Colombians Worry about Narco-Terrorism's Return the Murder of the Judge Trying the Nation's Top Cartel Leader Casts Doubt on Colombia's Anti-Narcotics Policy

By Stan Yarbro, | The Christian Science Monitor, September 23, 1992 | Go to article overview

Colombians Worry about Narco-Terrorism's Return the Murder of the Judge Trying the Nation's Top Cartel Leader Casts Doubt on Colombia's Anti-Narcotics Policy


Stan Yarbro,, The Christian Science Monitor


EVEN as Colombian President Cesar Gaviria Trujillo defends his battered anti-narcotics policy during a visit to the United States, his government is facing the revived specter of drug terrorism at home.

Police are accusing Pablo Escobar of ordering the Sept. 18 killing of a judge in charge of trying the Medellin cartel leader in a 1986 murder case. Myriam Rocio Velez, one of Colombia's "invisible judges" whose identities are supposed to be secret, was shot dead along with three of her bodyguards just blocks from her home in southern Medellin.

Judicial officials say Velez was on the verge of convicting Mr. Escobar in the 1986 killing of Colombian newspaper publisher Guillermo Cano. Velez's murder raises doubts about Mr. Gaviria's system of trying to bring drug and terrorism suspects to justice by keeping judges' identities secret to protect them from reprisals.

In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York Sept. 21, Gaviria defended his policy, blaming Velez's death on drug consumers in industrialized nations including the United States.

"Colombia is the victim of the uncontrollable appetite for drugs affecting the world," Gaviria said. "The bullets that killed the brave Judge Myriam Rocio Velez just three days ago were bought with money paid by consumers of cocaine."

But most analysts agree that Velez's murder gives evidence that Gaviria's policy is in serious trouble. It does more than show that traffickers can breech a sophisticated system of mirrors, voice distorters, and other security measures meant to protect judges. The killing also raises the terrifying possibility of a return to the dark days before Gaviria managed to "pacify" drug traffickers by offering them concessions.

Escobar surrendered last year but escaped in July when the government, acting on evidence that he was continuing to run his drug business, tried to transfer him out of a luxury prison near Medellin. Now many Colombians say they are terrified he is planning to use violence to try to force the Gaviria administration into another round of negotiations.

Notes Bogots "Semana" magazine in a story entitled "The Terror Returned": "At this moment what most worries Colombians from the president down is not only this bloody blow to justice, but what the Sept. 18 murders mean to many: the return of those dark days of terror that the country lived through in 1989 and 1990."

Authorities then were blaming Escobar for a series of bombing attacks and other terrorism that left hundreds dead. For Col. Daniel Peralta, the chief of Medells police force, the Velez murder was more of the same. In a weekend interview on local radio, Colonel Peralta said Escobar's responsibility for the judge's murder was "indisputable. …

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