Authorities in Florida have arrested a former Colombian Agriculture minister who fled there after being convicted in a multi-million dollar corruption case, highlighting a pattern of law-breaking Latin American elites seeking refuge from justice in the Sunshine State.
Andrés Felipe Arias, who served as Colombia's Agriculture minister from 2005 to 2009 under former President Álvaro Uribe, was arrested on August 24 at his home in the South Florida town of Weston, the Miami Herald reported.
Arias fled to the United States in June 2014 after finding out that he had been convicted in a corruption scheme involving the mismanagement of state funds for an agricultural subsidy program. He faced a sentence of more than 17 years in prison.
According to the Miami Herald, "Arias was able to flee to South Florida because the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá renewed his tourist visa while he was on trial…despite a 2004 presidential proclamation barring foreign officials suspected of corruption from entering the country."
Arias applied for asylum soon after entering the United States, claiming his trial and conviction in Colombia constituted political persecution.
An investigation by Semana magazine later reported that US authorities granted Arias' request "in effect" on September 5, 2014. Legal experts consulted by the news outlet said that the rapid turnaround on his asylum application suggested that he had been planning such a move for some time.
The Colombian government formally requested Arias' extradition from the United States in November 2014. It remains unclear why the US government waited nearly two years before acting on the extradition request, but the Miami Herald suggests the State Department "may have been concerned about the length of the 17-year sentence" Arias faced.
InSight Crime Analysis
Arias is hardly the first prominent fugitive to seek safe haven from a Latin American justice system in South Florida. For instance, former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli -- who stands accused of myriad misdeeds stemming from his time in office, including corruption and illegal surveillance -- has reportedly been hiding out in a lavish Miami apartment as authorities in the Central American nation continue to work on finalizing a formal request for his extradition.
The shadowy former intelligence operations chief of Argentina's spy service, Antonio Horacio "Jaime" Stiuso, also allegedly sought shelter in the Miami area following the suspicious January 2015 death of the Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman. The Argentine government under former President Cristina Kirchner even accused the United States of harboring Stiuso in order to help him avoid testifying about Nisman's death. However, several months after the international police agency INTERPOL issued a "blue notice" for Stiuso, the former spymaster returned to Argentina and testified in the case.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Elites and Organized Crime
As the Miami New Times reported in 2010, there is a decades-long history of Latin American elites seeking refuge from justice in South Florida, likely due to the geographic and cultural proximity of the two regions. But this is not always due to a lack of vigilance or effort on the part of US authorities.
For example, after a legal battle lasting more than 16 years, in April 2015 the United States deported former El Salvador Defense Minister Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, who was accused of participating in a number of atrocities during the civil war that wracked the country during the 1980s. He had been living in Florida since 1989. According to the New York Times, Vides Casanova was "the highest-ranking foreign official to be deported under laws enacted in 2004 to prevent human rights violators from seeking haven" in the United States.