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Colombia: Narcotics Control and Interdiction
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > Internal Security Problems > Narcotics Control and Interdiction


The activities of Colombian narcotics traffickers represented a serious internal security problem. During the 1980s, government officials that had been murdered for their efforts to carry out their responsibilities under the country's narcotics laws included a minister of justice, an attorney general, a dozen Supreme Court judges, and a former head of the Antinarcotics Police. In addition, scores of police personnel and lower-court justices had been murdered by the narcotics traffickers' hired assassins (sicarios). By early 1988, the narcotics traffickers had organized their own death squad, The Extraditables. The Extraditables issued threats against or murdered persons seen as abetting the government's attempt to comply with outstanding United States extradition warrants. The corruption spawned as a by-product of the lucrative trafficking operations had threatened, if not irreparably damaged, the integrity of the Colombian judicial system. Major traffickers often could obtain release by making substantial cash payments to the magistrates responsible for their cases.

Although some limited drug interdiction efforts occurred under the Misael Pastrana Borrero (1970-74) and Alfonso López Michelsen (1974-78) administrations, President Turbay implemented the first major campaign against narcotics trafficking. In November 1978, Turbay declared a state of siege and dispatched the military to quell the surge in drug-related activities then taking place in the Guajira Peninsula.

Upon assuming the presidency in 1982, Betancur adopted a somewhat softer drug policy than had his predecessor. Betancur objected to the extradition treaty on nationalist grounds and also refused to allow the aerial spraying of paraquat on marijuana fields. At the same time, however, Betancur's minister of justice, Rodrigo Lara Bonilla, aggressively pursued traffickers and authorized raids on the Medellín Cartel's principal cocaineprocessing complexes. In April 1984, Lara Bonilla was assassinated, apparently in reprisal for the successful raid the previous month on the massive Tranquilandia complex. The murder of the minister of justice shocked Colombians and galvanized Betancur into action. Declaring a "war without quarter" against traffickers, Betancur invoked his state of siege powers, extradited thirteen drug dealers to the United States, and committed substantial resources to massive antinarcotics operations by the police.

During its first two years in office, the Barco administration was rocked by a series of narcotics-related incidents. In rulings in December 1986 and June 1987, the Supreme Court essentially gutted the extradition treaty with the United States. Prior to the second ruling, however, the government extradited drug kingpin Carlos Lehder Rivas. In December 1986, a hit squad of the Medellín Cartel traveled to Budapest and seriously wounded Enrique Parejo González, Colombia's ambassador to Hungary and Lara Bonilla's successor as minister of justice during the Betancur administration. The following January, gunmen employed by the cartel assassinated Attorney General Carlos Mauro Hoyos Jiménez and kidnapped Andrés Pastrana, PC candidate for mayor of Bogotá and son of former President Pastrana.

In response, in January 1988 Barco decreed a series of measures collectively known as the Statute for the Defense of Democracy. The statute, which was partly modeled on antiterrorist measures adopted in West Germany, Italy, and Britain, expanded the security forces' jurisdiction under a state of siege declaration and lengthened prison sentences for those convicted of terrorist acts. Returning to a policy of the Turbay administration, Barco recommitted military forces to the interdiction effort. Despite concerns in the armed forces' hierarchy about the potential corrupting influence of the drug lords, Barco felt compelled to order the military into action because of widespread public concerns over police effectiveness.

Data as of December 1988

Last Updated: December 1988

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Colombia was first published in 1988. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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