Last Week in Colombia’s Peace Process: Week of September 30-October 6

Prosecutor’s Office Raids Transitional Justice System Headquarters

On the afternoon of October 4 agents of Colombia’s Chief Prosecutor’s Office (Fiscalía, which investigates and prosecutes crimes in the regular criminal justice system) showed up at the offices of the new, separate transitional justice system created by the peace accords (Special Peace Jurisdiction or JEP, which investigates and prosecutes war crimes committed during the armed conflict). The agents, sent by the Fiscalía, demanded to be allowed to carry out a “judicial inspection” of the files in the new justice system’s first and largest case so far, numbered “case 001”: charges of mass kidnapping against 31 FARC leaders.

This action, which appeared to be a blatant interference in the new justice system’s workings, generated expressions of outrage against Prosecutor-General Néstor Humberto Martínez, a frequent critic of the JEP and other aspects of the FARC peace accord. Though Martínez quickly rescinded the order and called back the agents, JEP President Patricia Linares declared, “the Prosecutor’s Office obtained a digital copy of the casefile, due to the hasty manner in which the procedure was carried out.”

Linares “strongly and emphatically reject[ed]” what she called “the Fiscalía’s undue interference with the autonomy and judicial independence” of the JEP, adding that it was “openly violative of the judicial reserve that covers the investigations carried out by JEP judges.”

The UN Verification Mission and Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia issued a joint declaration following the incident:

The rights of victims and the legal security of participants in the armed conflict depend on strict respect of all public powers for the independence and autonomy of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace. We underline the importance that collaboration between jurisdictions be harmonious and fully respectful of their respective competences.

What Colombian media called a “train crash” between the old and new judicial bodies could have consequences for the peace process. It appeared to be a political move seeking to intimidate the JEP and demonstrate the Fiscalía’s relative power. It may have increased former FARC leaders’ fear of being arrested in a similar future show of political power, which risks causing more of them to abandon the process, either going into hiding or taking up arms again.

Missing FARC Leaders Send a Harshly Worded Letter

Two of the most prominent leaders who have already gone clandestine surfaced in a letter sent to the Peace Committee of Colombia’s Congress. Iván Márquez, the FARC’s chief negotiator during the Havana peace talks, and Óscar Montero alias “El Paisa,” once head of a powerful FARC mobile column, have been missing since June or July. Their letter, the first communication from them in months, had some very harsh words for a process they view as failing.

“The peace accord has been betrayed,” reads the letter, which laments having agreed to turn in weapons before reaching more specific agreement on the terms of ex-combatants’ reintegration. The letter outlines what, in the missing leaders’ view, are three “structural flaws” in the November 2016 accord.

First, they cite “judicial insecurity,” believing themselves vulnerable to arbitrary arrest and possible extradition. They allege that this is what happened to Jesús Santrich, a guerrilla negotiator close to Márquez who was arrested in April and faces an extradition request to the United States on charges of conspiring to transship cocaine. The two ex-guerrilla leaders write that these charges are a “judicial setup hatched by the Attorney General, the U.S. Ambassador, and the DEA.” Writing in La Silla Vacía, analyst Héctor Riveros notes that regardless of the truth behind the Santrich case, the “judicial insecurity” argument has served “hundreds of ex-guerrillas” as a pretext for exiting the process and joining armed dissident groups.

The second “flaw” noted in the letter are the changes made to the accord after it was narrowly rejected in an October 2016 plebiscite, which in their words “transfigured the Havana Accord into a horrific Frankenstein.” Third, they cite the Colombian Congress’s failure to pass all the legislation needed to implement the accord, especially reforms to the political system and the failure to create special temporary congressional districts to represent victims’ groups.

The FARC political party held a press conference in the Congress, with its legislators rejecting the arguments in Márquez and Montero’s letter. “They’re totally wrong,” said FARC Senator Carlos Antonio Lozada.

“I could hardly go and say that there are no conditions or guarantees while I’m sitting in the Senate press room leading a press conference. What we’re saying is that the process has difficulties, the implementation has not been consistent on the part of the state, but there are some spaces that have been won, we value them and they are very important to achieve progress in the implementation of the peace accords.”

Lozada called on the missing leaders to “understand” that the ex-guerrilla party has adopted a supportive but critical position on the accord’s implementation, and that they “reconsider their position.”

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Guillermo Botero told the Blu Radio network that “the police have intelligence reports” about Márquez and Montero’s current location. While refusing to reveal anything on the radio, Botero acknowledged that both are in Colombia.

US Ambassador Pushes for Santrich Extradition

The Jesús Santrich case remains a big test for Colombia’s new transitional justice system. The former guerrilla negotiator remains in prison awaiting a decision from the JEP about whether he may be extradited to face charges in a New York federal court of conspiring to send 10 tons of cocaine to the United States in 2017, after the peace accord was ratified.

“Extradition is a very strong tool for Colombia, for the United States, for the victims and for the peace agreement,” U.S. ambassador Kevin Whitaker said this week. “Jesus Santrich is accused in a United States Court of having violated U.S. law, that is why we are seeking his extradition and we will continue in that.” The ambassador added, “Any person or institution that can stop the extraditions affects the interests of the United States, affects the interests of Colombia and of all those who long for peace.”

The FARC insists that Santrich, a FARC ideologist who has poor eyesight and little apparent prior involvement in the guerrillas’ narcotrafficking, is innocent. They doubt the evidence made public so far, which appears to show Santrich offering approval to a plan, hatched by a nephew of Iván Márquez, to send coca to Mexican narcotraffickers who are, in fact, DEA agents or informants.

Farc Senator Victoria Sandino said, “It’s been more than six months since they captured Jesus Santrich, with the argument that U.S. justice has the evidence,” but “the Prosecutor-General’s office then goes out and says it does not have it. And now the Embassy persists in the extradition. What we say is show the evidence and present it to the JEP. And Santrich’s legal defense demands freedom, because no evidence has been shown.”

Sandino is referring to this chain of events:

  • When another country requests the extradition of an individual facing trial in the JEP, the peace accord requires the JEP to determine whether the alleged crime took place before or after the December 2016 ratification of the FARC peace accord—the official end of the conflict. If the crime happened before that date, then extradition would be blocked.
  • This procedure left unclear whether the JEP was merely to perform the clerical task of certifying the date of the alleged crime, or whether it was also empowered to decide whether there was enough evidence to back up the allegation.
  • Colombia’s Constitutional Court settled this question in August, when it determined that the JEP does have the ability to evaluate the evidence backing an allegation.
  • On September 18, the JEP asked the Fiscalía to turn over all the evidence in its possession about the Santrich case.
  • On September 27, the Fiscalía sent a letter to the JEP stating that it had turned over everything it its Santrich file. La Silla Vacía commentator Héctor Riveros characterized this as “the ‘bureaucratic file,’ that is, some letters and little else.”
  • On October 1, the Fiscalía announced via Twitter that it had sent 12 more audio files to the JEP. But it also surprisingly announced that it “does not have audio or video evidence. …The elements being requested now are those that form part of a judicial process in the United States.” That the proof against Santrich is not available in Colombia drew much attention in Colombian media.
  • According to Riveros, the Chief Prosecutor then tried to do some damage control: “Prosecutor Néstor Humberto Martínez, aware of the seriousness of Santrich’s detention, invited the directors of the most influential media in the country to his office to show part of the evidence on the basis of which the former negotiator’s arrest was ordered. They were short videos and some photos that, although they did not reveal anything, hinted that Santrich may have been literally caught ‘with his hands in the cookie jar.’”

“If everything keeps going like this,” Riveros wrote, “that Jurisdiction [JEP] can not say anything other than that there is no proof that Santrich has committed crimes after the accord’s signing.”

New Security Council Report

The UN Verification Mission in Colombia issued its latest quarterly Secretary General’s report to the Security Council on the demobilization and reintegration process. It covers July 21 to September 26. Some of its key findings:

  • As of August 30, approximately 13,000 demobilized FARC members had been accredited by Colombia’s Office of the High Commissioner for Peace, and 12,773 of them had been provided with their accreditation, an increase of 150 since July. It’s hard to notify some of these ex-guerrillas of their accreditation because of their “increased dispersal.”
  • On August 10 the FARC gave the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace a list of about 1,000 additional former members, who were not on the “final” list of August 15, 2017, the date the FARC officially disarmed. Most of the new names, the Secretary-General’s report notes, “come from areas affected by continuing security challenges and where the integration of the individuals into the process could be beneficial. As such, I hope that this matter will be treated by the new Government as a priority.”
  • As of late August, 232 accredited ex-guerrillas were still in prison, even though the accord calls for amnesty for their crime of sedition, and then for their future appearance before the JEP for more serious crimes.
  • The UN Mission reiterated concerns about “the departures of several former FARC-EP commanders from the territorial areas for training and reintegration in the south-eastern region. Some of them have cited concerns about their physical and legal security as a motivating factor.” Ominously it adds, “this development has underlined the continued fragility of the peace process, owing in particular to the persistence of violence in the zones of conflict linked mainly to criminal groups.”
  • The Mission’s chief, UN diplomat Jean Arnault, said that about 4,000 ex-FARC members remain in the “territorial areas,” or demobilization sites, or their immediate vicinity. (Ex-guerrillas have been free to leave these sites since August 15, 2017.) More than 2,000 have moved to “several dozen new regrouping points and thousands are dispersed throughout all of the country, including in the main cities.”
  • “The process of economic reintegration is clearly lagging behind other dimensions of reintegration,” the report states. “[T]he fundamental goal of providing income-generating opportunities to some 14,000 former combatants is far from being realized, as illustrated by the fact that only 17 projects have been approved, of which only 2 are currently funded.” Former FARC members are carrying out dozens of productive projects, informally, on their own. Many could succeed, the UN report contends, “if provided with better access to technical and marketing advice, land and overall support from the Government, local authorities and the private sector, among others.”
  • Nine former FARC members were killed during the 90-day period, making a total of 71. The Fiscalía’s Special Investigation Unit, set up by the peace accord to investigate these killings, notes that three-quarters of these killings took place in five departments: Nariño (16), Antioquia (15), Cauca (12), Caquetá (8), and Norte de Santander (7). The UN report notes further, “In 34 cases, the Unit reported significant progress in its investigations, with 17 instigators or perpetrators arrested. Of these, 15 cases involved dissident groups, 7 involved private individuals, 6 were attributed to ELN, 4 cases were attributed to the Clan del Golfo criminal group, 1 involved local criminal organization and 1 case remains under investigation. According to the Investigation Unit, the principal motives behind the attacks are related to territorial control (21 cases) and revenge (3 cases).”
  • Even without direct negotiations, the UN report states that “continued direct communication between the Government and ELN is welcome.” The report finds that renewed peace talks are certainly possible: “The Government has made it clear that it expects a cessation of all violence; the ELN, for its part, has stated that it aims to bring about substantive change based on a broad social dialogue. The two goals are not incompatible.”

FIP Report Finds Deteriorating Security Conditions

The Ideas for Peace Foundation (FIP), a Bogotá-based think-tank founded by members of the business community, released an extensive report on October 3 about deteriorating security guarantees for practicing peaceful politics in post-conflict Colombia. “From a feeling of tranquility and expectation for the returns that the implementation of what was agreed with the FARC would bring,” the report reads, post-conflict regions “have passed into distrust and fear for the reactivation of violence.” It zooms in on four conflictive regions: Arauca, Catatumbo, Cauca, and southern Bolívar.

Among the report’s findings:

  • In the 170 municipalities (counties, of which Colombia has about 1,100) that Colombia has prioritized for post-conflict Development Programs with a Territorial Focus (PDETs), homicides increased 28 percent in January-July 2018, compared to the same period in 2017.
  • In these municipalities, forced displacement tripled, from 5,248 people to 16,997.
  • In these municipalities, crimes against social leaders also nearly tripled, from 24 to 67.
  • Throughout the country, 93 social leaders were killed between January and August, compared to 50 during the same period in 2017.

In the four regions it looked at, the FIP found common patterns:

  • an unstable confluence of armed actors;
  • a reactivation of social conflicts;
  • vulnerability of social leaders;
  • delays in the implementation of the peace accord;
  • weaknesses in ex-combatants’ reincorporation process; and
  • difficulties in implementing security guarantees at the local level.

The FIP calls for urgent measures to prevent further deterioration of post-conflict zones’ security situation. “Under these conditions, the implementation of the peace accord is at a critical moment. We still have time to prevent and contain the manifestations of violence and intimidation in the territories affected by the presence of illegal armed groups and armed confrontation.”

Kidnapping of Mayor’s Son, Age Five, in Catatumbo

Two armed, motorcycle-mounted men kidnapped the five-year-old son of the mayor of El Carmen, a municipality in the violence-torn region of Catatumbo, in Norte de Santander department near the Venezuelan border. The mayor, Edwin Contreras, is part of a political dynasty in the 2,000-person municipality; his uncle had held the post before him. “Since he became mayor, he has received strong intimidations,” reports El Espectador.

The Catatumbo region, with 11 municipalities and a population of about 300,000, has suffered frequent fighting between the ELN and a local guerrilla group, the EPL, since March. The two groups previously had cordial relations, but the departure of the FARC from part of the zone, and a sharp rise in coca cultivation, undid the local power equilibrium. Violence has since shuttered schools at times and displaced thousands.

While the kidnappers’ identity is unknown, speculation points to the ELN. “In this municipality, even a needle can’t move without the ELN knowing about it,” local residents who asked to remain unnamed told El Espectador. “We’re so exposed that on any given day they can kidnap the mayor’s son,” the municipal ombudsman said. “There is no Army here. There is a police presence, but they can’t do their job. They can’t go out. We’ve reiterated this issue in all official security meetings. We are abandoned to our fate.”

In-Depth Reading

Tags: Extradition, Transitional Justice, U.S. Policy, UN, Weekly update

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