BOGOTA, COLOMBIA, AUG. 11 -- Colombians expressed outrage today at the verdict in the trial of D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, and said it undercut the ability of the United States to demand that Colombia continue its war on cocaine trafficking.
A senior government official said the Colombian government was "astounded" by the verdict, and said it could severely hamper President Cesar Gaviria's ability to continue extraditing suspected drug traffickers to the United States.
Many Colombians do not understand how the U.S. justice system works, and blamed the judge for the verdict and accused the judicial system of caving in to racial pressures.
"The verdict represents the tolerance and permissiveness that exists in the United States toward consumption," the senior official said. "While Colombian judges put their lives on the line approving extradition, judges in the United States, faced with racial differences, soften their decisions to avoid political problems."
Colombians widely believe that those extradited receive harsher sentences than Americans for comparable crimes, a perception that makes extradition controversial and unpopular. U.S. officials argue that extradition is essential because drug barons have corrupted and intimidated the Colombian judicial system.
The Colombian official said that although the government has a clearly defined policy of continuing extradition, "public opinion affects the future of any policy."
"It weakens all of our arguments," the official said. "While we endure terrorism here, they give in to racial pressure there."
Since the Colombian government declared an all-out war on drug traffickers a year ago, hundreds of civilians, more than 200 policemen, half a dozen judges, a senator and several investigative journalists have been killed in a terror campaign by the Medellin cocaine cartel.
Gaviria said in his inaugural address Tuesday that while Colombia was paying a tremendous price to fight trafficking, consuming nations were doing almost nothing. He said more should be done to control consumption if consuming nations want lasting progress made in combating drug trafficking.
The verdict was the subject of widespread public commentary in the media today.
"The mayor of the capital of the country that consumes the most cocaine in the world is going to go free," said an editorial on Caracol Radio national network. "Countries involved in the problem of drug trafficking . . . hoped for greater punishment for this man, the highest authority in Washington, who came to symbolize the consumption of crack and cocaine. However, he is practically free."
"With what authority does the United States ask us to continue in the fight against drug trafficking?" asked Juan Gossain, a leading political commentator, on RCN radio network. "Just imagine if it had been the mayor of Bogota."
The story was front-page news in the capital's three main newspapers. El Espectador ran the headline "Guilty and Free" under a picture of a smiling Barry. The caption under the photograph read, "The laugh of American justice."
"This has a real moral impact here," said Hernando Santos, publisher of El Tiempo, the nation's largest newspaper. "The fact that Barry was black and a Democrat was stronger than the problem of cocaine abuse."