Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In Bid to Curtail Violence Bolivia Moves to Suspend Extradition of Drug Lords Bolivian Officials Hope to Learn from Colombia's Difficulties by Offering Amnesty Plan before Violence Breaks Out

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In Bid to Curtail Violence Bolivia Moves to Suspend Extradition of Drug Lords Bolivian Officials Hope to Learn from Colombia's Difficulties by Offering Amnesty Plan before Violence Breaks Out

Article excerpt

THE Bolivian government has announced a peacekeeping plan designed to tempt the country's top cocaine traffickers to give themselves up in return for guarantees that they will not be extradited to the United States.

According to the plan, which is due to become law this week, traffickers have a fixed period of 120 days to surrender voluntarily. During that time, the government has promised not to process any extradition request from any country.

The formula also allows for reduced prison sentences if traffickers confess their crimes and "make an efficient contribution" to the capture of other traffickers. The traffickers will be sentenced under Bolivian law, which stipulates a minimum five-year jail term for drug offenses.

Government officials admit they have studied a similar deal the Colombian government recently offered to traffickers such as Pablo Escobar. But they insist there are differences between Colombia and Bolivia, the world's first- and second-largest producers of cocaine respectively.

"In Colombia, the strategy of bringing the traffickers to justice started with death and violence, and then proceeded to legally-based solutions," said Interior Minister Carlos Saavedra. "In Bolivia, we are starting with a legal solution to avoid a bloodbath."

Bolivia has escaped much of the drug-related violence pervasive in Colombia. "We can count on the fingers of one hand the cases of (drug) violence in Bolivia," Mr. Saavedra added.

Government officials explain that the main goal of the plan is to preempt the formation of paramilitary squads protecting the traffickers by offering them the chance to turn themselves in now.

Saavedra also announced that a new maximum-security prison, Chonchocoro, on the outskirts of the capital, La Paz, was almost ready to receive the narcos, as they are known locally.

In the last 10 days, one major narco suspect, Erwin Guzman, has turned himself in to Bolivian authorities, and two others have promised to do so, provided that they are tried in a Bolivian, rather than a US court. Two of the three, including Mr. Guzman, face charges in the US. Bolivia currently has a wanted-list of 10 top narcos in the country. …

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