- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 9, 2002

A Colombian drug lord who controlled 80 percent of the world's cocaine distribution has been released from prison over the objections of U.S. authorities and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe after serving less than half of a 15-year sentence.
Gilberto Rodriguez-Orejuela was given an early release because of his participation in a work-study program in prison. Colombian Provincial Judge Pedro Suarez ordered him freed.
Rodriguez-Orejuela, described by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration at the time of his 1995 conviction as one of the "most notorious cocaine traffickers in the world," left a prison in Tunja, 60 miles northeast of Bogota, yesterday morning.
President Uribe, elected on a promise to battle Colombia's cocaine traffickers and seeking continued U.S. financial support for the war on drugs, had sought unsuccessfully to block the release. His office also enlisted the help of U.S. authorities, who attempted without success to file additional charges in an effort to keep him in prison or have him extradited to the United States.
Rodriguez-Orejuela had been scheduled for release in 2010.
Colombian Justice Minister Fernando Londono told reporters in Bogota that the government was embarrassed by Rodriguez-Orejuela's release, although it had to respect the decision.
"This is a moment of mourning and pain for the country's image and for the administration of justice in Colombia," he said.
DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson said yesterday that Rodriquez-Orejuela and his brother, Miquel, controlled one of the largest cocaine operations in the world and that efforts to extradite the pair to the United States at the time of their arrests were blocked because of the Colombian constitution, which has since been changed.
"I am quite concerned about the early release of any major drug trafficker," Mr. Hutchinson said. "However, the DEA remains committed to working with our counterparts in the Colombian government and across the world in the fight against narco-terrorism and drug trafficking."
When government officials in Colombia suggested that Judge Suarez had been bribed, his release order was delayed but was later upheld by Judge Luz Angela Moncada, who also ordered an investigation into whether the executive branch improperly interfered in a judicial decision.
Colombia's judges' federation defended Rodriguez-Orejuela's release yesterday, saying in a statement that "reason has been brought to bear against the authoritarianism" of President Uribe.
The federation said it was not defending a drug trafficker "but rather the validity of the checks and balances in a democratic system and the state of law."
Rodriguez-Orejuela, 63, is known to U.S. law enforcement authorities as the "chess player" because of his calculated management of the Cali drug cartel and his ability to avoid extradition. He and his bother controlled the cartel, which was responsible for the shipment of thousands of pounds of cocaine annually into the United States.
The cartel's annual income was estimated by U.S. authorities at $8 billion.
The Cali cartel, under Rodriguez-Orejuela's direction, was involved in every stage of the cocaine trade from the jungles of Peru to the streets of the United States, U.S. authorities said, including contracting with Mexican drug smugglers to transport the cocaine into this country.


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