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US to Seek Extradition of Colombian Cocaleros?

Bill Weinberg

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After 50 years of internal war, Colombia finally seems to be approaching a peace accord with leftist guerillas. But the US Senate is considering legislation that could throw a big obstacle on Colombia’s path to peace. The Transnational Drug Trafficking Act, sponsored by Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), aims to target every link in the chain of narco-trafficking—right down the impoverished peasants who grow the coca. The bill has unanimously passed the Senate twice before, but has never cleared the House. On Oct. 7, it passed the Senate a third time, and a big push is on to make it law of the land. “Since drug cartels are continually evolving, this legislation ensures that our criminal laws keep pace,” said Grassley, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Caucus on International Narcotics Control.

Added Feinstein, who co-chairs the International Narcotics Control caucus: “To reduce the flow of drugs into the United States, the federal government needs the legal authority to aggressively pursue transnational criminal organizations and drug kingpins in their home countries. This bill gives law enforcement the authority they need to go after these criminals.”

The text of the bill says that “it shall be unlawful for any person to manufacture or distribute a listed chemical intending or knowing that the listed chemical will be used to manufacture a controlled substance.” For Grassley, “The bill closes a loophole abused by drug traffickers who intend for drugs to end up in the United States but supply them through an intermediary. The Justice Department needs every legal tool to help crack down on those who ship these substances over the border into our country.”

As an account on Colombia Reports notes, this attitude is sharply at odds with the emerging political consensus in Colombia: to decriminalize coca-growing, in recognition that the big majority of the estimated 60,000 peasant families growing the stuff across the country have been forced to—either by harsh economic realities or actual armed coercion by traffickers and paramilitary gangs. Earlier this year, the government finally called off the US-mandated spraying of glyphosate over the country’s coca fields.

Colombia’s government has set a March 2016 deadline for a peace accord with the FARC guerillas. One of the remaining sticky questions is what will become of those accused either of drug-trafficking or crimes of war. President Juan Manuel Santos assured that guerilla leaders would not be extradited to the US after a peace accord, and would be allowed to participate in the political process. But Santos also said that those responsible for “grave crimes” (presumably on both sides of the conflict) would be prosecuted. There was some ambiguity as to whether those convicted would have to serve their sentences in prison or under a form of house arrest.

As the Colombians try to figure out how to finesse this dilemma, pressure from the United States to arrest and extradite hundreds of thousands struggling campesinos could prove a deal-breaker.

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