Bolivia has refused to send Roberto Suarez Gomez to face drug trafficking charges in the United States, where officials say he is the biggest cocaine producer in the world.
Suarez Gomez, accused of peddling cocaine by the ton through a vast global network, was behind bars Friday after police trudged through a jungle to one of his five ranches and arrested him as he slept."President Victor Paz Estenssoro says he is very pleased with Suarez Gomez's arrest and that the fight against drugs is the top priority of the government," Interior Minister Juan Carlos Duran said told reporters Thursday.
Duran said Bolivia will not extradite Suarez Gomez to the United States because he was sentenced to 15 years in Bolivia this year. But U.S. officials said they still will seek to have him brought to trial in the United States.
The arrest of the debonair 56-year-old Suarez Gomez, who also has been accused of helping finance the bloody military coup that overthrew the civilian government in 1980, was greeted with jubilation.
"He's the biggest cocaine producer in the world. He has enormous acreage in coca plants," said Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Gregorie in Miami.
Suarez Gomez was captured Wednesday by 10 narcotics officers who trooped through tropical jungles all night and raided his El Sujo ranch at dawn, Duran said. Two bodyguards also were arrested and 20 automatic weapons were seized.
Suarez Gomez was tried in absentia in Bolivia this year on drug trafficking charges and was sentenced to 15 years.