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Colombia Update: Relations With U.S. Strained, Political Fallout Continues, Another Arrest Made


November 1995

A secretly tape-recorded phone conversation between U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and U.S. Justice Department officials about Colombia were played in the Colombian legislature, straining relations between the two countries whose relations seemed to be improving (Thomas W. Lippmann and Pierre Thomas, "U.S.-Colombia Relations Wane Over Wiretaps," Washington Post, October 6, 1995, p. A29).

Colombian legislator Carlos Alonzo Lucio played tapes of DEA official Robert J. Nieves talking with a Justice official. In the conversation both officials reportedly spoke disparagingly of Colombia and Colombian officials.

The U.S. State Department said the conversation did take place, but said the wiretapping to obtain the recording was illegal. State Department Spokesperson Nicholas Burns tied Carlos Alonzo Lucio to the suspected leaders of the Cali Cartel, the Rodriguez-Orejuela brothers.

To compound the recent U.S.-Colombia rift, a Colombian official blamed the U.S. for a deadly attack on the lawyer representing Colombian President Ernesto Samper ("Colombia Ties U.S. to Attack on Lawyer Defending President," Washington Post, September 28, 1995, p. A23).

On September 29, two guards were killed and Antonio Jose Cancino and a police guard were injured when gunmen sprayed Cancino's car with machine-gun fire. None of the gunmen were captured.

Cancino is representing Samper against charges that he accepted money in exchange for the lenient prosecution of major cartel figures. As was reported in the October issue of NewsBriefs, Samper's former campaign treasurer Santiago Medina alleged that the president and his campaign director Fernando Botero accepted a $6.1 million donation from the Cali cartel during Samper's 1994 election bid ("Drug Scandal Implicates Colombian President," NewsBriefs, October 1995).

Colombia's Interior Minister Horacio Serpa charged that the U.S. played a role in the shooting. "If you ask me if there are interests outside the country dedicated to creating instability [in Colombia], I think so, yes," he said. "If you ask me if it's the DEA, I'd say that that rings a bell." U.S. officials and Colombian Foreign Minister Rodrigo Pardo denied any U.S. ties to the attack.

Burns of the State Department said both incidents spell problems for U.S.-Colombia negotiations. Relations "are strained because some members of the Colombian government and some members of the Colombian congress have made some very unwise public statements over the last couple weeks, some unfounded allegations about the activities of the United States concerning Colombia," he said.

In other news from Colombia, a major Cali cartel figure turned himself in to U.S. officials. Guillermo Pallomari-Gonzalez surrendered to U.S. officials and promised to provide information about the activities of the Cali cartel and suspected cartel payments to Samper. Pallomari-Gonzalez, who was supposedly the chief administrative officer of the Cali cartel, was named in an indictment unsealed on June 5 in Miami charging a former Justice Department official and 61 others with drug-related activity. It is believed he will be an important government source of information in that case (Pierre Thomas and Thomas W. Lippman, "Top Cali Aide Surrenders to U.S. Officials," Washington Post, September 22, 1995, p. A1; for background, see "Massive Indictment Charges Former Justice Official and 61 Others With Racketeering," NewsBriefs, September 1995).

The Washington Post reported on September 22 that the U.S. street price of cocaine has increased dramatically as a result of the arrests in olombia and the ensuing disruption in the drug trafficking markets. Drug Enforcement Report, however, reports that the price increases are not the result of any reduced supply, but are the result of dealers taking advantage of news stories to raise prices ("DEA Says Cocaine Price Hikes Not Indicative of Reduced Supply," Drug Enforcement Report, October 10, 1995, p. 5).