US Sends Colombian Warlord Home After Years in Limbo

Salvatore Mancuso was repatriated Tuesday after serving a drug trafficking sentence
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 28, 2024 6:35 PM CST
US Sends Colombian Warlord Home After Years in Limbo
In this photo released by the Colombian Immigration agency, migration officials meet former Colombian paramilitary leader, Salvatore Mancuso, at the gate of the plane at El Dorado International Airport in Bogota, Colombia, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024.   (Colombian Immigration Agency via AP)

Colombian warlord Salvatore Mancuso was repatriated Tuesday after serving a drug trafficking sentence in the United States and being denied several requests to be sent to Italy, where he also has citizenship. Mancuso arrived in Bogota's El Dorado Airport on a charter flight and was quickly taken into police custody, wearing a green helmet and a bulletproof vest. He will remain in prison in Colombia, where courts have judged him responsible for more than 1,500 acts of murder and disappearances, reports the AP.

Mancuso, 59, was born to a wealthy family in northwest Colombia and was a prosperous cattle rancher. He began to collaborate with the Colombian army in the early '90s after his family was threatened by rebel groups that demanded extortion payments. Mancuso quickly transitioned from providing intel to the military to leading operations against leftist rebels, and by the late '90s he had become one of the powerful leaders of the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia paramilitary group.

In 2003, he joined a peace process under which paramilitary leaders demobilized in exchange for reduced sentences. But he was extradited to the US five years later during the administration of President Álvaro Uribe, along with 13 other paramilitary leaders who were wanted for drug trafficking in the United States. Critics said that the surprise extradition was part of an effort to stop Mancuso and other paramilitary leaders from discussing their ties with Colombia's political establishment. Mancuso was sentenced in 2015 for guiding more than 130 tons of cocaine to US soil, as he turned to drug trafficking to finance his armed group. He completed his 12-year-sentence in 2020 and had been held at an immigration detention center for three years, as officials decided where to send him.

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Mancuso is the son of an Italian immigrant. His lawyers had requested he be deported to Italy, where he is a citizen, arguing his life would be in danger in Colombia. US officials decided instead to send Mancuso to Colombia, whose government requested his extradition in 2020, arguing that his return to the country was vital for the investigation of war crimes. "When Mancuso was extradited, truth was extradited, as well as justice and reparations for victims," said José Melendez, a human rights lawyer who represents war victims in northern Colombia.

(More Colombia stories.)

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