Shortly after midnight Wednesday, Colombian authorities put Carlos Mario JimÃ©nez, alias “Macaco,” on a DEA plane and sent him to the United States to face drug charges.
JimÃ©nez was a longtime leader of the Central BolÃvar Bloc, one of the most powerful, drug-money-fueled paramilitary groups. At least as recently as last year, he was perhaps the most powerful paramilitary leader in Colombia, controlling organizations in several regions all over the country. In 2007, the U.S. government requested his extradition to face drug-trafficking charges.
“Macaco” was kicked out of the paramilitary demobilization-negotiation process last year, when evidence indicated that he was conspiring from his jail cell to ship drugs and murder enemies. He will now stand trial in the United States on charges of shipping cocaine northward. U.S. authorities are also likely to press JimÃ©nez for information: his knowledge of Colombia’s narcotics, organized crime, and paramilitary networks is no doubt encyclopedic.
Macaco’s extradition sounds like good news, and it mostly is. But it was bitterly opposed by advocates for the victims of paramilitary crimes. The arguments are strong on both sides, and they go something like this.
Sending Macaco to the United States sends a strong message to the remaining paramilitary leaders that they cannot continue to carry out criminal activities, in violation of the terms of the “Justice and Peace” law. When Macaco was ejected from the “Justice and Peace” process, he lost privileges like a reduced prison sentence and avoidance of extradition.
The U.S. justice system will be trying and punishing Macaco only for drug trafficking. He might never have to face a judge for the mass murder he has committed. With Macaco a continent away, his many victims will be unable to learn what happened to their loved ones. It will also be difficult to win back lands and other property he stole from victims, or to use his assets to fund reparations.
Colombian prosecutors and investigators will be able to travel to the United States to interview Macaco. Through an 18th-century law called the Alien Tort Claims Act, victims may be able to sue Macaco in U.S. courts. With Macaco’s threatening presence out of the picture, it may be easier to take back property he stole and return it to its original owners.
Investigators may visit Macaco, but probably only for a few cases. The Alien Tort Claims Act is rarely used, and has never involved hundreds (or thousands) of plaintiffs against one defendant.
Meanwhile, we will now be unlikely ever to find out what Macaco knows about who helped him over the years. In the past, Colombian narco-traffickers extradited to the United States have taken with them their secrets about past associations.
The “para-politics” scandal must be a tea party compared to what Macaco knows. Politicians, military officers, large landowners and businessmen who colluded with Macaco must have been relieved when he got on that DEA plane.
Did Macaco ever intend to talk about his outside support network? By some accounts, Macaco was enforcing a code of silence among the rest of the paramilitary leaders. Macaco and Salvatore Mancuso even came to blows over the issue, according to this recent Semana magazine interview with DavÃd HernÃ¡ndez, a paramilitary witness.
Semana: Is it true that there was a fight between Macaco and Mancuso in the prison?
DH: Just after they were brought from La Ceja [to ItagÃ¼Ã], in the first meeting, Mancuso stood up and said, â€œAfter the way they took us here and to La Ceja, now is when we have to start throwing water at all those politicians, at all those military officers, at all those police.â€ Macaco opposed him, stood up and said, â€œYou are a snitch, you canâ€™t do that, Iâ€™m never going to do that.â€ And they grabbed each other and came to blows. Macaco punched Mancuso. Macaco has always said that he will not throw water at any politician, and so far he has been true to his word.
It is just as possible that, with Macaco gone, some of the other paramilitary leaders might be more willing to talk about their illicit relationships with powerful Colombians.