The first Colombian in nearly a decade to be turned over to the United States for trial pleaded not guilty to drug charges today and was ordered held without bail.
Jaime Orlando Lara, 30, made his first appearance in a U.S. court after he was brought to the United States Sunday from Bogota.
Lara's appearance carried special significance because it fell 10 days after a deadly terrorist bomb exploded in Bogota in what many suspected was a warning against extraditions.
President Andres Pastrana defiantly signed Lara's extradition papers just hours after the Nov. 11 explosion killed eight bystanders in an upscale shopping district.
Lara was indicted in New York in October 1998 on conspiracy charges for allegedly heading a smuggling ring that shipped as many as 30 pounds of heroin to the United States on commercial flights between 1996 and 1998. Prosecutors contend the drugs were distributed through New York, Houston and Miami.
Lara was arrested in Bogota in December at the request of the United States and has been in custody since. He was among 42 drug suspects awaiting possible extradition to the United States. At least 30 of those are Colombians captured Oct. 13 in a sweep authorities dubbed Operation Millennium.
Colombia banned extradition in 1991 after a series of bombings and assassinations by the now-defunct Medellin drug cartel and its notorious leader, Pablo Escobar. The Nov. 11 bombing revived painful memories of that era, although investigators have yet to blame it on drug traffickers.
Pressured by Washington, Colombia reinstated extradition in December 1997, and Lara was the first Colombian sent abroad since then. Colombia last sent one of its citizens to the United States for trial in 1990.