Colombian rebel leader jailed in U.S. in drug case
BY TIM JOHNSON
WASHINGTON - In a significant blow to Colombia's largest rebel
group, a mid-level Colombian guerrilla leader was arrested in Suriname
and flown to the
United States on Wednesday to stand trial on drug-trafficking charges.
Carlos Bolas, a Colombian insurgent, was detained in Suriname
carrying a false Peruvian passport, then turned over to U.S. officials,
Enforcement Administration said.
Bolas was among seven people, three of them members of the Revolutionary
Armed Forces of Colombia, who U.S. prosecutors indicted on narcotics
trafficking charges in March.
''For the first time, we have not only indicted a member of a
terrorist organization involved in drug trafficking, but we have also arrested
Administrator Asa Hutchinson said.
Bolas is believed to be a member of the rebel group's 16th Front,
which operates near the border with Venezuela. U.S. prosecutors in March
group collected and smuggled processed cocaine from a series of laboratories in the vast and lawless eastern plains of Colombia.
The State Department has called the Colombian insurgency, known
by its Spanish initials as the FARC, the most dangerous terrorist group
in the Western
Hemisphere. Many of the rebel group's 60 to 70 roving columns, or ''fronts,'' are believed to protect coca plantations and cocaine processing labs in the
The arrest of Bolas, and his quick removal to a Washington area
jail, underscores the determination of U.S. prosecutors to bring members
of the FARC to
trial in the United States.
In the March indictment, U.S. prosecutors said the FARC's 16th
Front protected a series of hidden cocaine laboratories along the Guaviare
from the village of Barranco Minas. It said the rebels traded cocaine for cash, weapons and equipment.
The leader of the 16th Front, Tomás Molina Caracas, who is known by the nickname Negro Acacio, remains at large.
The arrest of Bolas, a secondary leader, and his brisk placement
before U.S. courts marks an unusual new chapter in Colombia's narcotics
trade. In the
1980s and early 1990s, urban businessmen turned the Medellín and Cali cartels into the largest criminal syndicates in the world, but now the drug trade
is moving into the hands of outlaw armies like the FARC.
It is yet to be seen whether the FARC will react like the cartel
leaders did when they ordered a bombing and murder campaign to block extradition
''This arrest will certainly get their attention,'' DEA spokesman Will Glaspy said.
The DEA said officials in Suriname, on South America's northern
shoulder, brought Bolas in for questioning on Tuesday on immigration matters,
discovering that he was wanted in the United States. Bolas appeared before a magistrate in Suriname, who expelled him and turned him over to the DEA.
Bolas ''was making cocaine deliveries'' in Suriname before his
arrest, Glaspy said, adding that he did not know how long Bolas had been
in the small
former Dutch colony.
ROLE OF SURINAME
The arrest highlights the role of Suriname as a weapons and cocaine
transshipment point, even as it has won high praise from Washington for
cooperation on drug matters.
''Much of the cocaine entering Suriname does so via small airstrips
located throughout the dense jungle, many of which are also used for arms-for-drugs
swaps,'' a State Department report issued in February said.