Drug lord's lover airs dirty secrets, deals of Colombia's elite

If history's most notorious drug trafficker was such a low-life, how did he manage to seduce a sophisticated socialite who was a superstar model, actress and TV hostess?

The question has been obsessing Colombians ever since the late Pablo Escobar's former lover surfaced in the U.S. in July and held up an unflattering mirror to Colombian society by detailing alleged ties between the elite and organized crime.

In an hourlong statement on Colombia's RCN television network, Virginia Vallejo alleged Escobar had links with various prominent Colombians, including two former presidents.

Having already named some names, she is reportedly planning to publish a book next month, and Colombians are excitedly waiting to see who else she'll drag through the dirt.

She also supported allegations that veteran politician Alberto Santofimio had urged Escobar to kill Luis Carlos Galan, a presidential candidate crusading against the drug lords.

"This man is a killer, the only thing he didn't do was pull the trigger," Vallejo said of Santofimio, who is on trial for his alleged role in the 1989 assassination of Galan, his political rival, by Escobar's hit men.

In this land that produces most of the world's cocaine, Vallejo's affair with Escobar is seen as a telling example of the establishment's easy relationship with drug traffickers — the legitimate businesses that launder drug earnings, the elite social clubs that open their doors to drug lords and the politicians who exchange favors for briefcases of cash.

In her statement, which she taped and delivered to RCN for telecast after she left Colombia, Vallejo claimed that Escobar maintained close relations with former Presidents Belisario Betancur and Alfonso Lopez, and helped fund Lopez's political campaign. Neither has responded to repeated requests for comment.

Many Colombians wonder how the woman they saw on TV, beautiful and refined at 56, could love a pudgy drug baron with dead, shark-like eyes who was blamed for the murder of thousands of Colombians in the 1990s drug wars.

"I fell in love with a philanthropist, a man loved by his people," she explained. "He was the only rich man in Colombia who was generous with the people, in this country where the rich have never given a sandwich to the poor."

Colombia would much rather be famous for Gabriel Garcia Marquez, its Nobel literature laureate, but their fascination with Escobar is still strong, 13 years after he was killed in a rooftop shootout.

Vallejo learned that high society might accept the drug lords' money, but not their mistresses, especially one who was sleeping with Escobar at a time when he was waging a war of bombs and assassinations against Colombian society to head off extradition to the U.S.

"She was totally cut off," said her friend, filmmaker Gustavo Nieto Roa. "Before, she would have a reception or a cocktail party and every important person in the city would attend. But after it became known she was his girlfriend, nobody wanted to be seen with her."

On July 18, after she first voiced accusations against Santofimio, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration spirited her out of Colombia. It isn't saying what help, if any, she has provided, nor revealed any details on her whereabouts.

[Source: By Toby Muse, AP, Houston Chronicle, Us, 05Sep06]

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