Colombia extradites to US brother of powerful left lawmaker
Stars and Stripes January 19, 2023
MIAMI — Colombia on Thursday extradited to the U.S. the brother of powerful leftist senator on charges that he conspired with dissident guerrillas to smuggle huge quantities of cocaine.
A handcuffed Álvaro Córdoba was handed to agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration for a chartered flight to New York.
The case was something of a minefield for President Gustavo Petro, a former leftist rebel who signed off on the extradition of his ally's brother despite his own increasing criticism of Colombia's role as the U.S. caretaker in the war on drugs.
Córdoba was arrested in Medellin, Colombia, last February on drug trafficking and weapons charges returned by a federal grand jury in Manhattan.
Córdoba's sister, Sen. Piedad Córdoba, was elected to the Senate as part of Petro's coalition in a historic victory last year. For decades she has been a leftist stalwart in deeply conservative Colombia who promoted peace with rebel groups, closer ties to Venezuela's socialist government and more support for traditionally overlooked Afro-Colombian communities.
She has said that she and her brother are the targets of a set-up akin to the manhunt decades ago that brought down Medellin cartel boss Pablo Escobar.
But her complaints of "political persecution" have so far fallen on deaf ears, with Petro shortly after his election suggesting she take a breather from politics. In September, he signed off on Córdoba's extradition — something that was taken as a hopeful sign in Washington, which has relied on Colombia's support for more than two decades to limit at the source the supply of cocaine entering the U.S.
Although the U.S. case against Álvaro Córdoba remains sealed, Colombian court records from his attempt to block extradition show that the 63-year-old nutritionist was targeted in a coordinated sting by a unidentified confidential source working at the direction of the DEA.
In several recorded meetings, the confidential source told Córdoba that he was looking for protection inside Colombia to smuggle as much as three tons of cocaine per month through Mexico to New York, according to an affidavit by DEA Special Agent Matthew Passmore accompanying the extradition request authorized by Colombia's Supreme Court.
Córdoba then put the source in touch with an associate who said he had a large amount of "chickens" — allegedly a coded reference to cocaine, the affidavit says.
Cordoba also allegedly offered to make arrangements for the DEA source to visit a clandestine camp in southern Colombian jungles where 300 guerrillas armed with surface-to-air missiles and other weapons would supply and provide safe passage for the narcotics. The rebel unit was run by a holdout commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia who refused to go along with a 2016 peace deal that Piedad Córdoba helped broker.
Right before Christmas in 2021, Córdoba and an associate allegedly delivered to the confidential source and an undercover Colombian official a five-kilogram sample of cocaine in exchange for $15,000. A few months later, Córdoba was arrested.
Associated Press writer Astrid Suarez in Bogota, Colombia, contributed to this report.