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Imprisoned FARC Leader Faces Extradition: Still No Peace in Colombia


The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government signed a peace agreement on December 1, 2016. The FARC laid down arms, thus ending more than 50 years of conflict. Since then, however, dozens of former guerrillas have been killed. Settlements in rural areas established for groups of demobilized combatants to prepare for civilian life lack supplies and decent housing. The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), charged with either punishing or pardoning former combatants guilty of crimes, hardly functions.

In a further blow to the promise of peace, state agents on April 9 arrested Jesús Santrich, whose extradition to the United States is on the way. This veteran FARC leader was a key participant on the FARC side in the almost five-year long peace talks in Havana. Iván Márquez, leader of the FARC negotiating team, assured reporters that Santrich’s arrest puts the peace process “at its most critical point.”

Santrich was a leader of the People’s Alternative Revolutionary Force, the political party formed by demobilized FARC guerrillas.  With a few other former guerrillas, he was to have served in Colombia’s Congress, in accordance with the peace agreement. Santrich was one of three FARC members of the “Commission for Promotion and Verification of Implementation” of the agreement.

In prison, Santrich immediately began a hunger strike which he indicated was his last battle.”

Agents of the attorney general’s office and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency had been trailing Santrich and three others since June 2017. The indictment from the Southern New York District Court accuses them of conspiring to sell 10 tons of cocaine for $15 million to the Sinaloa Cartel in México.  The report on lapatria.com states that U.S. prosecutors have “photos and hours worth of audio and video recordings.”

U.S. authorities have 60 days to “formalize their extradition request,” which must be approved by the JEP, Colombia’s Supreme Judicial Court, and President Juan Manuel Santos.

One of those arrested on April 9 was Marlon Marín, nephew of Iván Márquez, Santrich’s close FARC colleague. DEA officials flew Marlon Marín to New York presumably so he can testify for the prosecution. The other two are Armando Gómez España, who suffers from stomach cancer, and Fabio Simón Younes,a 72 year old lawyer.

Interpol (The International Criminal Police Organization) routinely identifies alleged criminals wanted for extradition by posting “red notices” referring to them. Interpol had previously issued red notices for six other former FARC guerrillas accused of narco-trafficking. It later withdrew five of them presumably to allow the JEP to determine their fate. But there was no red notice on Santrich until April 4.

His arrest on April 9 was apparently a hurry-up job, timed perhaps to President Donald Trump’s visit in Bogota later that week. The FARC’s new political party worried thatSantrichwas going to be “a trophy to hand over to Trump on his visit to Colombia.” Trump stayed away.

Born in 1967, Santrich grew up in Colombia’s Caribbean region where he studied lawand social sciences and joined both the Communist Youth organization and the Patriotic Union. The latter, a left-leaning electoral coalition, for three decades has been subjected to violent, often lethal, repression. His parents were philosophy teachers.  Santrich’s original name, Seusis Pausivas Hernández, reflected his father’s admiration for two ancient Greek painters.

State agents seeking to kill Santrich mistakenly shot and killed his best friend and fellow Communist Youth member who was named Jesús Santrich. The Santrich of today adopted the victim’s name and fled to the FARC. He was 21 years old.

As a leader of the FARC’s Caribbean Bloc, Santrich specialized in radio communications, propaganda, negotiations, and political analysis. Afflicted with Leber’s optic neuropathy, he can barely see. Santrich has authored a book on indigenous peoples and plays the flute, harmonica, and saxophone. He’s a poet and a painter. In Havana he represented FARC negotiators in editing the peace agreement, in company with Sergio Jaramillo, editor for the government.

In the opinion of analyst José Antonio Gutiérrez D, Santrich’s plight serves as a warning “of what can happen to demobilized FARC guerrillas if they don’t behave.” Santrich, having “defended the legitimacy of the rebellion for almost three decades,” is “one of the few FARC leaders who have spoken clearly about the failure of the peace process.” He had argued against giving up arms and expressed concern that the JEP might imprison former guerrillas while granting impunity to state agents. Santrich has shown a “dignity which for the oligarchy is arrogance.” Gutiérrez claims he’s been persecuted by the media and “certain repentant FARC leaders.”

How likely it that Santrich trafficked in illegal drugs? Defenders say it’s impossible; he’s been living in Bogota surrounded, for his protection, by soldiers and United Nations. Nor are his life history and his intellectual and artistic interests consistent with a turn to narco-trafficking.

His experience as a FARC guerrilla wouldn’t have predisposed him to produce, process, or distribute illicit drugs.According to one report, Colombian prosecutors indicated that between 1995 and 2014 military units of the FARC “made most of their money taxing drug traffickers and coca growers.  The Washington Office on Latin America and the InSight Crime organization each agree that taxation, not trafficking, was the FARC’s primary mode of drug involvement.

The U.S. government, a well-known enabler of drug-trafficking, may not easily escape accusations of hypocrisy as it pursues Santrich for that crime. During the Vietnam War, for example, the CIA cooperated with a Laotian general to make Laos the world’s largest exporter of heroin. CIA pilots transported weapons to the Contra opponents of Nicaragua’s Sandinista government and on return flights transported cocaine to the United States. In 1988, the CIA provided help for a money-launderer working for the Medellincocaine cartel. The U.S. government turned a blind eye to the Wachovia Bank as it laundered “at least $110 million in drug profits.” The HSBC Bank, with U.S. operations, and Bank of America laundered drug-trade profits on behalf of Mexico’s Zetas and Sinaloa cartels and a Colombian cartel.

Extradition is a vexed issue in Colombia. Left-leaning critics maintain that governmental compliance with U.S. demands for extradition signifies submission to imperial power. Colombian sovereignty is at risk, they say.

It’s a political tool. Ex- President Alvaro Uribe, for example, in 2008 extradited 14 paramilitary chieftains to the United States for prosecution on drug charges. Their removal spared his government both the inconvenience of punishing them for murders and human rights violations and the embarrassment of their good relations with politicians being revealed.

Uribe extradited 1,149 alleged drug traffickers to the United States between 2002 and 2010, perhaps as a show of good faith. The U.S. government, after all, was using drug war as pretext for providing Colombia with military assistance worth billions of dollars. Doing so, Uribe was overlooking a Colombian Constitutional Court decision in 1980 that rejected his nation’s extradition treaty with the United States.

President Santos, Uribe’s successor, has promised that his “hand will not tremble” when he authorizes Santrich’s extradition. The wheels for Santrich’s extradition are thus well greased.

In the United States, Santrich’s extradition may be on automatic pilot. According to an analyst, “Once extradition requests are issued, it is almost impossible to call them back. The indictments … come from grand juries, presided over by judges, and the U.S. government’s executive branch cannot interfere in the actions of the judicial branch.”

The prospect of Santrich’s extradition to the United States recalls the fate of his FARC comrade Simon Trinidad extradited on December 31, 2004. Trinidad escaped conviction on drug charges only to be sentenced to 60 years in prison on a charge of conspiring to take hostage three U.S. drug-war contractors. His continued imprisonment despite FARC demands for his repatriation suggests that neither nation is wedded to the peace process.  That’s not good news for Jesús Santrich, now facing extradition.

In an interview a week before his arrest, Santrich stated that, “The regime confronting us for more than half a century hasn’t changed its character of injustice. This means that spaces for democratic struggle are still closed.” He predicted that, “What’s coming for the former FARC combatants is the most stubborn and vengeful judicial persecution. It will go hand in hand with paramilitary persecution and every kind of non-fulfillment [of the accord]. For example, there’s no freedom yet for more than 500 comrades in prison.”

More articles by:

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a retired pediatrician and political journalist living in Maine.

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