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Many Events Straining Relations Between U.S. and Columbia


July 1994

Colombian President-Elect Ernesto Samper Suspected of Receiving Campaign Contributions From Drug Cartel

Some U.S. officials are questioning Colombia's commitment to fight drug traffickers and to interdict the flow of drugs from their country. (Gabriel Escobar, "Drug Whispers Bedevil Colombia's New Leader," The Washington Post, 7/12/94, A12). These concerns have grown with the recent release of an audio tape purporting to indicate that president-elect Ernesto Samper may have received more than $3 million in campaign contributions from the Cali drug cartel. In the tape recording, a leader of the cartel is heard to agree to contribute $3.75 million to Mr. Samper's campaign. Samper denies that he received any money from the cartel. He also points out that five years ago he was almost killed in an attack by a drug cartel's assassination squad and that he still remains under threat.

Angered by Colombian Prosecutor General, U.S. Stops Sharing Criminal Evidence on Colombian Drug Dealers

Colombia's prosecutor general, Gustavo De Greiff, a long time warrior in the war on drugs, says that the drug war is a failure and that drugs should be legalized. (James Brooke, "A Captain in the Drug War Wants to Call it Off", New York Times, 7/8/94, A4). De Greiff believes that the drug prohibition leads to violence and corruption and that legalization should be considered as a solution to ease some of the ill effects associated with the drug trade.

U.S officials have begun to openly criticize him for his views, and in March the U.S. stopped sharing criminal evidence on major Colombian drug dealers because, they say, De Greiff will be lenient in prosecuting the dealers. (Jose de Cordoba, "Washington, Irked by Colombia Official, Ends Evidence-Sharing on Drug Cartels", Wall Street Journal, 3/8/94, A12).

Claiming that De Greiff met secretly with wanted drug dealers, Attorney General Janet Reno and Senator John Kerry say that De Greiff is likely to cut deals that are favorable to the traffickers. (Al Giordano, "John Kerry Stumbles in The Drug War's Latest Skirmish," Boston Phoenix, 5/20/94, A18). De Greiff denies that the meetings were secret, and other agencies in the Colombian government confirm that they were provided with written notification of the meetings.

A senior Washington official told the Wall Street Journal that the U.S. Justice Department "is increasingly reluctant to share evidence, because of concern it might be used to make deals with the drug traffickers instead of bringing them to justice and because sharing the information might jeopardize future trials in the U.S."

De Greiff accuses Washington of waging a "dirty war" to discredit him. (Brooke). Baltimore Mayor, Kurt Schmoke, who has been criticized for seeking a study on legalization in the U.S., says the criticism of De Greiff is part of a "well orchestrated effort to stifle dissent." (Al Giordano, "Friendly Fire: Drug Kingpins Would Like to Silence Colombia Prosecutor General Gustavo De Greiff - and So Would the Clinton Administration," LA Village View, 5/27/94 - 6/2/94, p. 8).

According to De Greiff, the U.S. stopped sharing evidence after he told a drug-enforcement conference in November that the drug war was lost and that drug legalization should be considered as a solution to the drug crisis.

De Greiff maintains that the drug war "does not have victories, only failures. (Brooke). Despite spraying and manual eradication, the areas of cultivation have not diminished, but have increased. Drug interdiction doesn't even reach 10 percent of the drugs that reach international markets. We kill big capos, we put them in jail, we extradite them to the U.S. - and yet prices don't even move overseas."

Recently, De Greiff said that the Clinton Administration's refusal to study drug legalization was "not an ostrich policy, but a McCarthyite, Stalinist, fascist policy."

"In 10, 15, 20 years, we will finally arrive at controlled legalization," he said. "What makes me sad is that when this measure is finally adopted we will look back at all the deaths, all the corruption, and everything evil that drug trafficking brought us in the intervening 20 years."

Before De Greiff made his remarks, he was widely hailed as an "impeccably honest and effective drug fighter". (Al Giordano, Boston Phoenix). "The Washington Post, for instance, noted that De Greiff 'has long enjoyed a reputation for integrity in the struggle against the drug barons.'"

In December of last year, De Greiff led the hunt for Colombia's most feared and violent drug lord, Pablo Escobar, who was killed in a shoot out with police. (Al Giordano, LA Village View). Despite this success, de Greiff's failure to agree with the drug-war party line continues to infuriated U.S. policy makers and they continue to publicly question his commitment to fight the drug problem.

De Greiff remains on the front-line in the war on drugs. He still receives death threats from drug dealers, and his office and home remain bullet proof and bomb proof. (Brooke). He said that a new group, made up of former Medellin drug cartel members, has threatened to kill him and president-elect Ernesto Samper "in a way that will make everyone's jaw drop."

Colombia's Highest Court Decriminalizes Possession of Certain Drugs

In a 5-4 ruling, Colombia's Constitutional Court held on May 5, that penalizing drug use violates the individual's right to privacy, autonomy, and "the free development of personality." (Steven Ambrus, "Ruling Legalizing Drugs Leaves Many Colombian's in A Tizzy", Los Angeles Times, 5/20/94, A7). The ruling overturned a 1986 law that imposed fines and jail terms for those caught possessing or using small amounts of drugs - up to 20 grams of marijuana, five grams of hashish, one gram of cocaine and two grams of Mandrax, a barbiturate.

The U.S. State Department has condemned the decision as did the Colombian government. Feeling the intense pressure from abroad and at home, President Cesar Gaviria reduced the scope of the decision by restricting personal drug use to the home, away from the presence of children, and calling for a referendum that he hopes will revoke the court's decision. (C. Torres, "Legalize It?," The Nation, 6/20/94, p. 857).

The Colombian government is concerned about appearing as a narco-democracy. (Steven Ambrus). Colombia is the world's biggest producer of cocaine, supplying more than 80% of the world's demand. The Colombian government was already trying to appease U.S. authorities who are angry with the nation's head law enforcement officer, Gustavo de Grief, because he believes that the legalization of drugs will ultimately be required and for his public comments that the drug war is a failure.

Drug use is high in Colombia, where about 31 percent of the population have tried marijuana, and about 15 percent have tried basuco (A substance made from cocaine base before it is refined into cocaine HCL, that can be smoked like crack but is usually in cigarette form). Despite the high drug use, most Colombians are generally deeply conservative on the issue and preliminary polls show that the majority of Colombian's are opposed to the decision.