Drug boss model for 'Scarface' dies in Bolivia

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The Independent US

Roberto Suarez, Bolivia's repentant former "Cocaine King" who once promised to pay the country's entire foreign debt in return for legal immunity, has died of cardiac arrest.

Roberto Suarez, Bolivia's repentant former "Cocaine King" who once promised to pay the country's entire foreign debt in return for legal immunity, has died of cardiac arrest.

Suarez, 68, enjoyed extreme popularity for his philanthropy within the impoverished country before his death in Santa Cruz on Thursday. He is said to have died in relative poverty.

His brother Huascar said the former millionaire cattle rancher "will always be remembered with great affection by the people, because he helped people out. His only big error, which he always said he regretted, was getting involved in the drug trade".

"He became involved in illicit business and then he tried to make himself feel better by doing lots of favours for people, giving gifts and paying for their medical bills," he added.

While Suarez made the offer in 1983 to pay Bolivia's $3bn (£2bn) foreign debt in exchange for immunity from prosecution, he later admitted he did not have the cash to back it up.

One of his dreams was to become a Hollywood actor, he said in 1998. He often bragged that he had been the model for a drug trafficker in the 1983 Al Pacino film Scarface, the saga of a Cuban refugee who becomes a US cocaine kingpin.

In his La Paz prison, Suarez set himself up in a small apartment with a television set, refrigerator and extra beds for his wives, girlfriends and 18 children. He claimed to have found faith in prison, and often posed next to a poster of Jesus Christ that hung on his jail wall.

Suarez's favourite son, Roberto Suarez Levy, was killed in the late 1980s in a shootout with the US Drug Enforcement Administration, while his cousin and successor, Jorge Roca Suarez, began serving a 30-year, drug-related jail term in the US in 1990.

Suarez spent several years as a fugitive after being convicted in absentia for drug charges in 1985. He was captured in 1988 and served eight years of a 15-year jail term before being granted parole.

He was part of a generation of large-scale drug bosses in Bolivia that analysts say has declined over the past decade under pressure from the US and Bolivian governments.

Bolivia, Colombia and Peru are the world's three largest producers of coca leaf - the raw material used to make cocaine.

President Hugo Banzer, a democratically elected former dictator, hopes to eliminate coca leaf in Bolivia by 2002.

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