Drug War Deception

martes, 2 de julio de 2019

By Mary Anastasia O’Grady


The nearly 50-year-old U.S. war on drugs is a spectacular failure. But it’s a successful Washington jobs program, and the drug-war bureaucracy is desperate to keep it going-even if it has to make things up. One of its more deplorable acts of dishonesty is its continuing effort to send a former Colombian agriculture minister, Andrés Felipe Arias, to a Colombian jail for 17 years so it can maintain the phony narrative that the U.S. has an extradition treaty with Colombia.

Colombia reminded the U.S. again last month that it recognizes no treaty when its Supreme Court announced that it wouldn’t extradite alleged drug trafficker Seuxis Hernández to the U.S. Mr. Hernández, also known by the nom de guerre Jesús Santrich, is a top leader in the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Yet the U.S. State and Justice departments continue to insist that Mr. Arias must be returned to his native Colombia under the nonexistent treaty. He is fighting extradition from a Miami detention center, where he has been held since September 2017.

This wrinkles the brow at first. The evidence that the young protégé of former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe was railroaded by his political opponents in the Colombian judiciary is overwhelming. In November the U.N. Human Rights Committee in Geneva, which tilts left, ruled unanimously that Colombia’s denial of an appeal for the center-right Mr. Arias was a violation of international law. But this case has nothing to do with Mr. Arias’s rights.

Colombia’s refusal to send Mr. Hernández north adds a new element to the game that the U.S. drug warriors don’t want to acknowledge. Namely, it is now Colombian policy to protect members of the FARC, one of the most powerful drug cartels in the world, from the U.S. justice system.

The Colombian court’s Hernandez decision derives from a deal that former President Juan Manuel Santos made with FARC leadership in Havana in November 2016. Under that agreement (which Colombians rejected in a national referendum), the FARC won amnesty for its many atrocities. Never mind that Mr. Hernández’s alleged drug-trafficking crime took place after that signing. He now has an unelected seat in Colombia’s Congress and is shielded from prosecution.

Under an extradition treaty, Colombia would be obliged to ship Mr. Hernández out. U.S. officials spin reporters by telling them that Colombia has sent more than 2,270 wanted individuals to the states since 2000. But in an affidavit dated Oct. 31, 2016, Mr. Uribe, who sent many Colombians north during his 2002-10 tenure, said that State Department lawyer Tom Heinemann’s “opinion that there is a valid extradition treaty between the United States and Colombia . . . is mistaken. There is no extradition treaty in force between the two countries.” Mr. Uribe has told me that when, as president, he complied with a U.S. extradition request, he had to use domestic law to do it.

The Uribe affidavit goes on: “Colombia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs states that the extradition treaty is ‘not in force’ and that is the official position of the Colombian government.” He further notes that Colombia’s Supreme Court in 1986 and in 1987 “explained” that the treaty “was never properly ratified.”

In a “second supplemental declaration” to the court, dated Dec. 16, 2016, Mr. Heinemann admits that “Colombia’s domestic law implementing the Treaty was struck down by the Colombian Supreme Court.” But, he goes on to say, Colombia still extradites wanted individuals to the U.S.

Except when it doesn’t want to. Then Bogotá reminds Washington that there is no treaty. That’s what happened in 2011, when then-President Santos refused to extradite Walid Makled, a notorious Venezuelan drug trafficker wanted by the U.S. Mr. Santos refused at least 10 other U.S. requests. He was negotiating with the FARC in Havana and wanted to use protection from U.S. law as a bargaining chip.

A treaty in which one side complies only when it feels like it is not a treaty. But the U.S. is willing to go along with the charade because, as Mr. Heinemann pointed out, Colombia occasionally complies.

A 2000 State Department cable, presented in U.S. court by Mr. Arias’s defense, recommended that the U.S. negotiate a valid treaty because Colombia has declared the one signed in 1979 unconstitutional. But if the U.S. tries now, it will be faced with the fact that Colombia has exempted FARC assassins.

A spokesperson for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio told me last week that “if the United States were to negotiate an extradition treaty with Colombia in which members of the FARC, a U.S. State Department-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, would be exempt, Sen. Rubio will object to such an arrangement.”

Instead, against all evidence, the U.S. government insisted before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in March that there is a treaty and it requires Mr. Arias be returned to Bogotá. A ruling is pending, but whichever way it goes, the case will leave an ugly stain on U.S. credibility.

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