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Colombia Approves Bill Limiting Extradition of Drug Traffickers


November-December 1997

Colombia's Chamber of Representatives passed a watered-down extradition bill which will probably reduce the chance that powerful Colombian drug traffickers will be extradited for trial abroad (Steven Ambrus, "Colombia gives final ok to weak extradition law," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), November 26, 1997, p. A2; Reuters, "Colombia to extradite for future crimes," Washington Times, November 26, 1997, p. A16).

The bill, approved by a 119-38 vote, mandates that no Colombian may be extradited for crimes committed before the new law was passed. This means that the heads of the Cali cartel will serve less than 15 years in Colombian prisons, rather than potential life sentences if extradited to the United States. Cartel leaders allegedly contributed to President Ernesto Samper's 1994 election campaign (see "Colombian House Absolves President Ernesto Samper, U.S. Revokes His Visa," NewsBriefs, Summer 1996). Foreign Minister Maria Emma Mejia said that President Ernesto Samper was expected to sign the bill into law, but critics have said that the bill was a weak attempt to please both the U.S. and drug traffickers. Former justice minister and anti-drug crusader Enrique Parejo said, "I don't believe this government has the will to extradite Colombian citizens.

The move makes it very unlikely that Colombia will be certified as an ally of the U.S. in the "war on drugs" in March 1998. Legitimate Colombian exporters are worried that Colombia will face more sanctions, which would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to those who export flowers, leather and textiles. This would be the third consecutive year that Colombia would not be certified.