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Alberto Villamizar, 62; Colombian politician led fight against kidnappings

July 28, 2007|From the Associated Press

Alberto Villamizar, a Colombian politician and diplomat whose crusade against drug cartel kidnappings was chronicled by Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, died Thursday. He was 62.

Two decades after he was nearly assassinated for his efforts to fight government corruption, Villamizar died in Bogota of complications from heart surgery over last weekend, Sen. Juan Manuel Galan, a close family friend, told the Associated Press.

Villamizar rose to prominence in the 1980s as an ally of presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan. During one of the bloodiest chapters in Colombia's history, the two sought to curb the growing wealth and political power of cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar.

As head of the New Liberalism party in the lower house of congress, Villamizar blocked attempts backed by Escobar's Medellin cartel to pass a constitutional amendment forbidding extradition.

In retaliation, Escobar placed Villamizar on a lengthy, publicized hit list of adversaries, including other politicians, judges, journalists and police, and offered large rewards for their deaths.

After Villamizar narrowly escaped an attempt on his life outside his Bogota home in 1986, he was named Colombia's ambassador to Indonesia and left the country.

After his return, Escobar's henchmen kidnapped his wife, Maruja Pachon, and sister, Beatriz Villamizar de Guerrero.

The story of their 1990 abduction and Villamizar's five-month negotiations with the cartel to win their release was described in Garcia Marquez's 1997 nonfiction work "News of a Kidnapping."

In 1996, President Ernesto Samper named Villamizar the country's first anti-kidnapping czar, a platform he used to create a special anti-abduction police force and act as an advocate for victims and their families.

"He was someone who lived with and understood very well the drama of the kidnappings," said Olga Lucia Gomez, director of Pais Libre, a nonprofit group that helps abduction victims. "He helped to make the crime of kidnapping more visible."

Villamizar also served as Colombia's ambassador to the Netherlands and Cuba.

In addition to his wife, Villamizar is survived by his son, Andres.

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