Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Colombian Cartel Killer Put on Parole (Updated)

One of the worst killers in Colombia’s modern history could be freed from prison as soon as today despite committing hundreds of homicides.

Jhon Jairo Velásquez Vásquez is expected to be paroled today after having spent twenty-three years behind bars for the crimes he committed as the security chief of the Medellin drug cartel.  As a result, the former hitman for the late capo Pablo Escobar will have only served three-fifths of the near four-decade sentence handed down against him.

Update: Velásquez was officially placed on parole by a Colombian judge on Tuesday evening.

Nicknamed “Popeye”, his prison sentence has been whittled down a result of his cooperation with the authorities and good behavior while behind bars at the tough Combita prison. He is expected to be put on parole after meeting a series of conditions including paying an approximately $4600 fine and ensuring that there are no further judicial processes against him.  As a part of his potential parole, he is reportedly prohibited from leaving Colombia and will be placed on probation for almost five years.

Since receiving his prison sentence in 1992, “Popeye” has voluntarily admitted to killing some 300 people, arranging an additional 3000 murders under Escobar’s orders and planning the kidnappings of high-profile politicians and even a former beauty queen. Hundreds of Colombians died as a result of over 150 car bombings   planned by Velásquez and he confessed to participating in the 1989 bombing of Avianca Flight 203 that killed 110 people.  (In contrast to Velásquez’ fate, one of his cohorts is currently in a U.S. maximum security prison serving ten life sentences plus forty-five years for crimes like planting the explosive device in the Avianca bombing.)
Mixed reactions have been shown by those most affected by Velásquez' actions: families of the victims of violence caused by the now-defunct Medellin Cartel.

“From the point of view of the victims we see this with a lot of suspicion,” said Federico Arellano, whose father was one of those killed in the Avianca Flight 203 bombing. 

“These have been twenty-five years of shameless impunity.  He deserves to remain in jail,” added the victims’ rights activist.

On the other hand, senator Carlos Fernando Galán noted that despite Velásquez’ murderous past, he has the right to receive the parole hearing in accordance to Colombian law.

“There are those who have lived with bitterness and hatred all of their lives.  I opted for a different path,” tweeted the son of murdered presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galán.

Much like Robert F. Kennedy in the U.S., Galán was an immensely popular and charismatic politician who was gunned down while on the campaign trial. “Popeye” was said to have provided the murder weapon used in the killing of the politician that occurred twenty-five years ago this month.  After being imprisoned, Velásquez confessed to his role in the murder and his remarks were instrumental in the conviction of one of the masterminds behind the assassination: political leader Alberto Santofimio. (Prosecutors are expected to use testimony by Velásquez in the upcoming trail of ex-intelligence director Miguel Maza Márquez for allegedly helping carry out the murder of Galán).

Ironically, the man who assisted the Medellin Cartel during one of the bloodiest periods of Colombia’s armed conflict has sought protection for his own safety:
The soon-to-be-paroled former top enforcer for late drug lord Pablo Escobar has asked Colombian authorities for protection, the national ombudsman's office said Tuesday…
"In his own hand he asked (authorities) to protect his right to life," the ombudsman's office said of the request from Velasquez.

The warden at Combita prison also formally asked police in Tunja to take measures to protect Velasquez on his release.
The national ombudsman's office said it has already contacted the appropriate authorities to arrange security measures for Popeye's release.
Video Source – YouTube user contravia morris

Online Sources including Update– GlobalPost; El Espectador; Twitter; Voz de America; Univision Noticias; westword.com

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