The former maximum leader of the AUC paramilitaries, extradited to the United States in 2008, has completed his U.S. prison term and may soon return to Colombia.
Maximum AUC paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso is to be released from U.S. custody after 12 years. This report looks at Mancuso’s deeds, the “Justice and Peace” demobilization process, and the views of AUC victims exiled in Canada.
- This is the day when Salvatore Mancuso, former top leader of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitary network, is scheduled to have been released from federal prison in Atlanta, Georgia, United States. He was extradited to face drug trafficking charges in May 2008. Mancuso, 55, was likely transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention; it is not clear whether he is requesting U.S. asylum or will be returned to Colombia, or whether COVID-19 is delaying his return.
- The JEP requires former police general Mauricio Santoyo to stand trial for his role in the 2000 disappearance of two members of the Association of Relatives of the Disappeared (ASFADDES) in Medellín. Santoyo stands accused of working with the paramilitaries who disappeared Claudia Patricia Monsalve and Ángel José Quintero when he was commander of the Medellín Police anti-kidnapping unit. He later went on to be the chief of then-president Álvaro Uribe’s security detail before being extradited to the United States to face drug charges. He was returned to Colombia in 2019.
- The U.S. Department of Justice communicates that top former paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso, who headed the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), will be returned to Colombia on March 27, twelve years after his extradition to the United States. A Colombian judge has determined that Mancuso has already served his required jail time under the “Justice and Peace” process that governed the AUC’s 2003-06 demobilization, though he must continue to cooperate with that process. Mancuso intends to collaborate with the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) because, as a landowner, he supported paramilitary groups for several years before becoming a paramilitary leader.
- Colombia’s Foreign Ministry sends a formal extradition request to Cuba for ELN negotiators who remain on the island. Those wanted include the group’s maximum leader, Nicolás Rodríguez alias “Gabino,” and former chief negotiator Pablo Beltrán. The ELN members were in Cuba in January 2019, when President Duque shut down peace talks following the ELN’s bloody attack on the Colombian National Police Cadet School in Bogotá. Negotiation protocols signed by the Santos government had arranged for the negotiators’ return to Colombia if talks broke down. The Duque government rejected those protocols and demand that Cuba turn the negotiators over.
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.”
- Adelaida Avila Cabrera, Juanita Velez, “La Sustitucion de la Coca Si Esta Llegando a Donde Es Pero Muy Lento” (La Silla Vacia (Colombia), October 5, 2018).
- “Las Garantias de Seguridad: Una Mirada Desde Lo Local” (Fundacion Ideas por la Paz (Colombia), October 4, 2018).
- “Lideres Asesinados, ¿Cuantos se Quedan por Fuera de los Conteos?” (El Tiempo (Colombia), October 4, 2018).
- Ariel Ávila, Diego Alejandro Restrepo, “La Guerra por el Bajo Cauca y Norte de Antioquia” (Fundacion Paz y Reconciliacion, El Espectador (Colombia), October 4, 2018).
- Jim Mustian, Joshua Goodman, “Dea’s Colombia Post Roiled by Misconduct Probes” (Associated Press, The Washington Post, October 3, 2018).
- Ricardo Monsalve Gaviria, “Van Mas de 150 Hechos Violentos de las Disidencias” (El Colombiano (Medellin Colombia), October 2, 2018).
- “Infographic: Agresiones y Homicidios de Lideres Sociales” (Fundacion Ideas por la Paz (Colombia), October 2, 2018).
- “Zonas Cocaleras, las de Mayor Riesgo para la Vida de los Lideres Sociales” (Verdad Abierta (Colombia), October 1, 2018).
- Sara Castillejo Ditta, “La Implementacion de los PDET Amenaza Con Quedarse en Letra Muerta” (El Tiempo (Colombia), October 1, 2018).
- “El Mapa de los 101 Accidentes por Minas Antipersona Ocurridos en 2018” (El Tiempo (Colombia), October 1, 2018).
- Tatiana Duque, “La Guerra en Tumaco Despues de Guacho y David Sigue Igual” (La Silla Vacia (Colombia), October 1, 2018).
- Ricardo Monsalve Gaviria, “Los Grupos Ilegales No Dejan en Paz a Ituango” (El Colombiano (Medellin Colombia), October 1, 2018).
- Adam Isacson, “La Reunion de Duque Con Trump: Entretenida Pero Improductiva” (Washington Office on Latin America, Razon Publica (Colombia), October 1, 2018).
UNODC Publishes Its 2017 Coca Cultivation Estimate
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime published an executive summary of its 2017 estimate of coca cultivation and cocaine production in Colombia. The UN agency has usually produced this document, in complete form, in June or July of each year. Among the latest report’s most notable findings:
- Coca cultivation increased by 17 percent in Colombia between 2016 and 2017, growing from 146,000 to 171,000 hectares. (A hectare is about two and a half acres.) In June, the U.S. government publicized its own estimate for 2017, finding an 11 percent increase to 209,000 hectares. According to Defense Minister Guillermo Botero, the UN figure is “the official statistic that the Colombian government works with.”
- 64% of the increase was concentrated in four departments: Antioquia, Putumayo, Norte de Santander and Cauca. Nearly all coca is grown in municipalities where coca was grown a decade ago.
- The department with the most coca is still Nariño, as has been the case every year since 2006. Nariño makes up 27% of all Colombian coca cultivation, but the crop increased by only 7% there in 2017.
- Tumaco, a giant municipality (county) in southwestern Nariño, remains the number-one coca-growing municipality in the country. However, coca cultivation declined by 16% in Tumaco last year.
- The department of Guaviare saw the largest decrease, shrinking 28% from 6,800 to 4,900 hectares. Guaviare, along with Tumaco, has been a main focus of crop-substitution efforts within the framework of the peace accord. In Meta, another department that saw a lot of crop substitution, coca increased 2%.
- The areas where the Colombian government has managed to get crop-substitution programs up and running comprise 14% of coca-growing territories. But in those territories, cultivation fell 11% in 2017.
- 33% of coca crops were detected in “isolated areas, 10 km away from any populated center.”
- 34% of coca crops were detected in areas that were covered by forests in 2014.
- Probably due to increased supply, prices crashed in 2017. Coca leaf prices fell 28%; cocaine paste fell 14%, and cocaine fell 11% inside Colombia. This isn’t entirely supply and demand: local circumstances, like changes in armed-group control, may be more important factors in some areas.
- Colombia’s cocaine exports were worth about US$2.7 billion in 2017. Colombia’s coffee exports totaled about US$2.5 billion. Only oil and coal produced more export revenue.
- All cocaine base produced in the country was worth US$1.315 billion. All coca leaf was worth US$371 million.
- In the ten municipalities (counties) with the most coca crops, the coca leaf market adds up to US$302 million. These counties’ combined municipal budgets were US$196 million.
- 5% of coca was planted within national parks, and another 27% within 20 kilometers of a national park.
- 10% was planted within indigenous reserves. 15% was planted in land belonging to Afro-Colombian communities.
- 16% of coca was planted within 10 kilometers of a border, mainly those with Venezuela and Ecuador.
- The National Comprehensive Substitution Program (PNIS), the voluntary crop-substitution program set up by the FARC peace accord, had enrolled 54,027 families by the end of 2017. By June 2018, that had climbed to 77,659 families.
- Mainly because the bushes have had time to grow taller than they used to be, their yield—the amount of cocaine that can be produced from a hectare of coca—has increased by one third since 2012. As a result, Colombia’s potential cocaine production grew from 1,053 tons in 2016 to 1,379 tons in 2017.
- Processing that much cocaine required that 510 million liters of liquid precursor chemicals, and 98,000 tons of solid precursors, be smuggled in to very remote areas.
- “When we talk about coca growers,” UNODC Colombia Director Bo Mathiasen told El Espectador, “we talk about there being today about 119,500 households that depend on that. If we estimate that each family has four members, we are talking about almost half a million Colombians, just those involved with crops.” That is 1% of Colombia’s population of about 50 million.
Asked whether the increase in coca-growing was “a failure of the peace agreement,” Mathiasen replied that Colombia’s government over-promised to coca-growing families.
It’s an agreement with promises that had no basis. They promised more than they could fulfill. The Government does not have the money to fulfill the prior commitments. There was a lack of realistic communication about the resources that were available and what could be delivered. This caused the campesinos to think that if they planted more coca, they could have subsidies and be part of the substitution program.
Mathiasen also criticized the simultaneous implementation of crop substitution and crop eradication, two strategies that “work with different timeframes.” He cautioned against relying too heavily on renewed fumigation of coca with the herbicide glyphosate.
The United Nations does not have an opinion either in favor or against the use of glyphosate, and I must add that it is widely used in agriculture in Colombia and in many countries. The effectiveness of forced eradication has limits. Yes, the plant is done away with, but replanting has historically been high in eradication zones where there is no program of social and economic intervention going hand-in-hand. If you want a more sustainable outcome over time you have to combine forced or voluntary eradication with investment programs to develop these territories.
President Iván Duque said that in coming days, “he would present a new plan to combat drugs that would ‘strengthen our air, sea and land interception capacity’ and ‘dismantle completely the supply chain, both precursors and product,’” the New York Times reported, adding that “so far, he has provided no details.”
Interviewed by El Tiempo, U.S. Ambassador Kevin Whitaker reiterated his support for glyphosate-spraying, despite a California jury’s August ruling that a gardener who contracted cancer was entitled to hundreds of millions of dollars in damages from Monsanto, the company that produces most glyphosate herbicide sold in the United States.
I have always said, and I maintain, that the use of glyphosate is safe and effective. It can be a very important tool in the fight against narcotics as part of eradication, which is only one aspect of a comprehensive program. Evidently there was a jury decision in California, and you have to respect that. But that decision does not change the science at all, and the science is clear.
Government Won’t Name an ELN Negotiating Team Until Conditions Met
In a statement, the ELN’s negotiators in Havana called on the government to re-start frozen peace talks, citing its release of nine captives during the first half of September. The Duque government announced that it would not name a new negotiating team until the ELN releases all hostages. The government has a list of ten individuals who remain in ELN captivity. It is unclear whether all are alive, and the guerrillas have not addressed their cases.
This week the ELN released Mayerly Cortés Rodríguez, a 16-year-old whom guerrillas had kidnapped in Chocó. By holding a minor, government High Commissioner for Peace Miguel Ceballos said, the ELN “broke all the rules.” The ELN’s Chocó-based Western War Front stated that it was holding Cortés not as a hostage, but “to clear up her collaboration with the Marines,” accusing her of providing intelligence to the local unit. The commander of Colombia’s Pacific Naval Force (Marines are part of the Navy) insisted that it does not seek intelligence from minors.
The ELN talks remain stalled. “It’s evident that neither the government nor the ELN wants to be seen as the one slamming the door on the peace process, but neither of the two parties wants to be the one that gives up the most to restart the dialogues,” El Tiempo’s Marisol Gómez observed.
Elsewhere in Chocó, combat between the ELN and Army displaced about 80 indigenous people from the Murindó River reserve.
FARC Dissident Leader “Guacho” is Wounded, Military Says
A military offensive against FARC dissident groups has intensified in Nariño, along what may be Colombia’s busiest cocaine production and trafficking corridor. Last week, troops killed alias “David,” commander of the United Guerrillas of the Pacific dissident group. This week, special forces reported wounding his rival, Walter Arízala alias “Guacho,” commander of the Oliver Sinisterra Front dissident group.
Though born in Ecuador, Guacho rose through the FARC’s ranks in Narino over 15 years, becoming deeply involved in narcotrafficking. He refused to demobilize in 2017, then became one of the two or three most-wanted armed-group leaders in Colombia earlier this year, after he staged attacks on government forces in Nariño and across the border in Ecuador, and then kidnapped and killed two Ecuadorian reporters and their driver. The tragedy of the El Comercio journalists was front-page news in Ecuador for weeks.
On September 15, at a site in the northern part of Tumaco further from the border, a joint unit seeking to capture Guacho was closing in, but was detected by the dissident leader’s innermost security ring. During the resulting firefight, troops shot a fleeing Guacho twice in the back, but his men helped him to escape.
Though Colombian and Ecuadorian troops reportedly did not coordinate, Ecuador’s military and police strengthened security on their side of the border with the aim of preventing Guacho from crossing. There were no new reports about the guerrilla leader’s condition or whereabouts during the rest of the week.
Semana magazine, claiming that Guacho’s influence in Nariño had been declining, reported that the guerrilla leader “is fleeing with the last of his bodyguards, and the search continues.”
Three Mining Company Geologists Killed in Antioquia; Guerrilla Dissidents Blamed
A group of armed men burst into a mining company camp in the predawn hours of September 20 in Yarumal, Antioquia, opening fire and killing Laura Alejandra Flórez Aguirre, Henry Mauricio Martínez Gómez, and Camilo Andrés Tirado Farak. The three were geologists carrying out explorations for Continental Gold Mines, a Canadian company.
No group has claimed responsibility. Colombian authorities told the media that dissident members of the FARC’s 36th Front are very active in Yarumal. Precious-metals mining has been a principal income stream for organized crime groups here and in many parts of the country.
In the nearby municipality of Buriticá, Continental Gold is building what El Espectador calls “the first large-scale subterranean gold mine in Colombia,” which is to begin operation in 2020 and produce an average of 253,000 ounces of gold per year over 14 years.
Accord Implementation Budget Appears Insufficient
Colombia’s Comptroller-General’s Office (Contraloría) sent a new report to Congress on expenditures to implement the FARC peace accord. It concludes that, over the next 15 years, the government will need to come up with about US$25 billion to fulfill the commitments made in the accord. Most of the resources needed would go to the accord’s first chapter on rural development.
The Treasury Ministry has estimated a 15-year cost of accord implementation at 129.5 trillion pesos, or about US$43 billion. The Contraloría sees a need for an additional 76 trillion pesos, which
would represent 0.4% of annual GDP that would be added to the fiscal deficit projected for the coming years. These calculations could increase to up to 1.1% of GDP if we add the additional costs of covering all the municipalities with scattered rural territories as contemplated in the Final Agreement, and the reparation measures in the public policy of attention to victims.
The Contraloría report found that the government spent 6.9 trillion pesos (about US$2.3 billion) in 2017 on activities related to the FARC peace accord.
El Espectador meanwhile notes that Colombia’s defense budget has increased during the post-accord period, growing 8 percent from 2017 to 2018.
FARC Remains on U.S. Terrorist List
The U.S. Department of State released its annual report on international terrorism on September 19. This report includes and updates the Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations. The FARC—recognized as a political party today in Colombia—remains on that list.
“Colombia experienced a continued decrease in terrorist activity in 2017, due in large part to the November 2016 peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC),” the report reads, citing the disarmament, demobilization, and reincorporation process that the ex-guerrillas underwent last year. Still, a footnote in the report explains that the FARC remains on the terrorist list because the party’s ties to increasingly active guerrilla dissident groups are “unclear”:
The FARC remains a Foreign Terrorist Organization under the Immigration and Nationality Act. However, the Colombian government classifies FARC dissidents as criminals. While the ideological motivations of such groups and ongoing connections with demobilized FARC are unclear, we have included acts of violence by FARC dissidents in this report.
Although the UN verification mission and other observers fault both the Colombian government and the FARC for the slow pace of ex-guerrillas’ reintegration programs, the State Department report places all the blame on the FARC. It essentially faults the ex-guerrillas for insisting on collective reintegration, instead of accepting the government’s standard individual reintegration offer:
The Agency for Reincorporation and Normalization (ARN), formerly the Colombian Reintegration Agency (ACR), is the implementing arm of this process. Delays in implementing the program, caused by the refusal of FARC leadership to permit members to actively and effectively participate, increased the prospects that some ex-combatants would return to engaging in criminal activities.
Asked by a reporter why the FARC party remains on the list, State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism Nathan Sales offered no specifics.
I’m not going to be in a position to comment on any internal deliberations that may or may not be taking place. What I can tell you is that the statutory standards for getting on the FTO list or getting off the FTO list are very clear, and it – we apply the standards that Congress has given us consistent with the evidence in front of us, and we do that regardless of the organization or country.
Interviewed by El Tiempo, U.S. Ambassador Kevin Whitaker insisted that Washington would push for the extradition of any wanted FARC members believed to have committed crimes after the peace accord’s December 2016 ratification. “Any effort, by any actor or institution, to limit extradition, affects U.S. interests.”
Whitaker criticized a Constitutional Court finding that appears to give the transitional justice system (JEP) the power to review evidence against those wanted in extradition for alleged post-accord crimes, like FARC negotiator Jesús Santrich. The way extradition works, he said, is that the requesting country evaluates the evidence.
The Ambassador also rejected the idea that wanted individuals should first remain in Colombia to provide victims with truth and reparations. “I don’t accept the mistaken idea that if there is extradition, then there can be no truth. In the case of the paramilitaries extradited a decade ago, we have set up 3,000 hearings, including victims, prosecutors, magistrates, etcetera. There has been every opportunity to clarify the truth. So both can be done.”
President Duque Meets UN Mission Chief
Jean Arnault, the chief of the UN verification mission that just had its mandate extended for another year, met with President Iván Duque. Arnault’s mission is overseeing the reintegration and security of FARC ex-combatants, which have moved forward but faced setbacks and obstacles over the past year.
Appearing publicly with the President, Arnault said, “I encourage you to continue with a difficult process, full of obstacles and still very fragile. We encourage you to continue not only for the sake of Colombia, but also for the sake of the international community.” Duque said that the government remains committed to “the people who have genuinely bet it all on demobilization, disarmament, reintegration and non-repetition, can make a transition to coexistence and a life of legality.”
Arnault said that Duque’s six-week-old government was in the midst of a “useful reflection” about its ex-combatant reincorporation policy. Duque and Arnault agreed that finding productive projects for ex-combatants was a priority. These projects, Duque said, “had to incorporate more than 10,000 people in the process, but today do not exceed 100 people.” The President and the mission chief agreed that future reintegration projects should benefit entire communities, not just the ex-guerrillas.
In response to a written request from FARC party leader Rodrigo Londoño, Duque’s government named its representatives to the Commission of Follow-up, Impulse and Verification (CSIVI), the government-FARC mechanism meant to oversee implementation of the peace accord. They are Emilio José Archila, the High Counselor for the Post-Conflict; High Commissioner for Peace Miguel Ceballos; and Interior Minister Nancy Patricia Gutiérrez.
Meanwhile, one of the highest-profile demobilized guerrilla leaders, Luciano Marín alias Iván Márquez—the guerrillas’ lead negotiator during the Havana peace process—remains missing. FARC leaders insist that Márquez has not abandoned the peace process, that he has “clandestinized” himself out of concern for his security.
Márquez is free to roam the country pending his eventual transitional-justice trial for war crimes. But he now faces calls to clarify his situation.
- The Congressional Peace Committee, which recently traveled to the demobilization site in Caquetá that Márquez abandoned in June or July, published a letter calling on him to “unequivocally reiterate your commitment to this process very soon.”
- During the week of September 9, the transitional-justice system (JEP) called on Márquez and 30 other former FARC commanders to submit a written statement that each remains committed to the process and intends to comply with the peace accord. The JEP demanded a response within ten business days. Márquez’s lawyer may have bought some additional time by submitting an official information request to the JEP about its demand.
- Christina Noriega, “Colombia False Positive Scandal: Families Demand ‘Greater Truth’” (Al Jazzeera, September 21, 2018).
- Daniel Flynn, Nacho Doce, “In Colombia, Victims of Sexual Abuse Speak Out After Peace Deal” (Reuters , September 21, 2018).
- “Documental Muestra la Dificil Relacion de Arauca Con el Eln” (El Espectador (Colombia), September 21, 2018).
- Cecilia Orozco Tascón, “Autor de Falsos Positivos, Invitado de Lafaurie-Cabal” (El Espectador (Colombia), September 20, 2018).
- Pedro Arenas, “La Sustitucion Voluntaria en Briceno Es Posible” (Observatorio de Cultivos y Cultivadores declarados Ílícitos, El Espectador (Colombia), September 19, 2018).
- “Proyecto de Modificacion de Ley de Tierras Ataca la ‘Medula’ de la Restitucion” (Verdad Abierta (Colombia), September 19, 2018).
- Federico Rios Escobar, Nicholas Casey, “Colombia Struck a Peace Deal With Guerrillas, but Many Return to Arms” (The New York Times, September 18, 2018).
- “Guacho y David, las Vidas Paralelas de los Dos Mayores Narcos del Pacifico” (Semana (Colombia), September 18, 2018).
- “El Dosier de David Char Ante la Jep” (Semana (Colombia), September 18, 2018).
- Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), “Estados Unidos Debe Apoyar a Colombia” (EFE, Firmas de EFE, September 18, 2018).
- Beatriz Valdes Correa, “Mineria, Glifosato y Guerra: La Historia Que No Quieren Repetir los Negros de Timbiqui” (El Espectador (Colombia), September 17, 2018).
- Nicolas Sanchez A., “El Desencanto de las Comunidades del Rio San Juan Tras su Retorno” (El Espectador (Colombia), September 17, 2018).
- María Jimena Duzán, “Sin Pudor” (Semana (Colombia), September 17, 2018).
- Cecilia Orozco Tascón, “Presidenta de la Jep: ‘los Vinculados Han Tenido Conducta Intachable’” (El Espectador (Colombia), September 17, 2018).
- “Mindefensa y Lideres Sociales: De Lios de Faldas a ‘Subvenciones’ de Narcos” (Verdad Abierta (Colombia), September 17, 2018).
Transitional Justice System Suspends Santrich Extradition
The case of FARC leader Seusis Pausias Hernández alias Jesús Santrich, arrested on April 9 with the possibility of extradition to the United States for narcotrafficking, grew more complicated this week. The Review Chamber of the new Special Peace Jurisdiction (JEP, the transitional justice system set up by the peace accord) ordered his extradition suspended. Other entities within Colombia’s government contended that the Chamber doesn’t have the right to do that.
Santrich, a hardliner who represented the FARC at the negotiating table during the entire Havana process, is currently confined at a Bogotá facility run by the Catholic Church’s Episcopal Conference. His health is precarious, as he has been on a hunger strike since his arrest. Santrich is charged by a grand jury in the Southern District of New York with conspiring to send 10 tons of cocaine to the United States.
As he allegedly committed the crime after the peace accord went into effect, Santrich’s case could go to Colombia’s regular justice system, where he would face long prison terms or extradition. First, though, the JEP must determine that the crime did indeed take place after the peace accord’s December 1, 2016 ratification.
That is the task of the JEP’s Review Chamber, which must fulfill it within 120 days. This chamber contended, by a unanimous vote, that fulfilling its duty required a temporary suspension of Santrich’s extradition. The Chamber asked for more evidence of the allegations against the FARC leader, and instructed the “regular” justice system’s Prosecutor-General’s office (Fiscalía) to provide, within five days, information about the extradition process.
Prosecutor-General Néstor Humberto Martínez responded with a strongly worded 16-page letter alleging that the JEP has no authority to freeze an extradition process, adding that the newly formed body’s action “has left democratic institutionally threatened.” And in fact, the director of another body of the JEP, its Investigations and Accusations Unit, tweeted “I separate myself from the extradition suspension decision.”
The Colombian government’s Justice and Interior Ministries responded with a communiqué arguing that the JEP could not suspend Santrich’s extradition because the United States had not formally requested it yet. Colombian law gives countries requesting a citizen’s extradition 60 days to issue a formal request after that citizen has been detained. That would give the U.S. government until June 8 to issue the request. It has not done so, perhaps out of a desire not to appear to be influencing the May 27 presidential election campaign.
The JEP Chamber, however, stated that in its view, “the extradition process has already begun, because a detention for extradition purposes has been requested.”
There is no sense of when the Chamber may issue its determination of when Santrich committed a crime, or whether the Chamber may seek to determine whether there is even enough evidence that a crime took place. “Still, the political effect of the decision is immediate,” wrote Juanita León, director of La Silla Vacía.
Above all when the JEP issues it a few days before elections in which the candidate with the best chances of making it to a second round and reaching the Presidency [Iván Duque of the right-wing Centro Democrático party] proposes to make “adjustments” to the JEP that, in practice, would do away with it.
Debate over whether to extradite Santrich continues. Rodrigo Uprimny, founder of the judicial think-tank DeJusticia, believes Santrich should be tried in Colombia so that he may answer to his victims. An analysis in Semana magazine worries about the effect on ex-guerrillas’ desertion:
In the end, the consequences won’t be those of an ideal transition to peace or a return to the open war of the last decades. The scenario in play is intermediate, and has to do instead with the size of the dissidences that may return to the jungle. In other words, if Santrich’s possible extradition creates uncertainty among guerrillas that increases the number of dissidents, it may be best to allow him to serve his sentence inside the country.
An El Tiempo editorial contends that “rules are rules,” despite Santrich’s victims’ right to learn the truth from him.
It could be proposed that, without leaving aside at any moment the importance of the truth, the precept must come first that whoever doesn’t comply with the agreed rules must pay for it.
This, the editorial clarifies, only applies if the evidence against Santrich “leaves no doubt about his criminal conduct.” If so, “there would be no reason to insist that this [his extradition] poses an insurmountable obstacle to the implementation of what was agreed in Havana.”
Government Will Miss Its Coca Substitution Target
The Colombian government recognized on May 15 that it will not meet its target, set for this month, of 50,000 hectares of coca eradicated by growers voluntarily destroying their crops in exchange for economic assistance. That was the one-year goal the Presidency had set for its implementation of chapter 4 of the Havana peace accord, which establishes a national crop substitution program.
In fact, the program fell significantly short. Eduardo Díaz, the director of the crop substitution program, announced that families participating in the program had eradicated 36,000 hectares, of which 11,700 have actually been verified by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The U.S. government measured 188,000 hectares in Colombia in 2016, and media have reported that the U.S. estimate for 2017 could be as high as 230,000. (UNODC’s 2016 estimate was 146,000, and media reports point to 180,000 in 2017.) The government forcibly eradicated 53,000 hectares in 2017.
Díaz blamed security conditions for the shortfall. He told CNN en Español, “In different zones where there are crops, narcotraffickers’ networks have advanced, have killed communities, have killed leaders, have threatened government officials and UN officials.”
Independent analysts place more blame on the slow performance of the Colombian bureaucracy. The idea of the government’s National Comprehensive Illicit Crop Substitution Program (PNIS, the main focus of the accord’s chapter 4) was to provide small-scale coca-growing households with two years’ worth of payments and help with productive projects in exchange for eradicating their coca. The economic benefits for each household would total about US$12,000 over two years. This week, the Ideas for Peace Foundation released a detailed report and dataset (Excel file) laying out the progress of the PNIS program as of March 31. In sum:
- 123,225 families had signed collective framework community accords agreeing in principle to substitute crops.
- 62,181 families (50.4 percent of above) had signed specific accords committing to a timetable of voluntary eradication and receipt of benefits.
- 32,010 families (51.4 percent of above) had received at least one monthly payment.
- 7,009 families (11 percent of the 62,181) had received any technical assistance to pursue an alternative productive project.
- UNODC had found (in 2106) 22,025 hectares of coca in the municipalities (counties) where families had begun receiving payments.
- UNODC had verified and certified the eradication of 6,381 hectares of coca (28.9 percent of above). (This is far fewer than the 11.700 hectare figure that the government substitution program’s Eduardo Díaz had given CNN.)
The report concludes,
The greatest advances of PNIS are found in the signing up of campesinos and the disbursement of payments, while it is falling most behind in technical assistance and in the supply of goods and services. Under those conditions, three months before the end of President Santos’s government, it will be difficult for the program to meet the goal of 50,000 voluntarily eradicated hectares.
The Ideas for Peace report notes that while homicides across Colombia have increased by a troubling 8 percent over this time last year, they are up by a very alarming 57 percent in the municipalities with crop substitution programs.
The Verdad Abierta website visited Briceño, Antioquia, where the PNIS began as a pilot project in 2015. In the coming weeks, the national government is to announce that the municipality’s residents will have eradicated all of their coca, about 567 hectares.
However, Briceño’s farmers told the site that “the campesinos complied, but the government has not.” While monthly payments have come on time, assistance for productive projects has hardly begun. “They did give us the payments, but in the agreement it said that as the payments arrived, then the productive projects to implement them would also arrive, so that we wouldn’t end up the way we are now: with our arms crossed and worried because the money has run out,” said a Community Action Board president.
“The state has a great responsibility with respect to the families who expressed their will to abandon the coca crops and who took part in the substitution process,” the Ideas for Peace report reads. “In the zones where the PNIS began to be developed, the link between populations and the state has been re-established. However, the lack of compliance with what was agreed not only has implications for institutions’ trust and credibility, it generates a risk of re-planting and a possible increase in hectares of coca.”
ELN to Cease Fire During Presidential Voting
The ELN announced that it will cease military activities for five days, from May 25-29, “to contribute to favorable conditions that might permit Colombian society to express itself in the elections” that will take place on May 27.
This raised hopes for a more permanent bilateral cessation of hostilities between government and guerrillas. However, the ELN’s chief negotiator in Havana, Pablo Beltrán, intimated that the group would be unlikely to agree to a ceasefire as long as social leaders continue to be killed at a rapid pace around the country: “We are fully disposed to do a cessation, but what about all the others? It’s not just a call on the military forces, but on paramilitarism, on all these attacks that different popular sectors are receiving.”
Asked about President Juan Manuel Santos’s hope that the ELN talks will leave behind a framework agreement—which, for the next president, would increase the cost of pulling the plug on the talks—Beltrán said that the ELN wants “to leave the accords at such a point of consolidation that any incoming government would have to respect them.” Any advancement, Beltrán added, would have to include more civil society participation; he did not specify what that might look like.
Timoleón Jiménez to Uribe: Let’s Go To the Truth Commission Together
Maximum FARC leader Timoleón Jiménez alias Timochenko published a lengthy communiqué about the status of the peace process on the eve of Colombia’s presidential election. “The peace accord is shielded,” it reads.
That’s what the Constitutional Court understood when it upheld Legislative Act 02 of 2017. The UN Security Council recognizes it. The community of nations accepts it and applauds it. We’re not going to force absolutely anything, the issue is simply to honor what was agreed when the Colombian state and our former insurgency gave our word. The beautiful dream of peace could be an irreversible reality if you [President Santos] decide to act.
Timochenko’s tone contrasts with that of the FARC’s de facto number-two leader, Iván Márquez, who said that if his close collaborator Jesús Santrich dies of a hunger strike while awaiting a possible extradition, his death “would also be the death of the peace process.”
In his statement, Timochenko asked forgiveness of Ingrid Betancourt, Clara Rojas, Sigifredo López, and other civilians whom the FARC held hostage for years. He called on former President Álvaro Uribe to join him in appearing together before the newly established Truth Commission to show the country “what the search for truth and the clarification of the truth look like.” Uribe led an intense military offensive against the FARC during his 2002-2010 presidency, and enjoyed the political support of many backers of right-wing paramilitary groups.
The presidential candidate of Uribe’s party, poll frontrunner Iván Duque, rejected the FARC leader’s invitation. “He can’t come here like a shameless person trying to appear as the equal of a good citizen. Instead, they should give reparations to their victims, tell all the truth, and pay their penalties.”
Military Operations Against FARC Dissidents
A joint Colombian Army-Air Force-Police operation killed 11 members of the FARC’s 7th Front dissident group in Putumayo. Among the dead was a commander named alias “Cachorro,” reportedly a close collaborator of Edgar Salgado, alias “Rodrigo Cadete,” who commanded the FARC’s 27th Front and abruptly abandoned the demobilization process last September. The 7th Front dissidents are a recent presence in Putumayo; they have been most active in Meta and Caquetá.
In Bello, just north of Medellín in Antioquia, an operation carried out by the Army and the Fiscalía captured Henry Arturo Gil Ramírez alias “el Feo” (the Ugly One), a top commander of the 36th Front dissident group.
- “Editorial: Verdades Pendientes” (El Espectador (Colombia), May 17, 2018).
- Kieran Duffy, “In Colombia, the Center Isn’t Holding” (Jacobin, May 16, 2018).
- Anastasia Moloney, “New Colombia Truth Commission to Focus on Society’s ‘Most Fragile’” (Reuters , May 16, 2018).
- Johanna Alvarez Quintero, “‘El Asesinato de Quienes Mas Contribuyen a la Paz Es una Verguenza’: Onu” (Semana (Colombia), May 16, 2018).
- Richard Emblin, “Elections 2018: Colombia Decides Its Future” (The City Paper Bogotá (Colombia), May 16, 2018).
- Beatriz Valdes Correa, “Veinte Anos de Verdades Negadas en Barrancabermeja” (El Espectador (Colombia), May 16, 2018).
- Gloria Castrillon, Nohelia Leal, “Empresarios Capacitan a Excombatientes para Afianzar una Salida de Paz” (El Espectador (Colombia), May 15, 2018).
- Olga Patricia Rendon M., “Colombia, ¿el Vecino Incomodo?” (El Colombiano (Medellin Colombia), May 14, 2018).
- María Jimena Duzán, “Un Tunel Sin Salida” (Semana (Colombia), May 14, 2018).
- Cecilia Orozco Tascón, “‘No Vamos a Dar Marcha Atras’: Rodrigo Londono” (El Espectador (Colombia), May 14, 2018).
- Catalina Lobo-Guerrero, “Colombia Sigue Atrapada en la Mentalidad Guerrera” (The New York Times, May 14, 2018).
- Juan Manuel Florez Arias, “‘Es Imposible Construir una Nacion Solo Entre Buenos’: De Roux” (El Tiempo (Colombia), May 14, 2018).
Ex líder guerrillero, y congresista electo, en huelga de hambre en la cárcel
Por Anthont Dest, Candidato para PhD, University of Texas en Austin
El lunes por la noche, agentes del Cuerpo Técnico de Investigación (CTI) de la Fiscalía General de la Nación arrestaron a Seuxis Hernández Solarte en su casa en Bogotá. Mejor conocido como Jesús Santrich, quien es congresista elegido del partido político de las FARC, jugó un papel central en las negociaciones entre el gobierno colombiano y las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC). A propósito de su arresto, Santrich inició su segunda huelga de hambre del ultimo año: su primera huelga de hambre duró veinticinco días por el continuo encarcelamiento de presos políticos de las FARC después de la firma de los Acuerdos de Paz.
Según la circular roja de la INTERPOL al que se hizo referencia en su arresto, el Tribunal de Distrito Sur de Nueva York acusó a Santrich y otros tres integrantes de las FARC de conspirar para importar diez toneladas métricas de cocaína a los Estados Unidos, el consumidor de cocaína más grande del mundo. Alega que entre el 1 de junio de 2017 y el 4 de abril de 2018, Santrich y sus cómplices “acordaron proporcionar 10,000 kilogramos de cocaína y los compradores acordaron proporcionar $15 millones de dólares para la compra de esa cocaína, que los compradores entregarían a uno de los asociados de los conspiradores en Miami, Florida.” Estas acusaciones son serias y podrían resultar en su extradición si fueran aprobadas por el sistema judicial colombiano.
Durante una conferencia de prensa el 10 de abril, el líder de las FARC, Iván Márquez, criticó el arresto de Santrich, quien es ciego y está bajo una fuerte vigilancia desde la firma del Acuerdo de Paz del 2016, como “otro sistema corrupto del sistema judicial estadounidense”. Según la declaración oficial de las FARC: “Con la captura de nuestro camarada Jesús Santrich el proceso de paz se encuentra en su punto más crítico y amenaza ser un verdadero fracaso”.
El arresto y posible extradición de Santrich representa un fuerte golpe para el ya tambaleante proceso de paz de Colombia con las FARC. Después de más de medio siglo de conflicto armado interno, el grupo guerrillero clandestino más antiguo de América Latina conservó su sigla y se convirtió en un partido político, la Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Común. Los Acuerdos de Paz representan un logro importante que, de ser implementado, abordaría algunas de las causas fundamentales del conflicto colombiano.
Sin embargo, el gobierno colombiano ha tardado en pasar del papel a la práctica. Las reformas que prometen titulación de tierra para el campesinado y programas de desarrollo alternativo para la sustitución de cultivos de uso ilícito apenas están iniciando. En lugar del apoyo del gobierno, muchos cultivadores de coca enfrentan el cañón de un fusil o los humos tóxicos de los pesticidas utilizados en la erradicación forzosa de cultivos de uso ilícito, como lo demuestra el asesinato de siete manifestantes por la Policía Antinarcóticos en octubre de 2017. Después de gastar más de $ 10 mil millones en su mayoría ayuda militar y policial a través del Plan Colombia, el gobierno de los EE. UU. se niega a apoyar cualquier programa de construcción de paz que incluya a las FARC, que permanece en la lista de organizaciones terroristas del Departamento de Estado.
Ahora, con tasas de reincidencia de más del 10% entre los ex guerrilleros de las FARC, el compromiso faltante del gobierno para reintegrar de manera efectiva y segura a los excombatientes augura una nueva etapa de violencia. La amenaza de extradición solo amplifica la desconfianza de los ex guerrilleros hacia el gobierno. El ELN, el segundo grupo guerrillero más grande de Colombia que actualmente negocia con el gobierno en Ecuador, se dio cuenta. El martes por la mañana, publicó una pronunciamiento sobre el arresto de Santrich titulado: “Estados Unidos ataca los acuerdos de paz”.
A lo largo de las negociaciones, el tema de la extradición representó una línea roja para las FARC: los guerrilleros no estaban dispuestos a entregar sus armas solo para pasar condenas en una prisión de los EE. UU. Es importante recordar que las FARC mantuvieron una ficha (¿?) de alias Simón Trinidad, líder de las FARC quien actualmente cumple una condena de 60 años en los Estados Unidos, y lo incluyeron en la lista de negociadores mientras que exigieron su libertad sin éxito. Actualmente, unos 60 miembros de las FARC son buscados por el sistema judicial de los EE. UU. La Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz (JEP) establecida por los Acuerdos de Paz alivió ostensiblemente las preocupaciones de las FARC acerca de la extradición por medio de garantizar la inmunidad para los crímenes cometidos antes de los Acuerdos (excluyendo los crímenes de lesa humanidad). Pero los cargos contra Santrich violan las estipulaciones de inmunidad porque ocurrieron después de la firma de los Acuerdos. Si se le encuentra culpable de los cargos, no tendrá inmunidad de enjuiciamiento, ya que los hechos ocurrieron después de la firma de los acuerdos. Ahora, el caso de Santrich servirá como la primera prueba importante de la JEP, ya que determina el procedimiento para el enjuiciamiento. Como una de las voces más radicales de las FARC, el arresto de Santrich despierta preocupaciones sobre el posible uso de medidas judiciales para silenciar a la oposición política luego de los Acuerdos de Paz.
La decisión de dar prioridad a la extradición por parte del Departamento de Justicia de EE. UU. Jeff Sessions y Donald Trump justo antes de la Cumbre de las Américas no debería ser una sorpresa, especialmente si se considera su apoyo vigoroso para perseguir sentencias máximas por delitos relacionados con las drogas. Esto incluye sentencias de muerte sancionadas por el estado y el apoyo a la guerra asesina contra las drogas del presidente filipino, Rodrigo Duterte. Sin embargo, al buscar la extradición de Santrich y otros miembros de las FARC, las autoridades estadounidenses y colombianas corren el riesgo de perder el apoyo de las FARC en este momento crucial para construir la paz en Colombia y volver a caer en un círculo vicioso de violencia.
(Week of April 8-14)
FARC Leader Jesús Santrich Arrested, May Be Extradited
On the evening of April 9, police arrested demobilized FARC leader Seuxis Pausivas Hernández, alias “Jesús Santrich,” at his home near the Bogotá airport. The arrest complies with an Interpol Red Notice, issued days after the U.S. Department of Justice’s Southern District of New York convinced a grand jury to indict Santrich for conspiring to send cocaine to the United States. The guerrilla leader is now being held in the concrete-walled Bogotá headquarters (often called the “bunker”) of Colombia’s prosecutor-general’s office (Fiscalía).
An ideologist more than a fighter—he nearly always wears sunglasses due to poor eyesight—the 50-year-old Santrich was a fixture during all four years of peace talks in Havana, often delivering the FARC’s declarations to reporters after negotiating sessions. “Santrich was, by far, the most radical, intelligent and intransigent of the plenipotentiary negotiators,” Juanita León of La Silla Vacía wrote after his arrest. “In addition to a close friendship with [chief FARC negotiator] Iván Márquez, Santrich has much leadership among the guerrilla base, because he defended several points that were important to them.” In mid-2017, Santrich went on a lengthy hunger strike to pressure the government to speed its promised releases of amnestied guerrilla prisoners.
The U.S. prosectors’ indictment of Santrich, dated April 4, accuses the guerrilla leader of agreeing to export ten tons of cocaine to the United States in exchange for US$15 million. It states that the events in question took place starting in June 2017. The Havana peace accord protects FARC members from extradition to the United States for crimes committed before the accord’s December 2016 ratification. The accusations against Santrich, however, fall outside of that timeframe, making his extradition to the United States a distinct near-term possibility.
As a result, León contends, his arrest “is the greatest challenge to the peace process since Congress accepted the re-negotiated accord” after voters rejected the first version in an October 2016 plebiscite.
Over the course of the week, Colombian prosecutors made public some of the evidence against Santrich. “Very few cases have so much probatory accreditation [evidence] as this one,” Chief Prosecutor (Fiscal General) Néstor Humberto Martínez said. The story is as follows:
Mid-2017: members of the Fiscalía’s Technical Investigations Corps (CTI) investigating possible irregularities in healthcare contracts for demobilized guerrillas begin to focus on an associate of Santrich’s, Marlon Marín, a 39-year-old lawyer who is Iván Márquez’s nephew.
Telephone intercepts detect periodic references to a group calling itself “The Family.” It apparently includes Marín; Fabio Simón Younes, director of a Florida-based company listed as “inactive”; and Armando Gómez, a businessman and the father of a Colombian beauty queen. The intercepts include conversations with Mexicans about a possible drug trafficking operation. A Fiscalía investigator shares with Chief Prosecutor Martínez his suspicion that the Mexicans may be DEA agents. Martínez checks with U.S. embassy contacts, who confirm that they are. (Or they may be genuine Mexican traffickers with a DEA mole in their midst—it’s not clear.)
August 14, 2017: In a phone conversation Gómez, the businessman, mentions “five televisions that the buyers are interested in testing out,” an apparent reference to five kilograms of cocaine whose quality the Mexicans insist on evaluating before moving ahead with any deal. He says that the sample is for “Marco,” one of the Mexicans, who are apparently Sinaloa cartel representatives.
October 2017: The phone calls intensify. Before sealing the deal, the Mexicans tell Marín that they wish to meet with someone of higher rank within his organization. That is when Santrich’s name comes up in the conversations. Marín begins trying to convince Santrich to meet with the would-be Mexican purchasers.
October 18, 2017: Marín is recorded trying to convince Santrich’s assistant to get Santrich to meet with the Mexicans. Marín says he just needs “the blind man” to “simply say to them, everything’s cool, everything’s good, it’s all up to me, we’re good to go.” Sometime after that, Santrich agrees to meet with the Mexicans on the condition that Marín be present.
Late October 2017: Fulfilling the Mexicans’ precondition for holding a high-level meeting, Gómez meets with the Mexicans at a Bogotá hotel and hands them the five kilograms of cocaine (the “televisions”). The Mexicans later agree that the cocaine is of good quality.
Early November 2017: Santrich hosts the Mexicans at a pre-dawn meeting at his house. The Mexicans say they are in the employ of Rafael Caro Quintero, a top figure in the Sinaloa cartel who was released from prison on a technicality in August 2013, early in President Enrique Peña Nieto’s term. Caro had been given a 40-year term for the 1985 torture and murder of DEA agent Enrique Camarena; he remains an archenemy of the U.S. agency. His release after 28 years angered the U.S. government, distancing U.S.-Mexican relations. Upon gaining his freedom, Caro instantly disappeared.
One of the Mexican group takes an incriminatory photo with a camera apparently hidden in his clothing. The photo shows Santrich seated at the head of a table alongside Marín.
In the meeting, Marín tells the Mexicans that “The Family” has control of several cocaine laboratories. They agree to send seven tons in March, and the remaining three later.
The Mexicans ask that the purchase take place on U.S. soil (though it apparently ends up happening in Barranquilla). They give Santrich what they call a “token” to prove the identity of the FARC’s contact when the transaction takes place: a photocopy of a U.S. dollar bill that will be in the cocaine buyer’s possession. Sometime later, the DEA seizes the token in Florida during an apparent operation against “The Family.” U.S. prosecutors now have it in their custody, as evidence.
Santrich gives the Mexican visitors an ink drawing (he is a prolific artist). He inscribes it, “For don Rafa Caro, with esteem and hope for peace. Santrich.” It, too, is now in U.S. prosecutors’ possession.
Sometime afterward, Younes, the “Family” member, begins making connections in Miami for aircraft.
February 2018: “The Family” tells the Mexicans that they are having difficulty obtaining the cocaine because of recent “bombings.” Colombian investigators note that during this time period, Colombia’s army bombed some guerrilla dissident group encampments in southern Colombia. The Fiscalía believes that the cocaine suppliers are in Cauca and Nariño departments in southwestern Colombia, a zone with a significant presence of un-demobilized or recidivist FARC members.
Probably March 2018: Santrich gets a call from someone named “Fabio,” who warns him that there is a plan afoot to arrest and extradite him. Fabio says that “a man in the Police” told him. “We got sold out,” Prosecutor-General Martínez reportedly says. Sometime afterward, U.S. prosecutors decide to go ahead and indict Santrich based on existing evidence. This happens on April 4, and Santrich is arrested on April 9.
The arrest set off alarms within the FARC, for whom non-extradition for crimes committed before the accord was a non-negotiable point during the Havana talks. In at least some of the “Territorial Training and Reconciliation Spaces” (ETCR), the sites where much of the ex-guerrillas remain congregated and protected by the security forces, “they were glued to the television and the situation was very tense,” La Silla Vacía reported. “‘There’s a lot of anxiety, they’re basically afraid that now they can grab anybody,’ a source in one of the spaces told us. One of the FARC’s leaders in the south told us: ‘if this is breakfast, what will dinner be like.’” Protests continued at the remote sites all week.
Iván Márquez, the FARC’s former chief negotiator and the uncle of co-conspirator Marín, told reporters that the arrest of his friend (and fellow hardliner) Santrich was “the worst moment in the peace process.” He called the case a setup arranged by the Fiscalía and the United States that will sow distrust throughout the guerrilla ranks, hinting that many might be tempted to re-arm. “With Jesús Santrich’s arrest, the process is threatening to be a real failure,” reads a FARC statement. “The coincidence with Saturday’s visit of Donald Trump draws my attention,” said FARC legal advisor, Spanish lawyer Enrique Santiago. (Trump was to stop in Colombia after the April 13-14 Summit of the Americas in Peru. Later in the week, he canceled his entire trip.)
FARC leaders demanded to meet with President Juan Manuel Santos, and a delegation led by the party’s maximum leader, Rodrigo Londoño alias Timochenko, did so on April 11. All agreed that Santrich’s due process rights would be fully respected. They also agreed to establish (yet another) commission to speed implementation of the government’s peace accord commitments, many of which are lagging badly.
“I won’t extradite anyone for crimes committed before the accord’s signing and in relation to the conflict,” Santos said in a carefully worded statement. “Having said that, if after receiving due process and with irrefutable proof there are grounds for extradition for crimes committed after the accord’s signing, I will not hesitate to authorize it, based on the Supreme Court’s finding.”
In an April 11 statement, Timochenko said that the FARC remains committed to the peace accord. “Colombia’s peace isn’t conditioned on the problems, or the people, who form part of the organization,” he said, appealing for unity among the ex-combatants. That same day, though, an angry Iván Márquez told reporters, “One mustn’t lie like in this case, just to obstruct the progress of peace. Santrich told me: ‘the second one will be you [Márquez].’”
While this timetable of publicly available evidence points to Santrich’s guilt, it also shows him to be a reluctant conspirator, pulled into a meeting at the repeated insistence of Marín, who seems to handle all of the details. The right thing for Santrich to do, of course, would have been to report Marín, his friend’s nephew, to the police—not a natural instinct for a lifelong insurgent. Instead, he fell into the sort of trap that other guerrilla leaders are doubtless aware could easily ensnare them.
What happens next will be a big test of the peace process. It could bolster support in public opinion, taking away critics’ argument that the peace accord grants the FARC too much impunity. However, it also feeds into the narrative, common among right-wing critics, that the FARC are still up to their old ways. On the other side, any perception that Santrich’s due process is being denied, and that he is being extradited in haste, may send dozens or hundreds of ex-guerrillas back into the jungle for fear of sharing his fate.
The next steps will also test the new judicial institutions being set up to implement the accords. Santrich’s case must begin in the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), whose Review Chamber will have to take the step of finding that the evidence points to crimes committed after the accord’s signing. The JEP would then have to turn the case over to Colombia’s regular criminal justice system, where Santrich could be subject to longer prison sentences for war crimes, or to extradition.
The JEP, which is to try cases of war crimes and other aspects of ex-guerrillas’ legal status like narcotrafficking charges, has barely begun to function. The Constitutional Court hasn’t yet finished reviewing its enabling law, passed at the end of November, and the law to govern its day-to-day functioning hasn’t yet been introduced in Congress.
Since the JEP is supposed to get the first “bite at the apple” in cases like these, there is some debate in Bogotá about whether it was correct for the Fiscalía—Colombia’s regular justice system—to have been the agency to arrest him. Opponents say that the Fiscalía may have violated procedure and given Santrich’s lawyers a technicality that they might try to use to get the case dropped. Proponents, though, say there was too great a risk that Santrich would flee once he heard about the indictment in New York.
It;s not clear when the JEP will make its determination about whether Santrich committed an extraditable offense after the accords’ signing, a momentous decision essentially kicking a top guerrilla negotiator out of the peace process. Meanwhile, though, the United States must issue a formal extradition request within 60 days, which must then go to Supreme Court review and finally to the President for signature.
In the meantime, Santrich is in a cell in the Fiscalía’s “bunker,” where he has been on another hunger strike, refusing food since his arrest.
He was to occupy one of the five House of Representatives seats that the peace accord granted the FARC for the 2018-2022 legislative session that starts in July. Colombian law states that when a member of Congress runs afoul of justice, his or her seat must remain empty for the remainder of the legislative session. It is not yet clear whether Santrich’s absence, then, reduces the FARC’s House delegation to four seats. The current president of the chamber, Rodrigo Lara, said there should be no “empty seat,” that the FARC could replace Santrich because he hadn’t been sworn in yet. (Lara, incidentally, is no peace proponent: during the last legislative session he helped to delay or water down much legislation to implement the accords.)
Urabeños Attack Kills 8 Police
An attack with explosives killed eight Colombian police and wounded two more on the morning of April 11 in the rural zone of San José de Urabá, Antioquia, in northwestern Colombia. The zone is a stronghold of the Urabeños, Colombia’s largest organized crime/paramilitary organization (also known as the Gulf Clan, the Usuga Clan, and the Gaitanistas). Authorities blame local Urabeños leader alias “Chiquito Malo” (“Bad Little Boy”) for the attack.
The explosive destroyed a vehicle carrying police who were accompanying a visit from the government’s Land Restitution Unit. Urabá is one of the most challenging territories in Colombia for land restitution: there, paramilitaries and local landowners massively displaced communities of small farmers in the 1990s and early 2000s, and are resisting efforts to return landholdings to their rightful owners.
Kidnapped Ecuadorian Reporters Believed Dead
An apparent communiqué from a FARC dissident organization stated that the group has killed two Ecuadorian journalists and their driver. The “Oliver Sinisterra Front,” active in Nariño, near the Ecuador border, had kidnapped the three men on March 26. Its statement reads that the governments of Ecuador and Colombia “didn’t want to save the lives fo the three retained people and chose the military route, making landings in several points where the retained people were located, which produced their death.”
Upon hearing that Javier Ortega and Paul Rivas Bravo of Quito’s daily El Comercio were likely dead, along with their driver Efraín Segarra, Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno left the Summit of the Americas meetings in Lima, Peru. At week’s end, he gave the dissident group, led by former FARC member Wálter Arizara alias “Guacho,” 12 hours to produce proof that the hostages were still alive.
Earlier, President Moreno had lamented that Colombia’s persistent conflict was reaching into Ecuador. He blamed his predecessor, Rafael Correa (in whose government he was vice president, but who is now his political enemy) for allowing problems to fester at the border. “Of course, we lived in peace, but we lived in a peace in which drugs were allowed to transit through our territory.” Ecuador’s border regions have long been an important transshipment point for cocaine, and Colombian armed groups have freely crossed for decades. Security analysts often refer to an informal arrangement in the border zone, in which Ecuadorian forces would not confront Colombian armed groups as long as they abstained from inciting violence or harming Ecuadorian citizens. If such an agreement exists, Guacho’s group has violated it several times this year with attacks on Ecuadorian security forces.
ELN-EPL Violence Continues in Catatumbo
Fighting between the ELN and a smaller, local guerrilla group, the Popular Liberation Army (EPL, which the government often calls “Los Pelusos”) continues to generate a humanitarian crisis in Catatumbo, a barely governed agricultural region in Norte de Santander department, near the Venezuelan border, that includes one of the country’s largest concentrations of coca. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has documented the displacement of about 1,350 people in the region in the month since a longtime arrangement between the ELN and the EPL broke down.
Both groups have been active in Catatumbo for decades. The EPL, with perhaps 200-300 members, can trace its lineage back to a remnant that refused to demobilize when a Maoist insurgency with the same name negotiated a peace agreement in the late 1980s. The EPL lost its longtime leader (alias “Megateo”) to a military attack in late 2015, and a year later the FARC—also present in Catatumbo—pulled out and demobilized in compliance with the peace accord. This opened up lucrative spaces for cocaine smuggling and other organized crime activity.
These changes upended the cordial ELN-EPL relationship, and fighting broke out between the two groups in mid-March. As both have deep roots in Catatumbo communities, the region’s population is caught in the crossfire; schools have suspended classes and many businesses are shuttered.
- “Las Criticas Aristas del Proceso de Paz, Mas Alla de la Detencion de ‘Jesus Santrich’” (Verdad Abierta (Colombia), April 12, 2018).
- “El Espaldarazo de los Militares a la Comision de la Verdad” (El Espectador (Colombia), April 11, 2018).
- Andres Cajiao, Daniel Pardo Calderon, Eduardo Alvarez Vanegas, “Las Disidencias de las Farc: Un Problema en Auge” (Fundacion Ideas por la Paz (Colombia), April 10, 2018).
- “El Accidentado Despegue de la Reforma Rural Pactada Con las Farc” (Verdad Abierta (Colombia), April 9, 2018).
- “El Futuro de los Acuerdos de Paz Segun los Candidatos Presidenciales” (El Espectador (Colombia), April 9, 2018).
Former Guerrilla Leader Turned Congressman on Hunger Strike in Jail
By Anthony Dest, PhD Candidate, University of Texas at at Austin
On Monday evening, federal agents arrested Seuxis Hernández Solarte at his home in Bogota. Better known by his nom de guerre Jesús Santrich, the recently elected congressional representative of the FARC’s political party played a central role in the negotiations between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). In protest of his arrest, Santrich engaged in his second hunger strike of the last year—the first twenty-five day hunger strike responded to the continued incarceration of FARC political prisoners after the signing of the Peace Accords.
According to the INTERPOL Red Notice referenced in his arrest, the Southern District Court of New York indicted Santrich and three other FARC members for conspiring to import ten metric tons of cocaine into the United States, the world’s largest consumer of cocaine. It alleges that between June 1, 2017 and April 4, 2018, Santrich and his accomplices “agreed to provide 10,000 kilograms of cocaine and the buyers agreed to provide $15 million USD toward the purchase of that cocaine, which the buyers would deliver to one of the co-conspirators’ associates in Miami, Florida.” These charges are serious and could result in his extradition if approved by the Colombian judicial system.
During a press conference on Tuesday morning, FARC leader Ivan Marquez criticized the arrest of Santrich – who is blind and under heavy surveillance since the signing of the 2016 Peace Accord – as “another set up by the crooked U.S. judicial system.” According to the FARC’s official statement, “With the capture of our comrade Jesus Santrich, the peace process is at its most critical moment and is on the verge of becoming a true failure.”
The arrest and possible extradition of Santrich deals a strong blow to Colombia’s already shaky peace process with the FARC. After more than half a century of internal armed conflict, Latin America’s oldest clandestine guerrilla group kept its initials and converted into an aboveground political party, the Revolutionary Alternative Force of the Commons. The Peace Accords represent a major accomplishment that, if implemented, would address some of the root causes of the Colombian conflict.
However, the Colombian government has been slow to move from paper to practice. The reforms promising to provide the rural poor with land titles and alternative development programs to substitute illicit crops are barely off the ground. Instead of support from the government, many coca growers confront the barrel of a gun or the toxic fumes of pesticides used in the forced eradication illicit crops, as evidenced by the police killing of seven protestors in October 2017. After spending more than $10 billion in mostly military and police aid through Plan Colombia, the U.S. government refuses to support any peacebuilding programs that include the FARC, which remains on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations.
Now, with recidivism rates upwards of 10% among former FARC guerrillas, the government’s lackadaisical commitment to effectively and safely reintegrating disarmed combatants portends a new stage of violence. The threat of extradition only amplifies the ex-guerrillas’ distrust of the government. The ELN, Colombia’s second largest guerrilla group currently negotiating with the government in Ecuador, took note. On Tuesday morning, they published a statement on Santrich’s arrest entitled: “The United States Attacks the Peace Accords.”
Throughout the negotiations, the issue of extradition represented a red line for the FARC—guerrillas were not willing to trade in their arms only to do hard time in a U.S. prison. As a reminder, the FARC kept a cut out of alias Simon Trinidad, a FARC leader currently serving a 60-year sentence in the United States, and included him in the list of negotiators, as they unsuccessfully demanded his freedom. Currently, about 60 members of the FARC are wanted by the U.S. judicial system. The Special Peace Jurisdiction (JEP) established by the Peace Accords ostensibly alleviated the FARC’s concerns about extradition by ensuring immunity for crimes committed prior to the Accords (excluding crimes against humanity). But the charges against Santrich violate the stipulations for immunity because they occurred after the signing of the Accords. If found guilty of the charges, he would not have immunity from prosecution, since the events happened after the signing of the accords. Now, Santrich’s case will serve as the first major test of the JEP, as it determines the procedure for prosecution. As one of the most radically defiant voices in the FARC, Santrich’s arrest raises concerns about the potential use of judicial measures to silence political opposition in the aftermath of the Peace Accords.
The move to prioritize extradition by the U.S. Department of Justice under Sessions and Trump right before the Summit of the Americas should not come as a surprise, especially considering their vigorous support for pursuing maximum sentencing for drug-related crimes. This includes state-sanctioned death sentences and support for Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s murderous Drug War. Yet, by pursuing the extradition of Santrich and other FARC members, U.S. and Colombian authorities risk losing the FARC’s buy-in during this crucial moment for building peace in Colombia and falling back into a vicious cycle of violence.
FARC leader “Simón Trinidad” at the federal maximum security prison in Florence, Colorado.
(1,956 words, approximate reading time 9 minutes, 46 seconds)
“I don’t believe that any guerrilla is going to turn in his weapon only to go and die in a U.S. jail,” Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said in early March. “It will be up to me to propose to the U.S. authorities some solution to this issue, which is complex and difficult, but has to be resolved.”
President Santos has much to discuss. Outstanding requests to extradite FARC guerrilla leaders to the United States could stand in the way of a final peace accord.
We have never seen a full list of U.S. courts’ indictments of FARC leaders (some of them may still be sealed), nor have we ever spoken to a U.S. official who could cite an exact number of outstanding extradition requests. But the following indictments are in the public record, and the number is large: they involve at least 60 living, at-large FARC members.
- Six were indicted in 2001 for the 1999 killing of three U.S. indigenous rights activists in Arauca. (At least one of these six is now dead.)
- Three were indicted in 2002 for narcotics and for kidnapping two U.S. oil workers in Venezuela. (At least two of these three are now dead.)
- One was indicted in 2002 for the 1998 kidnapping of four U.S. citizen birdwatchers. (This individual, Henry Castellanos alias “Romaña,” is now a FARC negotiator in Havana.)
- Two were indicted in 2004 for a 2003 grenade attack on a Bogotá bar, which injured five U.S. citizen customers.
- Fifty were indicted in 2006 to face narcotics charges. (Several—we don’t know how many—are now dead, or captured and extradited. Some are on the guerrilla negotiating team in Havana.) This mass indictment was made possible by the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005, which established the federal crime of “narco-terrorism,” or trafficking drugs to fund terrorist activity. This change in the law now applies worldwide: U.S. officials no longer need to prove that an individual intended to traffic drugs to the United States.
- Eighteen were indicted in 2010 for their role in holding three U.S. defense contractors hostage between 2003 and 2008, and murdering their plane’s U.S. citizen pilot. (At least one of them, Dutch-born Tanja Nijmeijer, is part of the FARC delegation in Havana. Some others have been captured and extradited.)
U.S. authorities have also sought to extradite leaders of Colombia’s pro-government paramilitary groups to face narcotrafficking charges. In May 2008, then-President Álvaro Uribe extradited 14 of them at once, although all were participating in a negotiated demobilization and transitional justice process. As of February 2010, 30 ex-paramiltaries had been extradited to the United States.
FARC leaders have made clear that they will not let that happen to them. They will not agree to demobilize without a solid guarantee that the Colombian government will not extradite them to the United States for crimes committed before the signing of a peace accord.
The U.S. government cannot offer this guarantee. Once extradition requests are issued, it is almost impossible to call them back. The indictments listed above come from grand juries, presided by judges, and the U.S. government’s executive branch cannot interfere in the actions of the judicial branch. (While the President has the constitutional power to pardon individuals before a case goes to trial—as President Gerald Ford did for Richard Nixon after Watergate—such pre-trial pardons are exceedingly rare.)
The prosecutors in these cases may technically be part of the executive branch, working for the President, but they have wide-ranging independence to avoid any appearance that their work is politicized. (Witness the political firestorm that raged in 2007 when the Bush administration sought to fire and replace several U.S. attorneys.) Their superiors cannot force them to drop their cases for the good of “peace in Colombia.”
Extradition requests are issued by the Department of Justice Office of International Affairs. This Office’s mandate doesn’t include bringing peace to Colombia or achieving general U.S. foreign policy objectives. Its job is to bring perpetrators of crimes to justice. So these indictments and extradition requests aren’t going anywhere.
Within these constraints, it’s up to another part of the U.S. government—the Department of State, and if necessary the President—to decide whether a country’s non-fulfillment of an extradition request affects its relations with the United States.
Often, when U.S. diplomats consider the larger context, non-fulfillment of extradition requests has no effect at all on the bilateral relationship. This was the case when Colombia’s Supreme Court held up the extradition of paramilitary leader Daniel Rendón alias “Don Mario” in 2010. Nor did the U.S.-Colombia relationship suffer in 2011, when the Santos government extradited wanted Venezuelan drug trafficker Walid Makled to his home country—with which President Santos was seeking to repair troubled relations—instead of to the United States.
Paramilitary leader “Julián Bolívar” won a vastly reduced sentence for his past drug trafficking, though he awaits a decision on extradition to the United States.
President Juan Manuel Santos caused a stir this week when he told an interviewer from Colombia’s RCN Radio network that the country would have to alter its laws to benefit FARC members who have trafficked drugs.
“For us to be able to apply justice in a more effective way will require broadening that concept of ‘political crimes,’ above all ‘connected crimes.’ Today it is too restrictive, and if we at least want to commute or pardon sentences, or in some way to legalize, thousands of FARC combatants, we’re going to have to be a little more flexible in the application of that concept.”
Colombia’s prosecutor-general [fiscal general], Eduardo Montealegre, agreed.
“It’s absolutely possible that narcotrafficking might be considered a crime connected with political crime, since ‘connectedness’ means something has a relation to something else, and it’s beyond discussion that in the Colombian armed conflict, narcotrafficking has been used in the guerrillas’ armed struggle.”
Their point is that negotiations with the FARC guerrillas will not succeed if, upon demobilizing, FARC leaders will face jail or even extradition to the United States because of their past involvement in the drug trade. Guerrillas simply won’t demobilize. It would seem apparent, then, that Colombia will have to offer ex-guerrillas reduced or waived penalties for past drug trafficking.
But many in Colombia are not prepared to accept that. Internal-Affairs Chief [Procurador] Alejandro Ordóñez alleged that calling narcotrafficking a “connected political crime” would “disguise criminals as politicians” and “shield FARC leaders from their status as capos” in the drug trade. Former President Álvaro Uribe, the talks’ most prominent critic, tweeted, “How could it be that they are going to classify as a political crime with altruistic motives an activity like narcotrafficking, which for many years in Colombia has only systematically financed horrors and atrocities?”
(Uribe is guilty of some hypocrisy here. In 2005, his administration introduced a legislative provision that would have classified paramilitary groups’ activities, including narcotrafficking, as “sedition”—a political crime.)
This week’s debate raised a question that remains unsettled in Colombia, where for decades illegal armed groups with political goals have supported themselves by participating in the drug trade. When it comes time for these groups’ members to demobilize, how should the legal system deal with their drug trafficking crimes? Can they be considered “connected” to the political crime of rebellion, or must they be considered separately as criminal offenses?
Colombia has already wrestled with these questions since the middle of the last decade, when thousands of paramilitary leaders demobilized via the so-called “Justice and Peace” process. The case of paramilitary leader “Julián Bolívar” is illustrative, if not emblematic, of the need for greater clarity.
Rodrigo Pérez Alzate, alias “Julian Bolívar,” was the terror of Colombia’s Magdalena Medio region at the beginning of the 2000s. He oversaw the paramilitaries’ bloody takeover of the oil-refining city of Barrancabermeja.
Pérez demobilized in 2005 as part of the “Justice and Peace” arrangement, which would give him a reduced prison sentence in exchange for a full confession of his crimes and reparations to victims. In 2006, Pérez was transferred to prison and his case slowly went to trial. In September 2013, the Justice and Peace Tribunal sentenced him to eight years imprisonment—most of which Pérez had already served—for a long list of human rights crimes.