FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Former Bolivian Interior Minister Luis Arce Gomez once threatened to inundate the United States with cocaine in retaliation for economic sanctions imposed by Washington, court documents said.
Arce Gomez, 52, pleaded innocent Wednesday to cocaine charges before U.S. Magistrate Lurana Snow, who ordered him held without bond pending trial. He has been held at a federal prison in south Miami since he was brought to the United States Dec. 11.
Gomez, a former army colonel who has been described as his country's 'minister of cocaine,' is charged with one count of conspiracy to import cocaine into the United States and one count of conspiracy to posses cocaine with the intent to distribute. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and a $50,000 fine.
According to documents made public Wednesday, Gomez told Bolivian cocaine trafficker Sonia Sanjinez De Atala in 1980, 'The gringos ought to take care of their borders because (Gomez) was going to cover them with cocaine.'
De Atala is expected to be the key witness against him.
The documents quote De Atala as saying, 'Arce Gomez told me that because the gringos had cut off financial aid to Bolivia, the Bolivian government needed money. Therefore, he said, 'We are going to inundate the gringos with cocaine.''
Arce Gomez also said he collected protection payments from cocaine smugglers to help keep the Bolivian government solvent after the United States cut off financial aid because of Bolivia's lax drug enforcement, according to the documents.
Arce Gomez, who once hired Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie to advise him on methods of torture, was captured during a family party on a ranch near Santa Cruz in a joint operation by Bolivian and U.S. drug agents.
He was transported to the United States without a formal extradition proceeding. His capture came six years after he and 17 other people were indicted on drug charges by a Fort Lauderdale federal grand jury.
After Peru, Bolivia is the world's second-largest producer of coca leaves, which are processed into cocaine.
Arce Gomez headed a paramilitary squad that offered Bolivian drug dealers protection, government authorities. He confiscated drugs from those who refused the service, then sold the contraband to other dealers, U.S. officials say.
In his own country, Arce Gomez is charged with murdering dissidents during and after the 1980 coup d' etat by Gen. Luis Garcia Meza, who was overthrown in another rebellion after only 13 months in office. Arce Gomez served as Garcia Meza's interior minister.