The United States indicted 50 leaders of Colombia’s largest guerrilla group, charging them with sending more than $25 billion worth of cocaine around the world to finance terrorism at home.
An indictment made public Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Washington said the leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, ordered the killings of Colombian farmers who did not cooperate with the group, the kidnapping and deaths of U.S. citizens and the downing of U.S. planes seeking to fumigate coca crops.
The FARC supplies more than half the world’s cocaine and 60 percent of the drug that enters the United States, the indictment said. Other sources say the numbers are somewhat lower, but still significant.
“The FARC’s fingerprint is on most of the cocaine sold in America’s neighborhoods,” DEA chief Karen Tandy said at a news conference to discuss the charges.
The group uses proceeds from the cocaine trade to purchase weapons in its four-decade fight to overthrow the Colombian government, the indictment said. A grand jury returned the indictment on March 1 and it remained under seal until Wednesday.
The United States and the European Union consider the FARC a terrorist organization.
U.S. officials said the indictment strikes a major blow against the group because it lays out the FARC’s hierarchy and details of its operations. “Members of the FARC do not want to face American justice,” Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said.
Still at large
He acknowledged that 47 of those charged remain at large, probably in well-defended FARC jungle strongholds that have so far proved beyond the reach of Colombian authorities.
The State Department said it would pay up to $75 million in rewards for information leading to the arrest of 24 FARC leaders named in the indictment.
Three of those charged in the drug conspiracy already are in custody in Colombia and U.S. officials said they would seek to have them extradited. They are: Jorge Enrique Rodriguez Mendieta, Erminso Cuevas Cabrera and Juan Jose Martinez Vega, authorities said.
More than 400 Colombians have been extradited to the United States to face criminal charges, officials said. Two accused FARC leaders already are awaiting trial in Washington on narcotics charges.
The FARC is holding more than 60 hostages, including three U.S. defense contractors kidnapped in February 2003, when their small plane crashed in the jungles of southern Colombia during an anti-narcotics mission.