- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 23, 2006

Fifty leaders of the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have been named in a federal grand jury indictment on charges of exporting more than $25 billion worth of cocaine, half the world’s illicit supply, in the largest U.S. drug-trafficking case.

“From their jungle hideaway, the FARC uses the drug trade to bankroll terrorism in Colombia, finance attacks on innocent citizens and poison Americans,” said U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) chief Karen P. Tandy. “Today’s indictment challenges that lawlessness, and the FARC leadership should prepare to face the justice that they have long denied to so many.”

Mrs. Tandy said the indictment “addresses and decimates the entire leadership of the FARC.”

The one-count indictment, handed up March 1 in U.S. District Court in Washington and unsealed yesterday, “strikes at the very heart of the FARC narcotics operation,” said Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, adding that the terrorist-designated organization collected millions of dollars in cocaine proceeds and used the money to purchase weapons for its 42-year-long war against the Colombian government.

FARC “is one of the Justice Department’s highest-priority targets in our fight against illegal drug trafficking,” Mr. Gonzales said. “For years, this group has controlled the production and distribution of massive amounts of cocaine that ends up in America’s communities. Members of the FARC do not want to face American justice.”

Three of the charged FARC leaders — Jorge Enrique Rodriguez Mendieta, Erminso Cuevas Cabrera and Juan Jose Martinez Vega — are in custody in Colombia, and the U.S. will seek their extradition to face trial in the United States. More than 400 Colombians have been extradited to the United States to face criminal charges, and two accused FARC leaders are awaiting trial in Washington.

Andres Pastrana, Colombia’s ambassador to the U.S., said the indictment was based on evidence gathered by American officials who worked “in very close collaboration with Colombian authorities.”

“Colombia is one of the main victims of the global war on drugs. Thousands of innocent citizens, journalists, judges, politicians, soldiers and police officers have given their lives to this cause,” said Mr. Pastrana, a former Colombian president who was kidnapped by the Medellin drug cartel during his 1988 race for Bogota mayor and later rescued by police. “Colombia has been and remains deeply committed to defeating the drug trade.”

FARC has about 17,000 members and controls wide areas of the country, so rounding up the other 47 indicted leaders will be a difficult task. The State Department announced rewards yesterday of $75 million for information leading to the capture of 24 of the leaders still at large, all members of FARC’s governing council.

In addition to half the world’s supply of cocaine, FARC was responsible for more than 60 percent of the drug that enters the United States every year, Mrs. Tandy said, adding that the organization controlled every aspect of its production and distribution, even setting the prices paid to Colombian farmers for coca paste, the raw material used to produce cocaine.

According to the indictment, the FARC leaders used terrorism and violence to further their cocaine-trafficking activities, ordering the deaths of Colombian farmers who sold coca paste to non-FARC buyers. It said the farmers who violated FARC rules were shot, stabbed or dismembered alive, their bodies cut open, filled with rocks and sunk in nearby rivers.

The indictment also said the FARC leaders also ordered the kidnap and killing of Americans to discourage the U.S. government from disrupting the organization’s cocaine-trafficking activities. It also said the FARC leaders authorized their members to shoot down U.S. fumigation planes and plotted to retaliate against U.S. law-enforcement officers conducting investigations into FARC’s narcotics activities.

Three U.S. contractors are among 60 hostages being held by FARC.

The indictment said:

• Rodriguez Mendieta, also known as “Ivan Vargas,” was a member of the FARC’s leadership council and commander of its 24th Front unit. He is accused of directing the purchase of cocaine paste and transmitting billions of Colombian pesos in cocaine profits to FARC officials, and the indictment said he ordered the slayings of eight farmers, including several whom he personally dismembered alive.

• Cuevas Cabrera, who also was called “Mincho,” was a FARC associate who managed cocaine laboratories for the organization’s 14th Front unit, where he supervised the production and distribution of hundreds of thousands of kilograms of cocaine. He has been in custody since 2004.

• Martinez Vega, also known as “Chiguiro,” was a FARC associate who provided large quantities of arms and ammunition to the organization in exchange for thousands of kilograms of cocaine. He was arrested on drug charges in Venezuela and turned over to Colombian authorities in early 2005.

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