges are pending against several alleged Colombian drug traffickers, including some already jailed here. Among the jailed are the notorious Rodriguez Orejuela brothers, the convicted heads of the Cali drug cartel. Colombia’s refusal to extradite such criminals is a main reason the Clinton administration has determined two years in a row that Colombia is not participating fully in the fight against narcotics.

“Colombia cannot continue to ask for international cooperation [against crime] without living up to its obligations under international conventions,” U.S. Ambassador Myles Frechette said this week.

Because permitting extradition requires a constitutional amendment, both houses of Congress must vote again in a session that begins July 20. The measure is expected to pass.

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Both opponents and supporters agreed that passage of the measure is more symbolic than practical. During the 1980s, when Colombia extradited its citizens, only 55 people were sent outside the country for trial. Not all were drug traffickers, nor were all of them sent to the United States, and Rep. Roberto Camacho said that number represents so few of Colombia’s drug criminals that it is largely symbolic.

“This will not end drug trafficking, but . . . it says that this country will not allow itself to be a haven for drug traffickers,” Camacho said.

But Rep. Vivian Morales, who has supported other anti-drug measures, argued that “reality is more important than symbolism. This country cannot afford the luxury of exposing the civilian population to possible narco-terrorism,” such as the assassinations, bombings and kidnappings that led Colombia to ban extradition in 1991.

In its current form, the legislation is not likely to improve relations with the U.S. It would retain the ban for Colombians who turn themselves in, for crimes committed before the change and in cases involving foreign sentences that are stiffer than Colombian penalties. Although new laws doubled Colombian penalties for drug-related crimes, they are still shorter than U.S. sentences.


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