Colombia

Colombia's FARC says peace deal might fail after member accused of cocaine deal

Former rebel leader Jesus Santrich attends a press conference announcing the new political party Alternative Communal Revolutionary Forces, in Bogota, Colombia, on Sept. 1, 2017. Members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, voted overwhelmingly to change the group's name to the Alternative Communal Revolutionary Forces, scrubbing any reference to its armed past. Since both names in Spanish carry the acronym FARC, its common use name will remain unchanged.
Former rebel leader Jesus Santrich attends a press conference announcing the new political party Alternative Communal Revolutionary Forces, in Bogota, Colombia, on Sept. 1, 2017. Members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, voted overwhelmingly to change the group's name to the Alternative Communal Revolutionary Forces, scrubbing any reference to its armed past. Since both names in Spanish carry the acronym FARC, its common use name will remain unchanged. AP

Colombia’s former FARC guerillas said the country’s historic peace deal is at risk of “truly failing” if the nation goes ahead with plans to extradite one of its members on charges that he was trying to traffic tons of cocaine to Miami.

In a statement Tuesday, the FARC called the allegations against Jesús Santrich, one of their congressmen and a former peace negotiator, a “set-up” organized by the United States and Colombia “to decapitate the political leadership of our party and bury the desire of peace of the Colombian people.”

The FARC, which held a news conference Tuesday morning, said with Santrich's arrest the peace process is at "its most critical point and is threatened with truly failing."

On Monday, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced that Santrich had been arrested after an undercover DEA agent gathered proof about an alleged cocaine deal. Santrich, whose real name is Seusis Hernández, and three others were indicted by a grand jury in the Southern District of New York and accused of conspiracy to export cocaine into the United States. Also named in the indictment, which has been sealed, are Marlon Marín, Armando Gómez, and Fabio Simón Younes Arboleda.

An Interpol Red Notice said that beginning in June 2017, Santrich and the co-conspirators are accused of participating in a series of meetings about sending as much as 11 tons of cocaine to the United States,

According to news reports, Santrich, who is partially blind and one of the FARC’s most prominent members, was filmed at his home negotiating the deal, which included providing a 5-kilogram sample of cocaine.

The sample was delivered to an individual in the lobby of a Bogotá hotel on Nov. 1, 2017, and the next day Santrich and one of his co-conspirators met with the potential buyers to coordinate the sale of a larger quantity of cocaine, according to the Interpol notice. During a Feb. 8, 2018, meeting at Santrich's home, an agreement was allegedly forged to deliver 10,000 kilograms (around 11 U.S. tons) of cocaine to Miami in two installments in exchange for $15 million.

The timing is crucial. Under the terms of Colombia’s peace agreement, crimes the guerrillas committed before it went into effect — on Dec. 31, 2016 — receive special treatment that allows FARC members to avoid jail as well as extradition to the United States.

On Monday, Santos said the government had given the guerrillas ample guarantees. But if Santrich or others were caught breaking the law after the signing he said his “hand wouldn’t shake” signing an extradition order.

El Espectador newspaper reported that Santos said he is ready to sign the extradition order for Santrich if that is the recommendation of Colombia's Supreme Court.

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said Santrich should be extradited to face cocaine charges in the United States. The Colombian peace deal "does not mean immunity for FARC leaders for what they have done or are doing in violation of U.S. law," he said on Twitter.

The FARC, once the hemisphere’s oldest and bloodiest guerrilla groups, is now a political party called the Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Común. And Santrich is one of 10 former guerrillas who were assigned congressional seats under the terms of the peace deal. Now it’s unclear whether the FARC might lose that spot.

Iván Duque, who is leading Colombia’s May 27 presidential race, has maintained that it’s illegitimate for the FARC to be in politics before the group has presented itself to the transitional justice system, known as the JEP, a body that is only just beginning to function.

“The capture of Jesús Santrich is a clear sign that the FARC have not handed over their drug-trafficking routes,” Duque wrote on Twitter. “Thanks to the work of the United States, he’s been captured. Colombian authorities should also investigate other FARC leaders with criminal ties.”

When Colombia and the FARC signed the peace deal in 2016, it was hailed around the world and earned Santos the Nobel Peace Prize. And in many ways it has been a success. The ex-guerrillas turned in thousands of weapons and demobilized after more than 50 years, helping bring Colombia’s homicide rate down to historic lows.

But the agreement has always been viewed with suspicion in Colombia amid fears that it was too lenient on the guerrillas. And even as the FARC did give up major drug trafficking routes, the country’s coca crops have exploded as other actors have moved in.

President Donald Trump was scheduled to visit Colombia on Saturday but on Tuesday he canceled his first Latin American trip citing the growing Syrian crisis.

In the statement, the FARC asked their thousands of demobilized members to remain calm and not fall for "provocations."

"There's no doubt that they are trying to force the break-up of the [peace] process to justify the continued violence," the group said.

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