- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A top associate of leftist guerrillas in Colombia who assisted in the procurement of weapons, ammunition and cash in exchange for cocaine and cocaine paste has been extradited to the United States to stand trial on conspiracy charges.

Juan Jose Martinez Vega, also known as “Chiguiro,” was returned to New York this week as part of a massive crackdown led by U.S. federal agents on the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or the FARC. Fifty of the organization’s top leaders were targeted in an federal grand jury indictment.

Acting U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Administrator Michele M. Leonhart said Martinez Vega is accused of delivering weapons, ammunition and cash to the FARC over the past several years, working closely with the organization’s 16th Front, to which he delivered more than 37 tons of weapons and ammunition in exchange for 2,500 kilograms of cocaine paste and 750 million Colombian pesos.

Mrs. Leonhart also said Martinez Vega is charged with leading a squad of FARC members in hunting down and executing four others suspected of stealing arms which the FARC had purchased with cocaine.

The FARC is Colombia’s main leftist rebel group and has been designated by the State Department as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. It occupies large swaths of territory in Colombia and is responsible for the production of more than half of the world’s supply of cocaine and nearly two-thirds of the cocaine imported into the U.S.

With as many as 18,000 members, the FARC is organized along military lines and includes several urban fronts or militia cells, which are organized by their geographical location. Each of the fronts are required to finance themselves through cocaine manufacturing and distribution.

Martinez Vega made his first appearance in court yesterday before U.S. District Chief Judge Thomas F. Hogan in Washington.

“Juan Martinez Vega operated at the FARC’s core, dealing arms and ammunition in exchange for thousands of kilos of cocaine that ultimately made its way to American neighborhoods,” said Mrs. Leonhart.

“Martinez Vega’s extradition serves as another blow to FARC operations and demonstrates this country’s aggressive pursuit and prosecution of drug criminals who seek profit from poison,” she said.

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