WORLD

A UNDER FIRE MINISTER

ANDREW BILSKI September 11 1989
WORLD

A UNDER FIRE MINISTER

ANDREW BILSKI September 11 1989

A UNDER FIRE MINISTER

In office for just six weeks, Colombian Justice Minister Mónica de Greiff is already on the front lines of an escalating war. The eighth person to be appointed to the justice portfolio since 1986—her beleaguered predecessors in the administration of President Virgilio Barco all resigned—de Greiff is surrounded by 10 heavily armed bodyguards in two armored cars and on two motorcycles when she travels to her office in Bogotá. But even those precautions leave her and her family vulnerable. Last month, following a declaration of “total war” against the government by Colombia’s powerful drug lords, de Greiff received telephoned death threats on her life and that of her only child, three-year-old Miguel José. On Aug. 25, de Greiff flew to Washington with her hus-

band and son, leading to speculation that she had resigned and was seeking asylum. Instead, the inexperienced but undaunted justice minister began lengthy talks with U.S. officials about a co-ordinated all-out assault on Colombia’s powerful drug cartels.

De Greiff is an unlikely warrior. A petite, 32-year-old lawyer married to an Argentine advertising executive, she is described by friends and co-workers as an unpretentious woman who loves to watch television, listen to romantic ballads and play with her son. De Greiff’s only real obsession is for Coke—the soft drink, not the drug. Since graduating from the prestigious Rosario University law school in 1980—her father sits on the Council of State, the country’s top administrative law tribunal—de Greiff has held numerous positions. Among them: secretary-general of an investment fund, manager of a film distribution company and an administrator in the Institute of Urban Development. She was appointed general secretary of the mines and energy ministry in 1986, and vice-minister

of justice last March. A tireless worker with proven administrative skills, she was promoted by President Barco to her current post on July 16 in a cabinet shuffle.

As justice minister, de Greiff is responsible for administering Colombia’s 4,379 judges—many of whom arç prime targets of the cartels—and for extraditing traffickers wanted by the United States. At a press conference in Washington last week, de Greiff dismissed death threats against herself and her family. Added the minister: “I am determined that the integrity of our justice system survive this crisis, and I hope to play my full part in ensuring this.” For the courageous woman who has become a symbol of Colombia’s desperate fight against the cocaine lords, it was a bold statement of purpose in the face of formidable odds.

ANDREW BILSKI

LESLIE WIRPSA