Cuba confirms arrest of Colombian drug baron

Campaign News | Sunday, 11 July 2004

Cali ringleader is held in Havana

HAVANA July 11 - Breaking its silence about the arrest of a major Colombian drug lord in Cuba a week ago, the Cuban government confirmed on Sunday July 11 that it was holding Luis Hernando Gomez Bustamante.

In a three-paragraph statement distributed to international media, Cuba's Foreign Ministry said Gomez Bustamante was arrested July 2 at Jose Marti International airport in Havana when he tried to enter the country on a false passport.

A preliminary investigation identified the suspect as a top leader of a Colombian drug trafficking cartel, said the statement.

It added that the Colombian was being held at a facility for suspects under investigation for crimes against Cuba's state security.

Cuba previously had said nothing about the arrest, which was announced Friday by Colombian police in Bogota.

There was no word from Cuban authorities about reports from Bogota that a Colombian delegation was headed here Saturday to start extradition proceedings.

Gomez Bustamante is the alleged leader of Colombia's Norte del Valle cartel that allegedly smuggled more than US$10 billion worth of cocaine into the United States.

Colombian police officials have said that he was arrested as he tried to make his way to Mexico.

A Colombian police source in Bogota said Friday that intelligence officials there learned that Gomez Bustamante had travelled to Havana last month on a fake Venezuelan passport and notified Cuban authorities.

The Colombian police source said Cuban prosecutors were considering whether to charge Gomez Bustamante, also known as "Rasguno," or "Scratch," for travelling on falsified documents - a move that could delay extradition proceedings with Colombia.

Colombian authorities say Gomez Bustamante is among the top three leaders of the Norte del Valle cartel, which supplanted the Medellin and Cali drug organisations in the early 1990s.

Based in the southwestern city of Cali, the capital of the Norte del Valle region, the cartel is the source of as much as 60 percent of the US cocaine supply, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

US officials have offered a US$5 million reward for information leading to Gomez Bustamante's capture.

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