WASHINGTON (AP) – The United States charged 50 leaders of Colombia’s largest guerrilla group with sending more than $25 billion worth of cocaine around the world to finance their fight at home, a federal indictment that depicts the rebels as major narco-terrorists.
The indictment made public yesterday in U.S. District Court said the leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, ordered the killings of Colombian farmers who did not cooperate with the group, the kidnapping and killing of U.S. citizens and the downing of U.S. planes seeking to fumigate coca crops.
U.S. officials said the indictment strikes a blow against the group because it lays out the FARC’s hierarchy and details of its operations. “Members of the FARC do not want to face American justice,” Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said.
He acknowledged that 47 of those charged remain at large, probably in well-defended jungle strongholds that have so far proved beyond the reach of Colombian authorities.
The FARC supplies more than half the world’s cocaine and 60 percent of the drug that enters the United States, the indictment said. “The FARC’s fingerprint is on most of the cocaine sold in America’s neighborhoods,” said the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Karen Tandy.
Washington-based experts on Colombia said the actual numbers probably are lower, but are significant. Right-wing paramilitary groups also are heavily involved in the cocaine trade, the experts and the indictment said.
The FARC uses proceeds from the cocaine trade to purchase weapons in its four-decade fight to overthrow the Colombian government, the indictment said. A grand jury returned the indictment on March 1; it remained under seal until yesterday.
The U.S. and the European Union have designated the FARC a terrorist organization.
Colombia President Alvaro Uribe, Washington’s closest ally in South America, has waged an aggressive fight against the FARC and stepped up efforts to eradicate his country’s coca crop. Uribe faces re-election in May and has been leading in the polls.
The U.S. has spent more than $3 billion since 2000 to reduce Colombia’s coca crop and the flow of cocaine to this country. The results have been lackluster, said John Walsh, senior analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America, a think tank.
The indictment is intended to show that U.S.-Colombian cooperation is “successfully getting at the drug-trafficking industry and attacking drug financing,” Walsh said.
Phillip McLean, a former American diplomat who now is at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said he expects the charges will influence the debate in Colombia between those who view the FARC as a traditional guerrilla group with a political agenda and those who see it as a criminal organization.