By Daniela Cristancho, EL ESPECTADOR, April 11, 2023

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Below is an article from EL ESPECTADOR, August 25, 1988


Bogotá. The bosses of the so-called “Cartel” of Medellín, who were in custody awaiting extradition by the authorities, will be released from custody and will be completely free as of yesterday, based on a new decision in their favor by the Council of State.

The high court, in a decision written by Justice Simón Rodríguez Rodríguez nullified the arrest orders issued by the Justice Ministry against the brothers Jorge Luis, Juan David and Fabio Ochoa Vásquez. The same Council adopted identical determinations last week in favor of Gonzalo Rodríguez Gachal, alias El Mexicano, based on a decision issued in May to release the drug trafficker Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria.

On this occasion the Council of State reiterated that it is impossible to apply the Extradition Treaty between Colombia and the United States in 1979.”

Academics and experts in drug trafficking talk here about Petro’s “total peace “initiative, and earlier negotiations with drug traffickers during recent meeting with the Attorney General.

President Gustavo Petro has met twice with Attorney General Francisco Barbosa to deal with his doubts about the administration’s “total peace” initiative. The head of the prosecuting agency has expressed special concern with the Bill providing for submission to the ordinary justice system, which was introduced in Congress three weeks ago. According to what the Justice Minister, Néstor Iván Osuna Patiño, said at that time, its articles “contain a generous offer by the Colombian government to these high impact criminal organizations, so that if they surrender, confess their crimes, turn over their property, furnish information about criminal patterns, and make reparations to the victims, the government will furnish them with penalties that are more benign than those in the ordinary justice system.”

The Justice Minister noted that this proposal provides that “judicial agencies will have enormous authority, not only the Attorney General, but also the judges and justices.” Nevertheless, the Attorney General expressed disagreement with the proposal, and referred specifically to the treatment of the drug traffickers. “The administration has presented a proposal to legalize the whole chain of drug trafficking in Colombia, and I have opposed that. As Attorney General, we cannot allow this to happen, because it doesn’t represent the thinking of Colombia, or the thinking of Colombians right now,” he said during the conference “New Methods in the War on Drugs and Money Laundering” in the Dominican Republic.

After the recent meeting between the President and the chief prosecutor, the administration reaffirmed that, “the proposal for submission to the justice system has the firm objective of a tough confrontation with drug trafficking activities, while also protecting the growers, who are the weakest link in the chain.” Even so, cooperation between the two branches of power has resulted in a primordial chance to negotiate with the drug traffickers in the several attempts that the government has made, historically, to put an end to the problem.

The role of the Attorney General’s Office

Mauricio Jaramillo Jassir, Professor in the International, Political, and Urban Studies Faculty at Rosario University, emphasizes the role that the prosecutors have had in prior processes of negotiation for submission that have been carried out with the drug traffickers. He recalls that it was in the years of the hardest fight with the drug traffickers that the starring role was played by the Attorney General– created by the Constitution of 1991–“My impression is that Gustavo de Greiff, the first Attorney General, played an important and effective role in achieving the submission of the drug traffickers. They captured Miguel Angel Rodríguez Orejuela and Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela, the two principal bosses of the Cali cartel.”

The historian and politologist Petrit Baquero also remembers de Greiff’s role in one of the agreements that was “on the table”, as he calls it. With Decree 1833 of 1992, they pardoned a series of drug traffickers in exchange for their cooperation in gaining the downfall of then-head of the Medellín cartel, Pablo Escobar. In this deal, the beneficiaries were known as “The 12 from Patíbulo” or “Los Arrepentidos” (“The Penitents”). Among them were Gabriel Puerta Parra, Luis Guillermo Angel Restrepo, Gustavo Tapias Ospina, and Luis Enrique Miki Ramírez.

For Jaramillo Jassir, “the role of the Attorney General’s Office, in my opinion, was really to blur things, because it became more and more politicized. When there’s a prosecutor involved, that somehow delegitimizes the negotiation process; it generates credibility problems all over the scheme of things and thus with Petro’s plan for “total peace”.

For Baquero, “Barbosa is ignoring the fact that in Colombia there have always been negotiations with the illegal actors, whom we always referred to then as common criminals. The difference is that before it was always done under the table. This time there’s an attempt to put it out there on the table. That means that the people know we’re negotiating, who it is we’re talking with, and what the objectives are. When the negotiations were under the table, there often were shady agreements trying to get the best of a worse enemy. For example, with Los PEPES or Don Berna’s gang (pacification of the countryside when the criminal organizations had to give in to the power of Diego Fernando Murillo Bejarano, alias “Don Berna”) those agreements were under the table.”

Background of negotiations with the drug traffickers

As Baquero points out, the government has always tried to negotiate with actors outside the law. “There have always been agreements. You can look into, for example, agreements with the emerald dealers, when they gained concessions for the emerald mines at the beginning of the ‘70’s. There they legalized and legitimized a group that had previously been associated with crime, known as ‘La pesada’, (‘The head honchos’) created by Victor Carranza and Gilberto Molina,” he recounts.

“In the ‘80’s, the emerald dealers had armed groups, but they didn’t have the capacity to confront Rodríguez Gacha, who was the most powerful drug trafficker of that epoch. At that time, they decided to begin giving out statements and information to the Colombian government and to the Drug Control Administration (DEA). That led them to making an agreement under the table with the groups who definitely had a lot of murders in their closet, and were in league with the drug traffickers,” continues the author of “The ABC of the Mafia”. He recalls that the drug traffickers at certain times, especially the group of “extraditables”, wanted to receive pardons or amnesty. “The first time was in 1984, when they had just killed the Justice Minister, Rodrigo Lara Bonilla. They went separately to Alfonso López Michelsen and to the Inspector General at that time, Carlos Jiménez Gómez. They talked with them separately and made a proposal, but that leaked, and it fell through,” says the academic.

According to the historian, in 1991 there was a mixture of agreements both on and under the table, but finally they were more inclined toward the second because, “the Decrees (2047, 2147, 2372, 3030, and 303 of 1991) were made to measure for Pablo Escobar. So much so that the prohibition of extraditing Colombians to other countries turned into an article of the Constitution, and Pablo Escobar surrendered on that very day.” June 19, 1991.

After that, and because of kidnappings of the children of Colombia’s oligarchy—Francisco Santos, Andrés Pastrana Aran Diana Turbay, Maruja Pachón de Villamizar, and Marina Montoya—Escobar “gained an agreement with the government (and the administration of César Gaviria) that guaranteed him absolute control over his prison, “La Catedral” (Envigado), which remained in evidence after the complaints of multiple criminal acts that he committed there,” noted Baquero. In that specific case, the government complied with its agreement with the drug trafficker, and he was the one that didn’t comply.

Finally, Baquero argues that although the Peace and Justice Agreement (2005) was designed to demobilize the paramilitaries, it ended up that a number of drug traffickers were also beneficiaries. He reports that, even though the great majority of paramilitaries were connected to the drug traffickers, there were also “pure drug traffickers”, meaning with no insurgent mindset, who ended up being benefited by the agreement. “The problem with the purist outlook is that in war, the actors are mixed together; they take different forms, and that purist outlook on negotiations has meant that they have to be done under the table,” he concludes.

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