Dec 17, 1995

From top to bottom: A rogue’s gallery of world leaders now on the wrong side of the law | by Jerry Meldon | Published in The Boston Globe Sunday Focus on December 17, 1995


In the wake of the Cold War, a legion of Free World leaders has been marching to a different drummer: a federal prosecutor.

            Among the more notorious cases, Italy’s former Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti is on trial for serving the Mafia, and will soon face charges he ordered the gangland murder of a journalist.

            But Andreotti has plenty of company in this growing rogue’s gallery of one-time leaders. This fall, South Korea’s former president Roh Tae Woo admitted to extorting $650 million in corporate gifts. Then his predecessor Chun Doo Hwan was charged with pocketing the even more staggering figure of $2 billion – and was jailed for ordering the Army to open fire on a 1980 demonstration in Kwangju protesting his coup d’etat. The attack left hundreds of civilians dead. Roh Tae Woo, a four-star general at the time, is expected to be similarly charged.

            In Mexico, Raul Salinas – suspected of the murder of his brother-in-law, the governing party’s secretary general, last year – was linked earlier this month to hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign bank accounts discovered in a US drug-money laundering investigation. Former Mexican President Carlos Salinas, co-architect of the North American Free Trade Agreement, has been telling interviewers from his exile in Canada that he’s not his blood brother’s keeper.

            And that’s only the tip of an iceberg long obscured from the White House’s view by Washington’s tolerance for scoundrels, provided they were staunchly anticommunist scoundrels.

            Not that only rightists lack halos. In Spain, Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez, a socialist, claims ignorance of the executions of 23 Basque separatists and supporters between 1983 and 1987 by a death squad run by his now-jailed director of state security. (Fingers are pointing to the Basque underground group E.T.A. following a recent car-bombing that left six dead at a Spanish naval base.) And leaders of Ethiopia’s former Marxist military dictatorship are on trial in Addis Ababa before an unprecedented internal tribunal for crimes against humanity during the 17-year Mengistu regime, ousted in 1991.

            International tribunals are in store for the ringleaders of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia-Herzogovina and Rwanda, and a Truth and Reconciliation Commission is investigating state-ordered atrocities in South Africa during apartheid.

            But what should perhaps be of keenest interest to Americans are crimes committed by our close allies in the Cold War and war on drugs.

            Andreotti, prime minister for seven terms, is a living monument to the marriage of convenience – officiated at Washington at the end of World War II – of Rome and the Sicilian underworld, a partnership designed to keep socialist and communist leaders of the wartime antifascist underground out of power in Rome. The Mafia delivered the Sicilian vote (and from 1945 to 1955, the bodies of 43 leftists) as long as Andreotti’s Christian Democratic Party kept Italian authorities off the Mafia’s back.

            But the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the 1992 assassinations of revered organized crime prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, and full exposure of the country’s government by graft finally sapped Italian tolerance for the Christian Democrats – and with it, the party’s power to protect its underworld allies.

            For Andreotti, the beginning of the end was 1993 testimony by the driver for Mafia godfather Salvatore (Toto) Riina, that in 1988 he saw Andreotti kiss Riina on the cheek. The last straw came when former Mafia capo Gaetano Badalamenti (behind bars for masterminding the Palermo-New York heroin traffic known as the “Pizza Connection”) told an informer that Andreotti had ordered the 1980 murder of journalist Mino Pecorelli.

            At the time of the murder, Pecorelli was reportedly working on a story about the 1978 kidnapping by the Red Brigades of former Prime Minister Aldo Moro. The Brigades eventually executed Moro, key exponent of the Christian Democrats’ “historic compromise” with the Communist Party, when Andreotti, then prime minister, refused to negotiate with left-wing terrorists.

            Andreotti goes on trial in February for Pecorelli’s murder.

            But it is in Colombia – where murder is the leading unnatural cause of death – that political assassinations are nearly as common as coffee beans. And human rights groups pin the lion’s share of blame on successive Washington-backed Bogota governments.

            The historical origins of Colombian violence are complex. However, experts generally cite the government’s 35-year war against leftist revolutionaries, and alliances between government’s antiguerrilla forces, paramilitary death squads and narcotics traffickers – alliances apparently unnoticed by Washington in its zeal to link the guerrillas to the traffickers.

            In October, Santiago Medina, former campaign treasurer for Colombian president Ernesto Samper, claimed that – with Samper’s blessing – he had received $6 million from the Cali drug cartel to finance Samper’s 1994 campaign. According to Medina, the donation was arranged at a meeting in Madrid between Samper and representatives of the cocaine and heroin cartel.

            Last month, a 1990 Colombian presidential candidate and former ambassador to Washington, Alvaro Gomez Hurtado, a staunch critic of government coziness with drug traffickers, was shot to death in broad daylight on a street in Bogota.

            True, the Colombian congress declined to press charges against Samper, but then again, that same congress just last week voted to release all officials convicted of accepting gifts from the drug cartel. And, further, prosecutors maintain that Samper’s campaign did indeed receive millions of dollars from the drug cartel.

            Like his predecessors, Samper has vowed to fight the narcotrafficantes and improve respect for human rights. However, according to a 1994 Amnesty International report on violence in Colombia, “Successive governments have largely escaped international criticism because of a skillful mix of political initiatives, public relations campaigns and the support … of powerful allies for whom Colombia’s strategic and economic significance is of far more importance than its human rights record.”

            Chief among those allies is the United States, which under Presidents Bush and Clinton has awarded Colombia $1 billion in military aid, largely tied to the drug war. However, according to investigative journalist Karl Bermann, most of the aid is channeled to counterinsurgency campaigns – where the majority of human rights violations occur.

            And the White House has blocked a United Nations resolution to create a criminal court for human rights cases by insisting the Security Council pre-screen cases, a condition that has effectively scuttled the resolution because it would give Washington veto power.

            Truer to the United States’ professed values, the White House and a budget-cutting Congress should instead take the hatchet to foreign assistance programs that benefit corrupt politicians and their parties – a policy whose last remaining, and ever dubious, rationale, the Cold War, ended five years ago.