‘Jesús Santrich’ Case at the Epicenter of Colombia’s Peace Process

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Seuxis Paucis Hernández Solarte, alias “Jesús Santrich,” is the name on everyone’s lips, the cornerstone of Colombia’s rocky peace process.

The April 9 arrest of Santrich, a top figure of the now largely demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC), was the result of the United States charging him with drug trafficking crimes.

US officials have said that Santrich’s involvement in the drug trade extended beyond the signing of a November 2016 peace deal between the FARC and the Colombian government, which would make him ineligible for the agreement’s provisions that protect former guerrillas from extradition.

The high-profile arrest raised concerns about the future of the peace process, especially after reports soon emerged that the United States had launched a drug trafficking investigation against another top FARC member, Luciano Marín Arango, better known as “Iván Márquez” — who, like Santrich, was set to take one of the seats in Colombia’s Congress allotted to the FARC’s new political party as part of the peace accord.

These developments have generated disputes within the FARC political party, questions around the role of the transitional justice and, probably more importantly, the future of the peace process as a whole.

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InSight Crime Senior Investigator and Colombia expert Ángela Olaya explains some of these issues in more detail as Colombia debates how justice should be delivered in the country.

InSight Crime (IC): What are the main developments in the investigation around Jesús Santrich and how will they affect the peace process?

Ángela Olaya (AO): The capture of Jesús Santrich reveals all the difficulties of the peace accord. His case illustrates how there is still a strong drug trafficking dynamic in Colombia and how there are actors that are interested in keeping this dynamic strong. The state should act quickly and agree upon what are the processes to deal with his case and decide how the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz – JEP) should act in coordination with the Attorney General’s Office, so that the government can continue fighting organized crime in Colombia.

In the past couple of weeks, we have seen the JEP and the Attorney General debate over which entity has the authority to oversee Santrich’s extradition process. In their latest statement, the JEP — which oversees crimes committed before December 1, 2016 — said the extradition process should be stopped until a decision can be reached as to whether Santrich continued committing crimes after the peace accord was signed.

The Attorney General, on the other hand, is claiming the JEP does not have the jurisdiction to authorize whether or not Santrich will be extradited to the United States. For many years in Colombia, there has been a saying about “train wrecks.” It was often used to describe the interactions between other institutions in the government but it applies to the current situation. We are seeing a budding competition between ordinary justice and transitional justice.

IC: Who is Jesús Santrich, both as a member of the demobilized FARC guerrillas and now as a member of the new FARC political party?

AO: The case of Jesús Santrich is complex. He had a very important role inside the FARC and had a large influence over the peace negotiations. In the FARC, Santrich was part of “Carribean Bloc,” which controlled guerilla operations in northern Colombia. While in charge, Santrich was responsible for establishing the FARC’s political guidelines. Therefore the fact that he has been accused of drug trafficking during this period of transitional justice illustrates the challenges the new FARC will face as a political movement. Ultimately, the FARC as a demobilized political party needs to clarify its platforms on crucial themes such as drug trafficking and the new dynamics of organized crime.

IC: What do you think is going to happen to the peace process, considering Santrich represented the old FARC and now is a member of the new FARC?

AO: The key issue here is the rule of law. The question of how the JEP will function in the future will depend on how the state resolves the case of Santrich and whether the processes that were agreed upon during the peace negotiations will be maintained.

Ultimately, the Santrich case has demonstrated that the state has not ensured a safe future for all in Colombia. In addition, two important aspects of the peace accord hang in the balance: the development of productive projects and ensuring the security of ex-combatants.

Regarding the recent killings of ex-combatants, the government has yet to provide the public with a clear explanation for the recent violence. The current political context has cast doubt on whether the state can guarantee the protection of ex-combatants.

IC: This week, President Santos expressed his concern over the recent murders of former FARC members and assured the public he would guarantee the protection of ex-combatants. Would you agree that Santos sees these killings as a crucial obstacle to the peace process?

AO: Absolutely. In the southern region where many of these ex-combatants have been killed, we have seen other instances of violence between criminal groups as they vie for control over the FARC’s former drug trafficking routes. Many people in Colombia have grown frustrated with the Santrich case and are saying that if he committed the crime we should let justice take its course. However, the debate is not about whether or not he should pay for the crime. The debate is about how are we going to guarantee each one of the agreements and how they can generate positive measures that will protect the livelihoods of ex-combatants and affected communities. Above all, the crux of this discussion is whether we can prevent the demobilization of the FARC from becoming an economic opportunity for other organized crime groups.

For more details, watch the conversation between Olaya and InSight Crime’s Spanish Editor Ronna Risquez (in spanish), below:

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