Colombian drug lord earns priest's praise with new promise to surrender


BOGOTA, Colombia -- Drug lord Pablo Escobar is slowly gaining a measure of respectability in Colombia as a surprising turn of events has brought the country's most notorious drug trafficker to the verge of surrendering.

Only a few days after releasing Maruja Pachon and Francisco San

tos, two well-known journalists he held captive for several months, Mr. Escobar was described by the Rev. Rafael Garcia-Herreros, who mediated the release, as "a man who keeps his word," a "good man."

The priest said he met with Mr. Escobar twice this month, and he reported that Mr. Escobar said he would surrender the first week of June.

The more positive attitude toward Mr. Escobar, expressed by more people than the priest, has led some Colombians to question the collective memory of their countrymen.

Mr. Escobar has long been suspected of ordering the assassinations of judges, policemen, government ministers and presidential candidates.

"He has received a moral amnesty," said a reporter on "News At Seven," a Bogota television news program.

Enrique Santos Calderon, editor and columnist of the daily El Tiempo and cousin of Mr. Santos, who was held hostage for eight months by Mr. Escobar's henchmen, said in a column last week, "The joy caused by the liberation of Maruja [Pachon] and Francisco [Santos], and the collective happiness after the announcement of a future surrender of Pablo Escobar, should not lead us to a sort of national Stockholm syndrome, nor to a pathology of 'Pablo, The Just.' "

Under the Stockholm syndrome, victims come to sympathize with their captors or victimizers.

But, Father Garcia-Herreros, 82, a priest known for anti-poverty programs and religious messages aired nightly on national television, has taken on the task of rehabilitating Mr. Escobar's image.

"He is not a cheater. . . . He is a man who keeps his word," hsaid after the first negotiations in which Mr. Escobar promised to release the journalists.

"I would accompany him to heaven's gate," retorted the priest when asked if he believed Mr. Escobar's promise to surrender shortly.

"We believe the priest" said national security adviser Rafael Pardo, when asked if the government expected the drug lordto finally surrender.

Colombians agree that by getting the priest on his side, Mr. Escobar has gained credibility. "He was smart. Father Garcia-Herreros has a tremendous following in Colombia. Everyone believes him," said a newspaper editor.

The national police chief, Gen. Miguel Antonio Gomez Padilla, publicly endorsed the process being carried out by Father Garcia-Herreros.

But privately, law enforcement sources are disappointed at the new developments.

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