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Obituaries

Roberto Suarez Gomez; Bolivian Drug Trafficker

July 24, 2000

Roberto Suarez Gomez, 68, a Bolivian drug trafficker who called himself the "king of cocaine." Suarez Gomez played a major role in the expansion of cocaine trafficking in Bolivia, and gained notoriety in 1983 when he offered to pay the country's foreign debt of $3 billion with proceeds from cocaine trafficking. Suarez Gomez was born into a prominent ranching family in the tropical Beni region. He became involved in cocaine trafficking in the mid-1970s and early 1980s--a time when the cocaine trade in Bolivia had taken off. In recent years, the government has made significant inroads in destroying coca leaf, which is used to produce the drug. Suarez Gomez said he became a millionaire seven months after going into the cocaine business, and the money kept pouring in. He later said he had accumulated $40 million from cocaine. Suarez Gomez's downfall came in 1988 when he was sentenced to 15 years for drug crimes. He was released early, in 1996. In a TV interview weeks before his death, he expressed remorse about his life of crime. "The worst mistake I ever made in my life was to have gotten involved in cocaine trafficking," Suarez Gomez told the local TV station. On Thursday of a heart attack in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz.

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