The Miami Herald
Fri, Oct. 10, 2008

Colombian paramilitary leaders receive stiff sentences in Miami


Two leaders of Colombia's right-wing paramilitary expressed their remorse Thursday in a Miami courtroom before a judge sent them to prison for the maximum terms on drug charges.

Federal prosecutors had requested lighter sentences since Ramiro ''Cuco'' Vanoy Murillo, 60, and Francisco Javier Zuluaga-Lindo, 38, pleaded guilty.

U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore, however, sentenced Vanoy to 24 years and five months in prison. Zuluaga-Lindo was sentenced to 21 years and 10 months behind bars.

Both men were extradited to the United States in May for their roles in a major smuggling operation in the late 1990s that brought tons of cocaine into the U.S. Twelve other paramilitary members, who were also extradited, will face trials in other cities.

Before learning his sentence, Vanoy apologized for his criminal past, saying he has repented for his sins.

''I plead guilty and I am here to accept responsibility for my actions,'' Vanoy said.

Zuluaga-Lindo, the former commander of the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia's (AUC) Miners Bloc, prayed as he entered the courtroom. He told the judge that he ''happily'' accepted his sentence.

The two men were first imprisoned in Colombia in August 2006 after they turned themselves in and demobilized their troops as part of Colombia's peace process. They will receive credit for the time they already served.

Both warlords are blamed for hundreds of killings in Colombia as part of the AUC's campaign to defeat leftist rebels fighting the government.

Vanoy testified in Colombia's special peace court in the spring about many of the killings his troops committed. His extradition to the United States cut his testimony short, angering relatives of some of the victims.

Colombian and federal prosecutors met in Miami this week to work out a way for both men to testify in front of the peace court via teleconference.