Yesterday, Colombian officials announced that they were extraditing 14 suspected drug traffickers to the United States to face a host of charges ranging from conspiracy to import to cocaine manufacturing.
Within the law enforcement and drug control community, the Colombian government’s move is unprecedented. The country has long maintained a tradition of refusing to extradite even its most notorious drug cartel leaders.
The government’s break from this standard signals a potentially significant turning point for the Colombian drug trade. Historically, the threat of a prison sentence has done little to deter citizens from engaging in the illicit drug trade. Colombia’s penal system is widely known to be less than harsh, and drug cartel leaders can effectively run their operations from within the confines of the country’s prisons. Notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar was widely reported to have lived a life of luxury in his penthouse-like cell, but greatly feared the threat of U.S. extradition because of the far more serious consequences he would face.
Colombia’s leaders should be commended for taking steps to follow through on its extradition agreement. Hopefully, the possibility of a fair trial in the U.S. judicial system will be more successful in curbing the country’s dangerous drug trade than the practice of putting up drug lords in hotel-style accommodations.