Drug lords offer to implicate Colombian president

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — The United States refused the Cali drug cartel’s offer to provide evidence implicating Colombia’s president in drug corruption in exchange for a promise not to pursue some cartel leaders, the U.S. ambassador said.
Ambassador Myles Frechette told QAP television that the offer to implicate President Ernesto Samper came from drug lords Miguel and Gilberto Rodriguez. The ambassador said Miguel’s son, William, made a similar proposal to Tony Senneca, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s chief in Colombia until last year.
Frechette did not elaborate on the circumstances or dates during the interview Wednesday.
Samper’s attorney on Thursday dismissed the suggestion there is such evidence against the president, saying Frechette’s statement simply was another smear attack on the Colombian leader.
“It makes me laugh,” attorney Luis Guillermo Nieto said.
Sen. Jaime Dussan Calderon told reporters Thursday, “Mr. Frechette should produce the proof. Otherwise, he’s the son of a bitch and should leave the country.”
Frechette’s disclosure comes amid worsening relations between the two countries. Last week, the United States for a second straight year chose not to certify Colombia as an ally in the drug war, tarnishing Colombia’s image and making it ineligible for some forms of economic aid.
On Wednesday, hours before Frechette’s statement, Colombia showed its anger over U.S. policy by temporarily suspending a U.S.-funded drug crop eradication program. Dozens of labor activists demonstrated outside the U.S. Embassy and burned an American flag.
Foreign Minister Maria Emma Mejia told The Associated Press that the program suspension probably would last fewer than 10 days.
Colombian officials canceled high-level visits this week to the United States, and one official said Colombia now will worry less about pleasing the United States and focus more on pressing domestic problems such as human rights.
The Rodriguez brothers, jailed since 1995, are wanted in the United States on multiple indictments. Washington formally has requested their extradition, which Colombia’s constitution prohibits.
The United States provided almost all the evidence used to convict Miguel Rodriguez and sentence him to 23 years in a Colombian prison. Under lenient sentencing laws, he is likely to serve substantially less time.
Frechette said William Rodriguez’s offer included turning over information on all the cartel’s smuggling routes and details of its operations if U.S. law enforcement agreed to stop pursuing his father and uncle.
“The response of my government was a resounding, ‘No. We’re going to bring you to justice, period,'” Frechette said.
The ambassador told RCN radio on Thursday that the United States primarily is interested in bringing the drug kingpins to justice and seeing Colombia speed up anti-drug efforts.
“The policy of the United States is not to topple President Samper,” Frechette said.
U.S. State Department officials have accused Samper of being a pawn of the Cali cartel. Last year, the United States pulled his visa as part of an effort to isolate him amid evidence the cartel gave $6 million to his 1994 election campaign.
The drug scandal nearly toppled Samper, but a Colombian Congress infiltrated by drug interests absolved the president of all charges.
Colombia has made much progress in curtailing narcotics activities recently, passing new laws that raise sentences for drug kingpins and target their assets. The laws have yet to be tested.