Colombia: More Than Coffee and Cocaine
There are two countries that I have visited in my lifetime that truly deserve the adjective “intriguing” to describe them. They are intriguing not because they are a perfect vacation destination or an ideal place for all American travelers, but because they are both countries that are a myriad of contradictions, legally, politically and culturally. I am talking about the Republics of Cuba and Colombia—even the word Republic is a bit of a misnomer for these places. The subject of my blog today is Colombia, please spell it correctly, not Columbia like the Capitol District or the University, but C-O-L-O-M-B-I-A.
Today, I must break the cardinal rule of blogging, which is to stay with one theme–law– but write first a little bit about the country and the people. Colombia is indeed a land of twists and turns, hot and cold, much like its diverse climate and topography.
What I like most about Colombia is the Colombians. Despite many living in abject poverty, you would never know it from their attitude or dress. Even a young woman from “estrata uno”, the lowest economic level, will apply make-up like a model and walk through the dusty streets of her barrio with her head held high.
Colombia is a country rich in music, cuisine, and laughter and has a complicated and high culture that most Americans never truly understand. They are some of the most educated and hard working people that I have ever met, very family oriented, and only lacking one benefit that we have in this country that many of us take for granted—opportunity.
So, now for the legal part. How do Colombians get extradited here? It is almost never for crimes committed directly in the United States, but for their activities in Colombia that in the words of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals have a “nexus” or connection to the United States.
What the nexus rule means is that an individual like a former client of mine, Jhon, could be extradited to the United States for helping to arrange for small boats to smuggle drugs between an island off the coast of Nicaragua, belonging to Colombia–San Andres– to another island a few miles away in Nicaragua. Jhon never imagined that for his relatively small role in narcotics activity in his own country that he would be held by U.S. officials in the nastiest jail in Colombia, Combita, in the high mountains of the Andes, and brought at machine gun point, double shackled to a courthouse in San Diego, California to stand trial for drug crimes against the United States. What Jhon didn't realize is that the drugs that originated in Colombia, and then were transported to Nicaragua, continued onto Mexico by people he had never met and some of the drugs may have arrived in the United States. So, under current law, since there was a substantial chance that Jhon's seemingly restricted activities affected the United States, he could be legally extradited to this country.
I have found in my representation of several Colombian nationals, who were extradited to the United States that most of them don't represent the stereotypical drug lord but, they are individuals living in poverty and who never imaged the harm that their activities could have on this country.
Second, extraditions may actually create more violence. There have been several extraditions of mid-level drug bosses connected with “La Oficina” , (The Office) to the United States from Medellin, Colombia. When the individuals are taken out of the community, bloody battles and turf wars ensue causing a destabilization of the drug distribution hierarchy. This is exactly what happened in Tijuana, Mexico when Javier Arellano-Felix was brought to San Diego. I don't think it was a coincidence that violence in Tijuana increased ten-fold while the old Arellano- Felix gang was jockeying for power with those who wanted to move in on the leadership void.
Extraditions also may have a political component allowing a government to rid itself of political enemies.
I do not believe that the routine extradition of Colombians to the United States, those who have committed relatively minor offenses purely in their own country such as Jhon, further the interest of either the American or Colombian justice systems. I call upon the President of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe, to establish an effective court system within Colombia and not simply extradite his problems to the United States.
The United States government has a special responsibility to those that it brings here through extradition because often they are individuals who know nothing about this country, do not have family here, and are confused by the American justice system and why they have been brought here. At the law offices of Russell S. Babcock, we will continue to fight to insure that individuals from all countries who are accused of crimes be treated fairly and that they do not receive an enhanced sentence out of fear or prejudice.