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Notorious drug lord freed & U.S. troops in Colombia

July 1, 1993

Notorious drug lord freed & U.S. troops in Colombia

By Joe Baker, Senior Editor

One of the most infamous drug lords in Colombia’s history, former Cali cocaine cartel boss Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela, has been released from a maximum security prison despite intense government efforts to keep him locked up.

Reuters news service reported Orejuela was released last week and calmly strolled out of the prison to a waiting car. The man who had been called the Chess Player for his ability to outwit officials served only seven years of his 15-year sentence, which had been reduced for good behavior.

The court-ordered release embarrassed the Colombian government, which widely publicized the 1995 capture of Gilberto and his brother, Miguel, as a major triumph in the U.S.-backed war on drugs.

President Alvaro Uribe fought the court’s decision even as the Colombian Supreme Court accused him of judicial meddling.

Justice and Interior Minister Fernando Londono said: “It’s terrible, terrible, terrible. This is a moment of mourning, of pain for the image of the nation, for the justice system of Colombia.”

The Cali cartel, run by the Orejuela brothers, is believed to have once controlled 80 percent of the world’s supply of cocaine. They took over the industry after police gunned down Pablo Escobar on a Medellin roof in 1993.

Miguel Orejuela also was set to join his brother in freedom, Reuters said, but the government won an appeals court ruling that convicted him of bribing a judge and put four more years on his sentence.

Colombia’s attorney general has ordered an investigation of the judge who ordered the brothers released. The government said the judge did not automatically have to free the two drug lords, which it contends are a danger to society.

U.S. Troops to protect pipeline

The Chicago Tribune reports that 60 to 100 U.S. Special Forces soldiers will arrive in Colombia in January to protect an oil pipeline owned by Occidental Petroleum Corp. of Los Angeles.

While the majority of the lengthy story focused on the history and need for the troops, only two paragraphs presented the other side. Those paragraphs read: “The dramatic shift in U.S. policy faced opposition from some lawmakers, human-rights workers and others who fear U.S. troops could get bogged down in an interminable war where the insurgents fight with car bombs, homemade rockets and assassinations.

“Another concern is that the U.S. advisers will be working closely with a Colombian military that long has been accused of human-rights violations. Some critics also say the plan forces American taxpayers to foot the bill for the security of a private oil company,” reported the Chicago Tribune.

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