Latin America & Caribbean

Colombia general on trial over Luis Carlos Galan murder

In this 1982 file photo, Luis Carlos Galan is shown speaking at a rally Image copyright AP
Image caption Luis Carlos Galan was shot dead at a rally in Soacha, near the Colombian capital, in 1989

A retired police general is going on trial in Colombia for his alleged role in the 1989 murder of presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan.

Gen Miguel Maza Marquez was the head of Colombia's now defunct spy agency DAS at the time of Mr Galan's murder.

Mr Galan was shot dead on 18 August 1989 as he walked onto a stage to address a crowd in the town of Soacha.

Prosecutors accuse Gen Maza of conspiring with a drugs cartel to murder Mr Galan, which he denies.

Death threats

The murder of Mr Galan in front of thousands of people rocked Colombia.

The liberal politician campaigned on an anti-corruption platform and was a favourite to win the 1990 election.

Mr Galan made powerful enemies when he said that if elected he would have drug traffickers extradited to the United States.

Colombian drug traffickers, who often enjoyed special, sometimes luxurious treatment in Colombian jails, feared extradition to US jails.

Mr Galan had received a number of death threats against himself and his family in the run-up to his murder.

Prosecutors allege Gen Maza played a role in Mr Galan's killing by reducing his security detail and replacing his experienced chief of security with someone relatively new to the task.

They say he also collaborated with the Medellin drug cartel and its leader Pablo Escobar to infiltrate Mr Galan's security team.

His trial is set to start on Monday.

'Ludicrous allegations'

Gen Maza told Colombian weekly Semana that he himself had been the target of five assassination attempts by drug cartels, including a massive car bomb which killed dozens of people outside the DAS headquarters in December 1989.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Pablo Escobar's hit man, John Jairo Velasquez, alias Popeye, said Gen Maza and his boss were enemies

He said accusations that he had collaborated with the Medellin cartel were therefore "ludicrous".

One of those expected to give evidence as part of Gen Maza's trial is Pablo Escobar's top hit man John Jairo Velasquez, also known as Popeye.

He told Semana that Gen Maza and Pablo Escobar were "arch-enemies".

After Mr Galan's murder, a key member of his campaign team, Cesar Gaviria, replaced him as the liberal candidate and was elected president in 1990.

A 1991 constitutional amendment prohibited Colombian nationals from being extradited to the US.

The day after the amendment was passed, Pablo Escobar handed himself in with the proviso that he would be jailed in a prison he himself had built.

He later escaped from the prison and was shot dead in 1993 while on the run from the authorities.

In 1997, Colombia resumed the extradition of drug traffickers to the US.

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