Sen. Rubio is urging the Biden administration to refuse to extradite a former warlord to Colombia


Miami (AP) – Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio has called on the Biden administration to deny Colombia’s request to extradite a former warlord after he was appointed peace envoy to the South American country, a move that could see him avoid additional prison time for human rights abuses.

Salvatore Mancuso, the supreme leader of a former right-wing militia group, completed a 12-year prison sentence for cocaine trafficking in 2020. He has been in US custody ever since after Colombia canceled at the last minute a US order that would have sent him to Italy. He also has citizenship, and instead they made a deal to send him Back home to face justice.

And this month, Colombian President Gustavo Petro Mancuso appointed a peace envoy to encourage the disarmament of other illegal armed groups that emerged after Mancuso’s United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia laid down their arms two decades ago. To facilitate the peacemaking role, Pietro said he would seek to suspend prison sentences courts have already handed down against Mancuso for his role in more than 1,500 killings and enforced disappearances.

Rubio, the top Republican on the Senate subcommittee dealing with Latin America, urged Attorney General Merrick Garland to deny Colombia’s extradition request until Pietro rescinds his offer to Mancuso or there are credible guarantees he will serve.

“To allow Mancuso not only to walk freely in Colombia, but also to represent the Colombian government in negotiations with the drug traffickers who are currently working to flood our society with drugs, would be an affront to the thousands of Colombians who have been victims of Mancuso’s crimes.” he wrote in a letter sent Wednesday to Garland.

Rubio’s office in the Senate provided a copy of the letter to the Associated Press.

Mancuso is currently seeking asylum in the United States, arguing he could be killed if he is taken to Colombia, a country struggling to recover from decades of bloody drug-fueled conflict. An immigration judge in May rejected that argument, but Mancuso has appealed the ruling and proceedings are still ongoing, the attorneys and prosecutors said in a joint filing Tuesday in Washington federal court.

Mancuso’s lawyer, Manuel Renteria, declined to comment.

Formed as a self-defense force by wealthy ranchers in the 1980s to counter left-wing insurgents’ extortion and kidnapping, far-right militias took control of much of Colombia’s Caribbean coast in the late 1990s, killing thousands and stealing millions of acres of land while wresting control. One of the lucrative drug routes In 2001, the United States designated the United Self-Defense Forces as a foreign terrorist organization.

Mancuso, 59, was one of the rural paramilitary leaders who eagerly embraced reconciliation efforts when he and some 30,000 other right-wing fighters were demobilized under the 2005 Justice and Peace Act. Seeking to fulfill his commitment to speak out, he spoke publicly about how a third of Colombia’s congress was elected. With paramilitary backing, the confessions have led to the conviction of dozens of lawmakers.

Although his outspokenness shook Colombia’s political establishment, it later backfired.

In 2008, far-right President Alvaro Uribe surreptitiously extradited Mancuso and 13 other warlords to face drug charges in the United States. The shock move, in clear violation of the paramilitary peace agreement, was widely seen as an attempt to silence the men when they began to attack. He revealed more secrets about their crimes and their collaborators – including Uribe, who as governor in the 1990s supported the creation of legal armed groups to protect the land of cattle owners from left-wing guerrillas.

Since completing his long drug-related sentence, Mancuso has shown interest in continuing his reconciliation efforts, once even speaking on the phone with his former battlefield opponent, Rodrigo Londono, the former FARC commander-in-chief.

Pietro, himself a former rebel, said Mancuso could contribute to telling the incomplete truth.

“We don’t know the whole truth yet,” he said in July when announcing Mancuso’s appointment.


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