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US Plot Relying on Extradition Targets Peace in Colombia

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

For 50 years Colombian governments and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) fought a civil war; 200,000 lives were lost. After four years of negotiations, the two sides signed a peace agreement that took effect in November 2016.

Now the agreement is in trouble, mainly at the hands of rightwing extremists led by former president Alvaro Uribe and represented now by President Iván Duque. They opposed the negotiations, the agreement itself, and now they block implementation.

The U.S. government posted an envoy to the peace negotiations and sent the Secretary of State to one the signings of an agreement. Seemingly, it supported the peace process,

Now it does not. Colombia’s El Espectador newspaper on November 8 published Edinson Bolaños’s report that outlines a U.S. plot aimed at immobilizing FARC leaders.  His information came from 24,000 recordings of wiretapped telephone calls occurring in 2017.

In most of the conversations Marlon Marín speaks with two U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents posing as representatives of Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel. They talked about10 tons of cocaine that agents of Marín, posing as FARC members, eventually sold to the cartel for $5 million. The Office of the Attorney General supplied the cocaine, the DEA the money.

According to Bolaños, the conversations introduced names or faked voices to identify accomplices. One was Jesús Santrich, spokesperson for the FARC peace negotiators in Havana. Another was Iván Márquez, who headed the FARC’s negotiating team and is Marlon Marín’s uncle. Over 1,300 recordings of talk on Iván Márquez’s telephone apparently disappeared.

Other names, or voices, cropping up included those of General Oscar Naranjo, former vice president and government peace negotiator; Gustavo Petro, 2018 presidential candidate for the left-leaning Humane Colombia coalition; and Piedad Córdoba, outspoken former Liberal Party senator.

Police agents arrested Santrich on April 9, 2018. Charged with conspiracy to export cocaine to the United States, Santrich faced extradition and trial before the U.S. District Court – Southern District of New York. Colombian authorities also arrested Marlon Marín and quickly flew him to the United States to testify against Santrich.  Iván Márquez went into hiding and wasn’t arrested. The press circulated as information material taken from the recordings provided by the Office of the Attorney General.

The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), created by the peace agreement, enters the story.  It was a new court charged with deciding on pardon or punishment for guerrillas who may have committed crimes while they were rebels – but only then. The JEP had accepted Santrich into its program. If he had trafficked in drugs after the civil war, the JEP had no jurisdiction over him.

To make a determination, the JEP sought to examine the audio recordings. It only received 12 of them of the thousands that existed. It did receive a video, publicized by the press, that showed Santrich talking with Marlon Marin. There was no audio. The JEP never saw documentation a grand jury indictment in New York.

Santrich spent 13 months in prison; while there he carried out a 41-day hunger strike. Unable to establish the time-frame of any drug-dealing, the JEP ordered Santrich’s release on May 19, 2019. He was immediately rearrested, but Colombia’s Supreme Court, with jurisdiction over persons serving in Congress, released him on May 31. He was a member, courtesy of the peace agreement.

Attorney General Martínez resigned. The Supreme Court announced plans to prosecute Santrich on the drug-trafficking charge.

On August 31, 2019, Santrich, Iván Márquez, and other former FARC insurgents returned to armed conflict. Almost a year later, the DEA and State Department announced rewards for information leading to the convictions of Santrich and Márquez – up to $10 million for each.

No peace now

Presently, implementation of the agreement is floundering. Exceptions are the JEP and political participation for FARC members; there’s now a FARC political party. Agrarian reform, prioritized by the FARC negotiators, is moribund. Food-producing crops were to have substituted for coca production, but aerial fumigation with glyphosate has returned, The peace agreement provided for the former guerrillas’ safety. But 242 former combatantsplus 1,055 social and community activists have been killed.

For the FARC, the essence of the peace agreement was that the former combatants would re-enter civil society as citizens with rights, and that the FARC’s struggle for progressive change would move from insurgency to civilian life. Neither would happen without the JEP, which was, therefore, central to the entire agreement. Conversely, damage to the JEP threatens the agreement itself.

Prosecution of a Santrich, a FARC leader, as a common criminal, for drug-dealing, would jeopardize his lower-ranking comrades and suggest that the JEP is irrelevant. As it is, the JEP is the Achilles heel of the agreement, as demonstrated by Santrich’s arrest, threatened extradition, and removal from JEP jurisdiction.

The U.S. government opposes the JEP. U.S Ambassador Kevin Whitaker in April 2019 insisted that if the JEP protected former guerrillas from extradition, Colombia would lose U. S. military assistance.  

It would have been difficult for U.S. government hardliners to accept the peace agreement, or to ease up on the FARC. They’ve engaged with the insurgency off and on, in one way or another, since 1964. Pretexts evolved from anti-communism to drug war to narco-terrorism.

From 2000 on, the interventionists dedicated themselves to carrying out out U.S. Plan Colombia with its bases, personnel on the ground, generous funding, new equipment, and presumed gratification on the part of Colombian colleagues. They realize too that the FARC has staunchly opposed U.S. domination of their region and U. S. designs on Colombia’s natural resources. For them to have given up on prospect of the FARC’s military defeat seems unlikely.

General John Kelly, former head of the U.S. military’s Southern Command, surely qualifies as a hardliner. Amid the peace negotiations, he observed that, “[T]he FARC claims the Colombian military has failed to defeat them [but] The truth is that the Colombian military has crippled the FARC, enabling the government of Colombia to begin charting the path to peace.” (Miami Herald, op-ed)  Kelly dismisses FARC ideas on peace.

Extradition weaponized

The government of President Uribe in 2008  arrested 14 paramilitary leaders and extradited them to the United States for prosecution exclusively on drug-trafficking charges. As a result of this maneuver, there would be no trials in Colombia during which the paramilitaries’ dealings with politicians might come to light.

Extradited to the United States in late 2004, FARC leader Simon Trinidad specialized in negotiations and political education. He is serving a 60-year sentence, in isolation, at the supermax federal prison in Colorado. Trinidad escaped conviction on narco-trafficking charges, but went to prison on a charge of conspiring to capture three U.S. drug-war contractors, after FARC gunfire brought their plane down. (1)

His case is a useful entry point for agitating against U.S. imperialism. The argument might focus on U.S. military intervention in Colombia as emblematic of U.S. interventions globally. Then, to introduce the Colombia situation, it would point to the extradition and torture of Simon Trinidad. Interest having been provoked, discussion would proceed.

Piedad Cordoba visited the imprisoned Simon Trinidad. Few others have been allowed to do so. Cordoba commented recently on Simon Trinidad, the Santrich case, and U.S. military intervention.

Referring to “the recently exposed collusion between the North American DEA agency and the Colombian attorney general,” Cordoba points out that, “War in the 21st century in our country has been sustained with North American assistance.”

And, “the United States owes something to the Havana agreement. The first item would be the repatriation of Commander Simon Trinidad, who has been accepted into the JEP, but who also must be recognized as a victim of the genocide of the Patriotic Union. (2) There must be some form of presidential pardon that exists and would remain valid …This was shown in the case of Puerto Rican patriot [Oscar] López Rivera. A pardon for Simon Trinidad would be excellent news for peace and reconciliation …”

She called for “re-evaluation of [U.S.] military assistance in view of the ongoing crisis of serious violations of human rights by Colombia’s military.”  In any case, “With the intervention persisting and present situation unchanged, we are fated to be a country at war.”

Notes.

1) Here’s more on Simon Trinidad.

2) For information on the Patriotic Union.

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

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