Free Jesús Santrich, Stop the White House Assaults on Colombia’s Peace Accord

by James Patrick Jordan

In what may constitute a mortal blow to Colombia’s peace process, President Ivan Duque has defied the order by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) to releaseJesús Santrich, aka Seuxis Hernández Solarte, from prison. Santrich is a negotiator and former insurgent who helped craft the accord to end more than five decades of civil war. The failure to recognize the court’s authority undermines a key provision of the accord implemented in 2016: the establishment of a Special Jurisdiction for Peace court to oversee truth and reconciliation processes, the handling of criminal procedures, release of political prisoners and prisoners of war, as well as extradition requests regarding ex-combatants. The probable next step in this rapidly unfolding drama is the extradition of Santrich to the United States, also in defiance of court orders.

Send an email to Colombian authorities demanding that they respect their own laws and court decisions, not Trump’s demands, and free Jesús Santrich!

Send an email to the White House demanding that the charges and extradition request against Jesús Santrich be dropped and the assaults on the peace process be ended!

At this moment, Santrich is being held in a Bogotá hospital, where he is in intensive care following varying and confusing reports as to his condition. According to Fundación Lazos de Dignidad (Links of Dignity Foundation), who form part of Santrich’s legal team, Santrich is receiving care for cardiac arrest. Various other reports had circulated earlier claiming Santrich had attempted suicide. Still other sources said authorities had raided Santrich’s prison cell at least two times, injuring him. The prospect that Santrich’s life could be in danger should not be dismissed. Former insurgents have previously died under suspicious circumstances while in state custody, including the recent mutilation and murder of ex insurgent Dimar Torres by Colombian Armed Forces troops on April 22 2019 in Norte de Santander.

On Friday, May 17 2019 the Colombian government appeared to be complying with the order for Santrich to be released, taking him beyond the gates of the prison in a wheelchair surrounded by prison agents. He was then re-arrested moments later. This liberation from prison was a cynical technicality in which Santrich never left the custody of prison personnel. The re-arrest happened in response to US government intervention, with the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) providing allegedly new evidence linking Santrich to a narco-trafficking scheme. The evidence was never submitted to the JEP for review. The Duque administration has chosen to ignore Colombian laws and legal judgments in deference to White House demands and interference. This exposes to the world the degree to which Colombia under the Duque administration has rejected all notions of national sovereignty, taking on a colonial relationship where US interests outweigh the authority of Colombia’s own laws, accords, and courts.

Santrich was one of the primary negotiators of the accord between the Colombian Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP), ending more than 52 years of war. He was arrested on charges of narco-trafficking shortly before he was to take office as a representative in the Colombian Congress of the new and legal FARC (Revolutionary Alternative Force of the Commons) political party. All the known evidence against him to date is based on the testimony of paid informants and DEA (US Drug Enforcement Agency) agents who allege that Santrich joined into a narcotrafficking enterprise with them after the peace accord went into effect. A few audio and video recordings exist on which Santrich speaks, and none make mention whatsoever of cocaine or any other illicit substance. Much of the testimony against Santrich contradicts known facts, for instance, reports of meetings Santrich could not possibly have attended since he was verifiably in an altogether different part of Colombia at the alleged times.

The lack of credible or concrete audio or video evidence indicates that the DEA agents and dubious informants were either incompetent or had no case. Despite this sustained and coordinated effort, backed by considerable US resources, they were never able to record a single instance of explicit discussion of any kind of illegal activity or reference to a narcotic substance. An article by the Colombian weekly Semana corroborates that they, “never specify if they are talking about illicit crops or productive crops….” According to Santrich, during the few conversations he had with the set-up team, he thought they were discussing an agricultural enterprise. This makes sense given that FARC leaders were actively looking to develop employment and business opportunities for ex-insurgents being reincorporated into civilian life. Furthermore, there is no date on the video, and it is impossible to know if the video was made before or after the peace accord went into effect.

The DEA refused to hand over its evidence while the JEP was considering the extradition request. The JEP also noted many other irregularities by the DEA, including that it never sought nor received official permission from the Colombian government to operate within the country. This circumvention of legal process was done in collaboration with former Attorney General Nestor Martínez who just resigned along with his Vice Attorney General amid corruption investigations and accusations of mishandling the Santrich case.

This extradition is a nefarious, concerted, and serious attack on one of the core components of the peace accord. Agreement was reached for a general amnesty for armed combatants on both sides of the conflict, with any serious crimes against humanity or war crimes still prosecutable by the JEP. The JEP was to have the last word on issues of extradition. Under the accord, former combatants cannot be extradited for alleged crimes committed during the civil war. This was necessary given the US history of requesting the extradition of insurgents and ex-insurgents, even through false charges with the effect of impeding and circumventing the peace process. This history includes the extradition of Simón Trinidad, aka Ricardo Palmera, who is held at the Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado. Trinidad, like Jesús Santrich, was one of the FARC-EP’s peace negotiators. He has been in isolation since 2006 under kidnapping charges with no factual basis other than his membership in the FARC-EP. The US extradition process would create a catastrophic loophole around Colombian laws and the amnesty agreement. Extraditions have also been used against paramilitary leaders to avoid public exposure of testimonies “sensitive” to both US and Colombian national (and transnational corporate) interests.

The arrest of Santrich in defiance of the JEP is part of a larger effort by the Duque and Trump administrations to destroy the special court. Not only has the Trump administration requested this extradition after the practice had not been used for years, it has publicly declared its support for attempts to de-commission the JEP. The Duque administration has twice tried to repeal legislation establishing the JEP, and twice they have lost. During that process, then US-Ambassador Michael McKinley made a special trip to lobby the Colombian Congress against the JEP. Court cases at the highest levels have reaffirmed the legal authority of the JEP.

The re-arrest of Santrich is a direct response to US pressure. It is also a response to pressure from Duque’s mentor, former president and current senator Álvaro Uribe. In either case, it is clear that Duque is not representing the Colombian voters, but is a puppet in the hands of other masters. The morning before the re-arrest, Uribe, himself under various investigation for his ties to paramilitary death squads, publicly announced that Santrich would not be released, but would be extradited to the US in outright defiance of the court’s decision. Uribe speculated that this would be done via some kind of national emergency declaration by President Duque. Uribe is known as the father of Colombia’s death squads and was once actually listed as one of Colombia’s top 100 narcotraffickers by the US Defense Intelligence Agency. That, of course, was before he became a political power and the US government’s “best friend” in Latin America.

The Trump-Uribe-Duque alliance wants to destroy the JEP and, with it, the entire peace process. This is part of a three-pronged strategy. The other components include attacks against agreements regarding agricultural reform and substitution of crops with illicit uses; and encouragement of military violence, and ignoring if not outright encouraging paramilitary political violence, against rural, indigenous, and Afro-Colombian community activists, peace process participants, and any political or social movement leaders who defend these sectors.

Right now, the struggle to save the peace process in Colombia is centered on the resistance to the re-arrest and possible extradition of Jesús Santrich. We  must demand his immediate liberty, that he be kept safe and sound while in custody, and that he not be extradited to the United States.

As Santrich struggles for his life and freedom at the Méderi hospital in Bogotá, we must struggle for the peace of Colombia. The personal legal and medical condition of Jesús Santrich reflects the general health of Colombia’s peace accord. One can only hope they both recover. The alternative is permanent conflict and an erosion of any notion of civil rights and independent justice, a situation that would have repercussions throughout Colombia, the United States, and the entire hemisphere. This is an international precedent being set by Empire and its lackeys to jettison any and all notions of sovereignty and the rule of law. Those who care about peace, justice, and liberation will understand the importance of this crisis and step forward in resistance.