Seuxis Pausías Hernández Solarte, alias “Jesús Santrich,” is a former rebel commander who has taken up arms again as part of a new dissident force made up of ex-leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC)
Known both for his ideological conviction and his trademark keffiyeh, a Middle Eastern headscarf, Santrich was part of a video announcement declaring that the group would return to armed conflict.
Santrich was one of the most important FARC delegates at the peace talks between the guerrilla group and the Colombian government, and he was involved in the drafting of the final peace agreement signed in 2016. Though he was granted a seat in Colombia’s congress as part of the agreement, he could not be sworn in because he faced charges for his alleged involvement in sending a drug shipment to the United States. This led to him being arrested and released from jail twice, until he ultimately fled from a FARC reintegration camp in July 2019.
Santrich now appears to be somewhere along the remote Venezuela-Colombia border, with other dissident FARC leaders. An influential voice among the guerrillas, Santrich can count on his contacts with criminal actors in the region, including those in Venezuela, and he stands to serve as a key negotiator for the new dissident force when it comes to other ex-FARC mafia cells and irregular armed groups in the region.
Seuxis Pausías Hernández Solarte was born in 1966 in Toluviejo, in the department of Sucre, where his parents were teachers. During his student years, he joined the Colombia Communist Youth (Juventud Comunista de Colombia – JUCO) and then became a militant member of the Patriotic Union (Unión Patriótica – UP), a recognized left-wing party. After graduation, he became a local official in Sucre’s municipality of Colosó,
In 1991, he joined the FARC after one of his colleagues was killed by members of the former Administrative Department of Security (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad – DAS). His alias within the guerrilla group was taken as tribute to his friend, Jesús Santrich. His role in the creation of Resistance Radio (Radio Resistencia) and his friendship with Luciano Marin Arango, alias “Iván Márquez,” saw him quickly gain importance within the FARC. He became a key figure within the 19th Front of the FARC’s Caribbean Bloc, despite suffering from Leber’s Disease, a degeneration of the eye which has left him nearly blind.
One of his most important tasks was to help lead the FARC’s communications and propaganda efforts through a clandestine network of broadcasts, such as Cadena Radial Bolivariana and Voz de la Resistencia. It is believed that the website, resistencia-colombia.org, which featured exclusive content from the FARC, was also run by Santrich.
He also took part in the peace process with the government of President Andrés Pastrana (1998-2002).
Santrich, who lived along the border with Venezuela, played a key role in the FARC’s relationship with Caracas, as Santrich is known to have been an avid believer in former Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez and his Bolivarian Revolution. In 2007, he and Márquez met with Chávez in Venezuela to discuss a humanitarian agreement.
In 2008, he joined the FARC’s General Staff. When peace talks began between the FARC and the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos in 2012, he became one of the FARC’s main negotiators.
After the signing of the final peace agreement, Santrich became one of the three FARC representatives in the Monitoring and Implementation Commission of the Agreement (CSIVI), overseeing the peace process. He was also set to be one of the 10 FARC representatives in Congress in July 2018.
But his entry into Congress was blocked after his indictment by US federal prosecutors on drug charges. The April 2018 arrest of Santrich and the demand by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) for his extradition set off a legal firestorm since FARC members — under the peace agreement — cannot be extradited for crimes committed prior to December 1, 2016. The Attorney General’s Office wanted him extradited, but Colombia’s peace court, the Colombian Special Jurisdiction for Peace (Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz – JEP), asked for more evidence about his alleged crimes and their timeframe.
In May 2019, about a year after Santrich’s arrest, the JEP’s judges blocked the extradition of Santrich because they could not confirm, based on the evidence given to them, whether Santrich broke the terms of the peace agreement. Santrich was released from prison, but the Colombian prosecutors had him immediately rearrested, saying they had new evidence against him. Santrich was then released again, this time by the Supreme Court, because he was still considered to have immunity as a member of congress, though he had not been seated.
He moved to a designated Territorial Space for Training and Reincorporation (Espacio Territorial de Capacitación y Reincorporación – ETCR) in the northern Cesar department, along the Venezuela border. He did not stay for long. With the help of a comrade, Santrich climbed through his housing’s window, and then he fled across the border into Venezuela.
During his time with the FARC, Santrich was one of the main leaders of the Caribbean Bloc. Due to his degenerative illness leaving him blind, he became known as a spokesperson, focusing on ideology and propaganda, rather than on military action. Two years after signing the peace agreement, he was accused of sending 10 tons of cocaine to the United States.
The drug smuggling operation allegedly happened between June 2017 and April 2018, and involved Mexico’s powerful Sinaloa Cartel. It appears that the charges against him stem from a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) operation in which Marlon Marín — the nephew of Iván Márquez — was observed retrieving $5 million from a DEA informant acting as an emissary for the cartel. Marín is cooperating with US prosecutors, and his testimony is likely to be key in the drug trafficking case against Santrich.
Hernández joined the Caribbean Block of the FARC, specifically the 19th Front that operated in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The group also had influence in the region of the Montes de María, the Serrania de Perijá and the departments of Sucre and Córdoba. By consolidating himself as an important member of the General Staff, he was able to expand his influence to other regions such as Nariño, Putumayo, Guainía and Caquetá and establish contact with important leaders of criminal groups such as the dissidence of the FARC and the Urabeños.
Allies and Enemies
Hernández is known to have been close to Juvenal Ovidio Ricardo Palmera, alias “Simón Trinidad,” who was extradited to the United States in 2004. He also maintains a strong friendship with Luciano Marín Arango, alias “Iván Márquez,” another former top FARC commander, member of the General Staff and former leader of the Caribbean Bloc.
Outside of former FARC leaders, Santrich has maintained contact with other dissident FARC groups, including those led by Miguel Botache Santillana, alias “Gentil Duarte” and Géner García Molina, alias “Jhon 40.” He is also suspected of having direct contact with Rafael Caro Quintero, alias “Don Rafa,” one of the founders of the now defunct Guadalajara Cartel and an important member of the current Sinaloa Cartel.
After spending nearly two months in hiding, during which he missed mandatory meetings with the JEP, Santrich has reemerged in the video announcing the new dissident force and their return to combat. Standing beside Márquez, he wears fatigues and carries an AK-47 assault rifle.
The government has issued a warrant for Santrich’s arrest, and President Iván Duque has offered a bounty of three billion pesos (about $875,500) for information leading to his capture.
Santrich is a well-respected voice within the former FARC and will likely play an influential role in forging alliances with other dissident cells. He also stands to be one of the primary negotiators with other irregular armed groups in Venezuela, a role which he has played in the past.