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Drug Lords Vow War on Colombia : 4 New Bombings Blamed on Cartels; Government Intensifies Crackdown

August 25, 1989|DON A. SCHANCHE and WILLIAM R. LONG | Times Staff Writers

BOGOTA, Colombia — With a renewed wave of terror, bombings and death threats, Colombia's fugitive drug lords declared "total and absolute war" on the country's political and business leadership Thursday, ominously targeting even the families of those who resist them.

"We prefer a tomb in Colombia to a jail in the United States," the drug lords declared in an inflammatory communique left early Thursday at the site of one of four new bombing targets.

One man died in blasts at the Medellin headquarters of Colombia's two leading political parties. Another man was injured in one of three other attacks in and near Medellin that left the homes of two prominent politicians in flames and another pockmarked by bullets. Police said the attacks and the bombings in the early morning hours appeared to be coordinated.

On Thursday evening the government issued a series of new decrees aimed at pressing an official offensive against the drug traffickers. Included in the decrees are measures for destroying unauthorized private airstrips and disposing of property confiscated from suspected traffickers.

'All Who Have Persecuted'

The earlier statement from the drug lords said: "We declare total and absolute war on the government, the industrial and political oligarchy, the journalists who have attacked and outraged us, the judges who have sold themselves to the government, high court extraditing judges and presidential and sectorial (social, business and labor) associations, and all who have persecuted and attacked us."

It was signed "The Extraditables," a group that has been identified in the past as the top leadership of the notorious Medellin drug cartel, all of them wanted men in the United States.

Their warning added that "we will not respect the families of those who have not respected our families."

"These people are serious," said a leading Colombian newspaper editor who asked to remain unnamed because of the direct threat contained in the drug lords' message. "This is the most serious thing I have seen in my life," he added, noting that more than a dozen journalists and hundreds of government officials have been killed by cartel hit squads here in recent years.

Revulsion After Assassinations

Colombia's current crackdown against the drug cartels was begun against a background of national revulsion following the assassinations last week of an appeals court judge, a police chief and a leading presidential candidate who had vowed to combat narcotics trafficking.

Minutes after the murder Friday of presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan as he was about to begin a campaign speech, President Virgilio Barco Vargas issued emergency decrees allowing extradition of drug suspects to the United States and confiscation of their property. Since then, police and military units have conducted more than 300 raids, detaining more than 10,000 people and seizing an estimated $200 million worth of drug suspects' property.

A Defense Ministry spokesman said Thursday that the "great majority" of those detained have been released without charges after questioning.

Under one of Thursday's additional decrees, owners will be required to personally claim seized properties and prove that they were acquired with legitimate funds within 10 days. It is unlikely that suspected traffickers will emerge from hiding to make their claims.

If they do not, their properties will be turned over to government agencies for redistribution, according to the decree. Farms and ranches will be broken up and distributed to landless peasants, urban properties will go to a family welfare agency, cash and automobiles will be given to a judicial fund to improve court working conditions, and planes and boats will be turned over to the armed forces.

Another decree requires provincial officials to inventory private airstrips. Unauthorized landing strips, often used for cocaine trafficking, will be destroyed.

The decree also requires distributors of aviation fuel to report to the government on their customers.

Under Colombian law, the country's Supreme Court is required to review the decrees and rule on their constitutionality within 40 days. One of Thursday's decrees provides special protection for justices conducting the review.

An American narcotics expert involved in the government crackdown said Thursday's bombings and threats fit the pattern of Medellin cartel behavior.

'They Are Cornered'

"We're not surprised," he said. "They are cornered, and their only hope is to intimidate and bend the will of the government.

"They have been very good at following through on what they say they will do," he said, adding his hope "that the government stands tall to this challenge."

"I'm very confident that if they (the government) can stay in there, they are going to win this war," the drug expert said.

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