Former Interior Minister Luis Arce Gomez, an ex-army colonel wanted on U.S. cocaine charges, was captured in a joint operation by Bolivian anti-drug police and U.S. drug agents and deported Monday to the United States.
Interior Minister Guillermo Capobianco told reporters Arce Gomez, who was also wanted in Bolivia on murder charges relating to a 1980 coup d'etat, was placed on a U.S. plane in Cochabamba and flown to Miami Monday without a formal extradition proceeding.Reading a prepared statement, Capobianco said that Arce Gomez was captured in the city of Santa Cruz in an operation "carried out by a commando unit of the UMOPAR (anti-drug police) in a combined action" with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
In Miami, U.S. attorney's office spokeswoman Diane Cossin said Gomez was indicted in the Southern District of Florida court in 1983 along with 16 other people on allegations of cocaine distribution conspiracy. He was placed in the custody of the U.S. Marshal Service after his arrival late Monday, pending his arraignment.
Another defendant in the case, Ana Rodriguez de Tamayo, was extradited by Colombia to Florida Oct. 14 and is awaiting trial.
Bolivian news reports said Arce Gomez, wearing soccer shorts, was arrested Sunday on a ranch 3 miles from Santa Cruz while attending a family party.
The interior minister's statement said, "The government of National Unity has decided to transfer the international criminal Luis Arce Gomez to the United States of North America at the request of the justice system and government of that country, which has charges pending against him for narcotics trafficking and other charges."
Earlier, in a telephone interview with United Press International, Capobianco said the deportation was "a sovereign political act, that in no way comes under the status of an extradition, which doesn't exist, because the old (law) that exists (from 1901) does not involve narcotics trafficking."
Capobianco said the deportation of Arce Gomez was a "demonstration before the international community" of Bolivia's commitment to combat drug trafficking.
After Peru, Bolivia is the world's second-largest producer of coca leaves. Colombia has extradited nine drug-trafficking suspects to the United States in recent months despite a campaign of violence by drug lords, including the recent bombing of secret police headquarters and the bombing of an Avianca airliner that crashed outside Bogota.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said although the senators were pleased at the deportation of Arce Gomez, "we are a little bit disillusioned with the failure to fulfill the (1989) objective to eliminate 5,000 hectares (12,000 acres) of coca leaf cultivation."