By W. T. Whitney Jr.

April 26, 2018


The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government signed a peace agreement on December 1, 2016. The FARC laid down arms and a war of more than 50 years was ended. Since then, dozens of former guerrillas have been killed. Settlements were established in rural areas to enable groups of demobilized combatants to prepare for civilian life.

But now they lack supplies and decent housing. The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), whose job is to punish or pardon ex-combatants guilty of crimes, barely functions. Agrarian reform, the first agenda item of the peace agreement, looks like it’s been forgotten.

On April 9 the peace process took a big hit. As a prelude to his extradition to the United States, Colombian state agents arrested FARC leader Jesús Santrich. The Attorney General’s office claims he was trafficking in illegal drugs and did so after the peace agreement was signed. By contrast, well over 60 FARC members indicted in the United States prior to 2016, mostly on narcotics charges, have yet to be extradited. Presumably the peace agreement does apply to them.

On being arrested, Santrich immediately began a hunger strike. In a message sent from Bogota’s La Picota prison he bade farewell to his elderly parents. This was his “last battle.”

Santrich was a key participant on the FARC side in the almost five-year long peace talks in Havana. Iván Márquez, the lead FARC negotiator, told reporters that Santrich’s arrest puts the peace process “at its most critical point.”

He’s been a leader of the People’s Alternative Revolutionary Force, the political party formed by the demobilized guerrillas.  He and a few others were to have filled ten seats set aside for the new party in Colombia’s Congress. Santrich was one of three FARC representatives serving on the “Commission for Promotion and Verification of Implementation” of the agreement.

Agents of the attorney general’s office and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency had trailed Santrich and three others from June 2017 on. The indictment issued by the Southern New York District Court accuses the four of conspiring to sell 10 tons of cocaine for $15 million to the Sinaloa Cartel in México for shipment to New York.  The report on says prosecutors in New York are holding “photos and hours worth of audio and video recordings.”

U.S. authorities have 60 days to “formalize their extradition request,” The JEP, Colombia’s Supreme Judicial Court, and President Juan Manuel Santos each will have to approve it.

The others arrested were: Marlon Marín, nephew of Iván Márquez, Santrich’s close FARC colleague; Armando Gómez España, who suffers from stomach cancer; and Fabio Simón Younes, a 72-year-old lawyer. DEA officials flew Marlon Marín to New York in order for him to testify for the prosecution. Supposedly, an intercepted conversation has Marin conferring with an “assistant of Santrich.”

Interpol (The International Criminal Police Organization) routinely identifies alleged criminals sought for extradition by posting “red notices” on them. Interpol had already issued six red notices applying to six other former FARC guerrillas accused of narco-trafficking. Later on, it withdrew five of them presumably on the theory that they’d be judged by the JEP. There was no red notice on Santrich until April 4.

His arrest on April 9 apparently was a hurry-up job, timed perhaps to President Donald Trump’s visit in Bogota later that week. The FARC’s new political party expressed concern that Santrich would be “a trophy to hand over to Trump on his visit to Colombia.” Ultimately, Trump didn’t appear in Colombia.

Born in 1967, Santrich grew up in Colombia’s Caribbean region where he studied law and social sciences and joined both the Communist Youth organization and the Patriotic Union. The latter, recently revived, was a left-leaning electoral coalition whose members over two decades were murdered by the thousands.  His parents were philosophy teachers. Santrich’s original name, Seusis Pausivas Hernández, reflected his father’s admiration for two ancient Greek painters.

State agents seeking to kill Santrich instead shot and killed his best friend and a fellow Communist Youth member. His name was Jesús Santrich. The Santrich of today adopted the victim’s name and fled to the FARC. He was 21 years old.

As a leader of the FARC’s Caribbean Bloc, Santrich specialized in radio communications, propaganda, negotiations, and political analysis. He can barely see, due to Leber’s optic neuropathy. Santrich authored a book on indigenous peoples. He’s a poet, painter, and player of the flute, harmonica, and saxophone. In Havana he represented FARC negotiators in editing the peace agreement, in company with Sergio Jaramillo who filled that role for the government.

In the opinion of analyst José Antonio Gutiérrez D, Santrich’s fate is a warning “of what can happen to demobilized FARC guerrillas if they don’t behave.” Santrich, having “defended the legitimacy of the rebellion for almost three decades,” is “one of the few FARC leaders who have spoken clearly about the failure of the peace process.” He had opposed giving up arms and predicted the JEP would imprison former guerrillas and grant impunity to state agents. Gutiérrez thinks Santrich has shown a “dignity which for the oligarchy is arrogance.” Santrich has been persecuted by the media and “certain repentant FARC leaders.”

Interviewed a week before his arrest, Santrich mentioned that, “The regime confronting us for more than half a century hasn’t changed its character of injustice. This means that spaces for democratic struggle are still closed.” “What’s coming for the former FARC combatants,” he predicted, “is the most stubborn and vengeful judicial persecution. It will go hand in hand with paramilitary persecution and every kind of non-fulfillment [of the accord]. So far, they’ve failed to set free more than 500 comrades in prison.”

Could it be that Santrich did traffic in illegal drugs? Defenders reject the idea, pointing out that he’s been living in Bogota surrounded, for his protection, by soldiers and United Nations. Many would argue that his life history and his intellectual and artistic interests are inconsistent with a turn to narco-trafficking.

His experience with the FARC probably had nothing to do with producing, processing, or distributing illicit drugs. Colombian prosecutors say that between 1995 and 2014 military units of the FARC “made most of their money taxing drug traffickers and coca growers.  The Washington Office on Latin America and the InSight Crime organization each agree that taxation, not trafficking, was the FARC’s preferred mode of drug involvement.

In pursuing Santrich for drug trafficking, the U.S. government, a well-known enabler of that crime, may not easily escape accusations of hypocrisy. During the Vietnam War the CIA cooperated with a Laotian general to make Laos the world’s largest exporter of heroin. CIA pilots transported weapons to the Contra opponents of Nicaragua’s Sandinista government and on return flights transported cocaine to the United States. In 1988, the CIA assisted a money-launderer working for the Medellin cocaine cartel. The U.S. government turned a blind eye to the Wachovia Bank as it laundered “at least $110 million in drug profits.” The HSBC Bank, with U.S. operations, and Bank of America laundered drug-trade profits on behalf of Mexico’s Zetas and Sinaloa cartels and a Colombian cartel.

For Colombians, the issue of extradition is contentious. Left-leaning critics maintain that in complying with U.S. demands for extraditing alleged narco-traffickers, the government is bending to imperial power. Colombian sovereignty is at risk, they say.

It’s a political tool. Ex-President Alvaro Uribe in 2008 extradited 14 paramilitary chieftains to the United States for prosecution on drug charges. Their removal spared his government the inconvenience of punishing them for murders and human rights violations and staved off embarrassing revelations as to their good relations with politicians.

Uribe extradited 1,149 alleged drug traffickers to the United States between 2002 and 2010, perhaps as a show of good faith. The U.S. government, after all, was using drug war as pretext for providing Colombia with billions of dollars in military assistance. In resorting to extradition, Uribe was overlooking a 1980 Colombian Constitutional Court decision  that rejected his nation’s extradition treaty with the United States.

President Santos, Uribe’s successor, has promised his “hand will not tremble” when the time comes for him to authorize Santrich’s extradition. The wheels for that to happen are well greased.

And in the United States Santrich’s extradition is on automatic pilot. “Once extradition requests are issued, it is almost impossible to call them back,” one analyst explains, adding that, “The indictments … come from grand juries, presided over by judges, and the U.S. government’s executive branch cannot interfere in the actions of the judicial branch.”

The prospect of Santrich’s extradition to the United States recalls the fate of his FARC comrade Simon Trinidad, extradited on December 31, 2004. He escaped conviction on drug charges only to be sentenced to 60 years in prison on a charge of conspiring to take hostage three U.S. drug-war contractors. That he remains in a U.S. prison despite FARC demands for his repatriation suggests a lack of commitment to the peace process on the part of both nations. That’s not good news for Jesús Santrich as he faces extradition.

Santrich’s plight is explainable given the swirl of contending forces around him. The supposed authors of a prologue to The Social Thought of Jesús Santrich (Anthology) – just published in New York and available here – have ideas in this regard. Alfonsina Storni (1892 –1938), Rubén Darío (1867-1916) and Paulo Freire (1921 – 1997) ask, who is this Santrich? – “A terrorist? A narco-trafficker? Are they crazy?”

“They just imprisoned a militant revolutionary and rebel thinker. Who wants him?  Well, it’s the Colombian state prosecutors, the ones that spent decades inventing ‘false positives’ (Read: legitimizing extrajudicial assassination in cold blood of civilians dressed up as guerrillas and buried in unmarked graves, and good money was paid for them.)

“Who’s accusing him?  In fact, the same institution that the incomparable Breaking Bad series pictures as a chorus of virgin angels and puritans right there in the midst of craziness and generalized corruption. That would be the renowned U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, always out of kilter.  Yes, sir! The same U.S government mafias of the shameful Irangate affair that financed the anti-Sandinista counter-revolution with dirty money from narco-tafficking … the very ones that even today manage “the business” in ways so cruel and ruthless as to leave Don Corleone and all those horrific Godfather personalities grinning.”