“Ningún país entrega a sus hijos”: Extradition, Nationalism, and Presidential Legitimacy in Belisario Betancur’s Colombia

Reviewed by Jordan Singer

In Ningún país entrega a sus hijos: Extradition, Nationalism, and Presidential Legitimacy in Belisario Betancurs Colombia, Jamie Shenk examines Belisario Bentancur’s struggle for presidential legitimacy in a new era of Colombian politics through the lens of the debate over the extradition of Colombian nationals in the early half of the 1980s, especially with regards to the Colombian drug mafia. Shenk shows that Betancur was successfully able to situate his vacillating stance on extradition within the context of his broader nationalist goals, consolidating popular support for his administration.

Shenk begins by establishing Betancur’s unique position within Colombian politics at the time of his election. He was elected after La Violencia, a period of partisan violence in Colombia from 1948-58, and the subsequent National Front in which the countries Liberal and Conservative parties agreed to rotate power between four-year presidential terms (1958-74).

Betancur, then, introduced a new model for Colombian politics. “Beginning with his campaign in 1978, Betancur eschewed traditional party politics in favor of a program built on nationalism and resolved to create a ‘democratic opening’ to dissolve the National Front’s legacy of exclusivity” Shenk writes. “Designed as a reversal of the past twenty years of Colombia’s political history rather than an ideology in itself, Betancur’s nationalism took a broad definition.”

Shenk finds that the denial of the US extradition request for Emiro de Jesus Mejía (who was charged with money laundering and drug trafficking) was an attempt to bolster Betancur’s nationalist platform by affirming the domestic focus of his administration. Trying Mejía internally was a vehicle for strengthening state institutions. In allowing Mejía to be tried in Colombia, Betancur acknowledged the citizens’ fear of losing constitutional protections, thus framing himself as a champion of constitutional rights.

However, Chief Justice Minister Rodrigo Lara Bonilla’s assassination prompted a shift in the public’s priorities from enacting political reform to combatting the drug mafia. With this, Betancur reversed his stance on extradition, stripping the mafia of their citizenship and accompanying rights in order to reestablish state control. His drawing a strict distinction between the mafia and the Colombian state yet again roused patriotic sentiment and rallied the nation in his support.

Shenk fills a void in current scholarship of extradition and Colombia’s drug crisis as Betancur’s presidency is largely overlooked. She successfully debunks the prevailing narrative that the Colombian government exerted little autonomy vis-à-vis the United States in forming their extradition policy, giving due recognition to one of the oldest democracies in the Western hemisphere.

See the full paper here!

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