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ICE Deports Convicted Narco Kingpin Wanted In Colombia

ICE deports convicted narco kingpin. But is this move more symbolic than anything else?

Sara Brittany Somerset

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ICE Deports Convicted Narco Kingpin Wanted In Colombia

Just last week, the reports rolled in: ICE deports convicted narco kingpin, Hebert Veloza Garcia. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers with ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) deported the former leader of a Colombian paramilitary drug-trafficking organization on December 26. In his tenure of power, Garcia oversaw the importation and distribution of significant quantities of cocaine from Colombia to the United States. Upon his return to his native country, he was handed over to Colombian law enforcement officials.

The Man Known As H.H.

Hebert Veloza Garcia, 50, was born on July 4, 1967, in Trujillo, Valle del Cauca, Colombia. He has also used the alias “H.H.”. Originally, he worked as a coca leaf harvester. In the 1990s he joined a local paramilitary group.  He quickly rose up the ranks and became a high-ranking official. He was commander of the Bananero bloc in the northwestern region of the country, and of the Calima bloc in the southwest. Additionally, he was also a former paramilitary leader of Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, or AUC.

Many militias server multiple purposes, making Columbia’s paramilitary phenomenon convoluted and perplexing. If they fight communist guerillas, the authorities tend to look the other way. If they also serve as a private army for narcotics traffickers, that is. In other cases, one political faction may covertly use a militia to eradicate another political party. And then attempt to hang them out to dry for doing so.

Complicating matters politically, the Colombian government and the US government’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) unofficially sanctions some armed militias. The level of interaction between the paramilitary and their direct influence on Columbia’s government is so entrenched, it seems almost impossible to root out. The fact that ICE deports convicted narco kingpin Veloza Garcia is more symbolic than victorious.

Columbia held judicial proceedings against Veloza Garcia between October 2007 and March 2009. As a result of these proceedings, Colombia extradited him to the United States on drug trafficking charges. The courts imprisoned him in the Metropolitan Correctional Center of New York.

Final Hit: ICE Deports Convicted Narco Kingpin Wanted In Colombia

A U.S. federal court convicted Veloza Garcia in 2009. The charges were conspiracy to import and distribute cocaine and distributing cocaine in the United States. He did this as the head of a sophisticated drug trafficking organization which operated for at least a decade. According to ICE, it began in 1998.

He served more than eight years in federal prison. And then ERO took custody of him from the Bureau of Prisons in October 2016. According to ICE’s website, he was deported to Columbia via ICE Air Operations under escort by ERO deportation officers. Read more about the intricacies of his case here.

Colombian officials want Veloza Garcia for forced displacement and threats. He admitted in Colombian court that he ordered or personally participated in the killing of dozens while leading the AUC.

“The removal of Mr. Garcia highlights ICE’s highest enforcement priorities, which focuses resources on removing criminal aliens,” said Thomas Feelet, field office director for ERO, in Buffalo, New York. “This convicted drug Kingpin will now face justice in his own country.”

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) famously criticized Colombia as a corrupt “narco-democracy.” as dramatized in the Netflix drama, Narcos.

Whether an American prison will hand Veloza Garcia a harsher prison sentence than a Colombian one would remains to be seen. Apprehending him is a drop in the bucket of a systemic issue with a broken and corrupt Columbian justice system.

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