BOGOTA, Colombia – Colombian President Alvaro Uribe unexpectedly extradited 14 imprisoned paramilitary leaders to the United States on Tuesday, declaring that they had violated terms of a demobilization agreement.
The men were put on a U.S. government plane and flown to Miami as a first step before being arraigned on charges including drug trafficking and money laundering.
Dozens of Colombian paramilitary leaders and 31,000 fighters agreed in 2006 to lay down their arms, give up illegal activities, and make full confessions and restitution to victims. In exchange, they were promised light prison sentences and no extradition.
But the process came under fire from critics in and outside Colombia who charged it went light on commanders accused of mass killings or the illegal appropriation of millions of acres of farm and ranch land.
Last week, jailed paramilitary leader Carlos Mario Jimenez became the first major one to be extradited after being accused of running his drug empire from his jail cell and not fully divulging his crimes. Those extradited Tuesday included Salvatore Mancuso, Rodrigo “Jorge 40” Tovar, and Diego “Don Berna” Murillo.
The paramilitary forces for the most part were organized in the 1980s by wealthy landowners as protection against leftist guerrillas. But authorities said they transformed over time into criminal enterprises.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration lauded the extraditions as a sign of an “unparalleled commitment to ridding Colombia of the drug trade and narco-terrorist organizations.”