|Carlos Lehder in happier times.|
And perhaps one of its least fortunate.
Lehder, 66, who's back in the news these days thanks to his pleas for release from a U.S. prison, was born in 1949 in rural Armenia, the son of a German immigrant father and a Colombian mother. His parents separated, and as a teenager Lehder and his mother moved to New York, where he became something of a hippie - but a hippie obsessed with both John Lennon and Adolf Hitler.
Lehder started out as a small-time car thief and cocaine smuggler. During a prison stint in
|Lehder showing off 'product,' and Norman's Cay, |
Bahamas: a landing strip with an island attached.
Previously, cocaine had been smuggled north in travelers' intestines and in luggage with false bottoms. Lehder's scheme quickly became so successful that he purchased an island in the Bahamas, drove out its residents and used it to party and as a waystation for drug shipments to the U.S. He also built a resort in Armenia and across the street put up a 10-foot-tall bronze statue of John Lennon, which eventually was stolen (and likely sold for scrap metal).
Lehder's resort and billions of dollars helped him to create his own neo-fascist political party, perhaps modeled after the Nazis, called the Latino Civic Movement.
|Lehder and his Lennon statue.|
Extradited to the U.S., Lehder received a sentence of life plus 135 additional years.
But the imprisoned Lehder had something to bargain with. He had trafficked drugs thru Panama, and so when U.S. authorities arrested Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, Lehder was ready to trade his knowledge for a reduction in his own sentence. Lehder's testimony reduced his sentence to 55 years.
However, Lehder claims, with some evidence, that U.S. authorities promised he would receive a sentence of no more than 30 years, and less than whatever Noriega got. Noriega was sentenced to 40 years in U.S. prison, served 16 and then was extradited to France and later to Panama, to face more charges. U.S. officials claim they made no such deal with Lehder.
So, today, Lehder, 66, is living out his life in a Florida prison, while other narcos such as two of the Ochoa brothers, fellow leaders of the Medellin cartel, are back home in Colombia after having served only about 5 years in prison. Pablo Escobar's brother Roberto now smiles for tourists in Medellin. And, some leaders of paramilitary groups, who were responsible for thousands of killings as well as narcotrafficking, are going free after 8-year prison terms.
In a letter last month to Pres. Santos, Lehder asked for the president's intervention with U.S. officials to enable Lehder to come home "to die in Colombia."
|Timothy Tyler: doing life |
for 13 sheets of LSD.
Santos, an ex-minister of defense, may not have appreciated that boast. He has not intervened in the case.
Lehder's sentence may seem harsh. However, it is not when compared to the fates of some U.S. Timothy Tyler, a native of Florida and Connecticut already on probation, was sentenced to life in prison for mailing 13 sheets of LSD to a friend.
citizens convicted of multiple minor crimes, including drug dealing, because of insane three-strikes laws. Lehder sent tons of cocaine north ot the U.S. and undoubtedly caused many killings. But in 1992 24-year-old
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours