URGENT Two Killed When Bomb Explodes in Hilton Hotel; Drug War Widens
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ A bomb exploded Monday night in the Cartagena Hilton on the Caribbean and reports said two doctors were killed and another was wounded, the chief of the police in that coastal resort said.
Another bomb exploded at a Cartagena bank Monday night, injuring a passer- by, Col. Luis Herrera told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
A fireman at the hotel told a Colombian TV news crew the blast ripped through the sixth floor of the Cartagena Hilton, whose majority owner is the Colombian government’s National Tourism Council.
The bomb exploded in room 642, the Colombian radio chain Caracol said in a report from the scene. The two doctors who were killed were attending a medical convention at the hotel, Caracol said. Their identities were not immediately available.
The one who was injured was also thought to be Colombian, witnesses told Caracol.
Herrera said no one had claimed responsibility for the bombs.
However, Colombian government security forces have presumed that scores of bombs that have exploded in major Colombian cities in the last month have been the work of drug traffickers who declared war on the Colombian government.
Including the two bombs in Cartagena and one Monday night in the capital of Bogota, there have been 110 bombings, killing eight persons and injuring 132 persons.
The Hilton was evacuating the approximately 1,500 guests to other hotels in Cartagena, Caracol said, quoting its correspondent, who filed a report by radio telephone with Bogota.
Thousands of Americans, Canadians and other foreigners flock to Cartagena each year.
A group of Canadian tourists at the Cartagena airport last week told the wife of an AP reporter they were cutting their vacations short and going home because the Canadian Embassy warned them of the war possibly spreading to Cartagena.
Police told the AP the third bomb was at a billing office of the government electric company in Bogota, but that no one was reported injured.
It was the first time bombs hit Cartagena since drug traffickers declared war on the Colombian government last month.
A leading presidential candidate was quoted earlier Monday as saying Colombia may have to legalize drugs in order to fight the powerful cartels waging war on the government.
Also Monday, two politicians said the government should negotiate with drug lords.
Representatives of the nation’s 4,600 judges were to meet with the acting justice minister, Carlos Lemos Simmonds. The judges threatened Sunday to go on strike unless Simmonds promised them better protection from drug cartels, who persistently threaten their lives.
Since 1981, about 50 judges and 170 judicial employees have been killed, mostly by drug traffickers.
Justice Department spokesman David Runkel said in Washington that U.S. officials sent 100 bulletproof vests and other security items to Colombia last week to help protect judges. He said it was the responsibility of Colombian officials to distribute the items.
Four bombs exploded Sunday night in Bogota, but there were no injuries, national police said.
Sen. Ernesto Samper, seeking the government Liberal Party’s nomination for the presidential election in March, said of the drug war: ″If the repressive action fails, the road left is legalization of drugs.″
Samper made the comment in an interview published Monday by the Bogota daily La Republica. He is the first serious presidential candidate to suggest legalizing drugs.
The government began its crackdown on the drug cartels when leading presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan was assassinated Aug. 18 at a Bogota political rally.
President Virgilio Barco, who by law cannot run for re-election, said he would extradite drug lords to the United States, prompting the cartels to declare war on the government.
There have been reports the traffickers are willing to pay billions of dollars to get the government to end its crackdown, but Barco has refused to negotiate.
The mayor of the city of Medellin, Juan Gomez, said Monday that ″after this war is over and there are many dead ... we are going to end up at the negotiating table talking with the drug traffickers.″
″The dialogue would be Christian because it would avoid many deaths,″ the mayor said in an interview with Caracol.
Also coming out Monday in favor of negotiations was the president of the House of Representatives, or lower chamber of parliament, Norberto Morales.
″We have to open the way toward this initiative because we are bleeding to death (and) our economy is in ruins,″ Morales told Caracol.
On Saturday, Morales said two of Colombia’s major drug trafficking suspects had called him with an offer to negotiate with the government. He said he passed the information along to Barco.
Pablo Escobar and Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha offered to invest millions of dollars from their cocaine profits in Colombian industry if a truce is reached, Morales said.
Government officials have said in the past that drug traffickers apparently invest the bulk of their money outside Colombia.
Escobar and Rodriguez Gacha are on the Justice Department’s list of most wanted drug-trafficking suspects. They are the strongest members of the Medellin cocaine cartel, which is said to supply 80 percent of the cocaine reaching the United States.
The traffickers have made earlier offers.
Recently, a U.S. narcotics official with the embassy in Bogota said in an interview that the traffickers want pardons so they can emerge from years of hiding.
In return, the official said, the traffickers apparently offered to move their operations to other countries, possibly Bolivia or Peru.
Also, he said, the traffickers suggested they would finance much of the government’s 30-year-old war against leftist guerrillas.
The biggest offer from the traffickers came in 1984, when the Medellin cartel offered to pay off Colombia’s foreign debt, then about $10 billion, in exchange for amnesty. The government refused.