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Liberty for drug lord sparks criticism
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Colombian Judge Pedro Suárez’s Nov. 1 order to release Cali cartel bosses Miguel and Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela stunned many observers. President Alvaro Uribe’s response, however, led to accusations of interference with the judiciary.

Suárez ruled that the brothers had met early-release requirements, including good behavior and participation in a work-study program. Each was required to post a US$5,400 bond and they were barred from leaving the country.

Miguel Rodríguez Orejuela was arrested in 1995 and Gilberto was captured in 1997. They were sentenced to 14 and 15 years in prison, respectively, for drug trafficking. Although additional charges increased their sentences to more than 20 years, critics complained that the sanctions were no longer than sentences for drug couriers.

At the time of their arrests, the brothers reportedly controlled 80 percent of the international cocaine market, and their annual profits were estimated at $8 billion. Colombian authorities believe all the leaders of the Cali cartel, which was Colombia’s second-largest, have been jailed or killed, although traces remain. US authorities believe that Miguel Rodríguez’s son, William, may be one of the new drug leaders in Cali and requested his extradition in August. Another son, Fernando, was arrested in Bogotá on Nov. 25 with two kilograms of heroin worth about $148,000.

Within hours of Suárez’s decision, Uribe said he would contact legal authorities. Retired Maj. Pedro Germán Aranguren, director of the El Barne prison in Tunja, capital of the Andean department of Boyacá, where the brothers were held, was immediately fired for having signed their good-conduct certificates. The brothers had been transferred to El Barne just two weeks earlier from a prison in Palmira, near Cali in the southwestern department of Valle del Cauca.

On Nov. 2, Uribe ordered that the release be stopped, citing "serious legal doubts about the decision." Legal experts criticized the move, saying Uribe had no power to overturn the judge’s order. Uribe defended his decision to halt the release, saying, "I’d rather be called arbitrary than soft. We have to protect the dignity of the nation."

On Nov. 6, however, Judge Luz Angela Moncada granted a habeas corpus petition filed by Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela’s lawyers, which charged that he had been illegally deprived of his liberty since Suárez ordered his release on Nov. 1. Gilberto left the maximum-security prison on Nov. 7, but a Bogotá court extended Miguel’s sentence for four more years for bribing a judge.


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