The government of Colombia faces a big crisis in the very fragile peace accord that they signed with the rebel left-wing FARC ( Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) in 2016. A former top commander of the FARC, who helped broker the peace deal has been arrested for drug trafficking and a breakaway group kidnapped and murdered three journalists from Ecuador.
When Colombia and the FARC finally agreed to a peace accord two years ago, it ended 52 years of strife where over a quarter of a million were dead and several million Colombians displaced. Internationally, the deal was praised as a landmark, where the former rebels put down their weapons and became part of the political process. As part of the deal, 10 former FARC commanders were guaranteed a spot in the country’s congress.
But many Americans were skeptical, especially those who had spent time in Colombia and had witnessed first-hand how the FARC had ceased being only a rebel political force but had become a full-blown criminal enterprise that got its money by drug trafficking, kidnapping, and murder. Those fears came to light when the United States indicted Seuxis Hernandez, also better known as Jesus Santrich, by US courts and the Colombian general prosecutor with conspiracy to ship 10,000kg of cocaine – with a street value of $320 million dollars to the United States.
Santrich was born in Toluviejo in Sucre province in 1966, at the age of 16 he entered Atlantico University and joined the Communist Youth Movement. He joined FARC in 1988 and was the “Voice of the Resistance” on the rebel’s radio station. He suffers from a genetic condition that forces him to wear sunglasses all the time and it is said that he’s now nearly completely blind.
What makes this even worse is, Santrich was continuing to act in the criminal enterprise of shipping the cocaine to the U.S. after the peace accord was signed. He was one of the key brokers of the peace deal and one of the former FARC commanders sitting in their Congress.
The FARC cried foul and have accused the United States of drumming up the charges, citing the visit of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions last year. But the written and video evidence against Santrich, along with three other former rebels, who were also arrested is strong.
The vast majority of Colombians, unlike the world opinion, didn’t think much of the peace accord or the FARC members who ran for elections. FARC candidates received less than 50,000 votes in the last election. Most Colombians, after seeing first-hand what they were about, had no illusions about the FARC giving up their criminal ways. A Gallup poll conducted in February showed that more than 73 percent of Colombians believe the FARC will not abide by the peace accords.
Now, because of the arrest of Santrich, their worst fears are coming home to roost. President Juan Manuel Santos has vowed that if Santrich is found guilty, “his hand will not waiver” in ordering Santrich’s extradition to the United States. Because of this, as many as 1200 former guerrillas are set to become rebels again as they are refusing to demobilize according to officials in the Colombian military..
One political group that is playing a wait-and-see approach to the Santrich situation is the right wing party of Ivan Duque. His Democratic Center Party, which he is their presidential candidate, wants to roll back the peace accords.
The government of Santos now has the unenviable position of walking a very fine line with this case. They were the ones pushing for the peace accords with FARC. But they can’t appear to go soft on Santrich in trying to keep the accords going. Because most Colombians aren’t willing to buy it if it appears to be the case. And the nephew of another top FARC commander, Ivan Marquez was also arrested for drug trafficking. The Colombian Vice President spared no words on this stating that “this tends to point not towards an individual decision, but a collective decision by the FARC to continue with drug trafficking,”
Compounding matters is the sticky situation along the border with Ecuador. Three journalists, Reporter Javier Ortega, 32, photographer Paúl Rivas, 45, and their 60-year-old driver Efraín Segarra were kidnapped in the small border town of Mataje. They were investigating the spike in violence along the border and were taken by former FARC guerrillas under the command of Walter Patricio Artízala Vernaza, alias “William Quiñonez” or who is better known by his alias, Guacho.
Guacho’s group, goes by the name of the Oliver Sinisterra Front, was part of FARC until the peace accords were signed. They then split off from the rebels and opened up their own drug operation along the border.
His group kidnapped the three journalists who worked for the newspaper, El Commercio of Quito on March 26. They were kidnapped in Ecuador and then transferred to Colombia and were then murdered, however, their bodies have yet to be found. The former guerrillas announced that the three “had died” as Colombian troops approached. Guacho’s group has 70-80 members and is very active in the drug trade. The area along the border has among the highest concentration of coca plantations in the country.
“This area of limits in the sector of the Mira and Mataje rivers, between Nariño and Ecuador, is where that group that previously was part of the Daniel Aladana column of the FARC and now called Residual Armed Group Oliver Sinisterra, ” General Alberto Mejía, Commander of the Colombian Armed Forces said.
Ecuador’s President Lenín Moreno put Guacho on Ecuador’s Most Wanted List with a bounty of $100,000 on his head. “We can’t allow the criminals to impose their rules,” Mr. Moreno said, adding “We’re going to fight them in the realm they have chosen and we are going to defeat them.”
President Santos vowed that Guacho will fall sooner or later. The Ecuadorian government moved an additional 550 police officers to Mataje and the Colombians on their side of the border will look to tighten the noose. President Santos vowed to send 12,000 police and military units to the lawless part of the border.
But regardless, the peace process in Colombia which took over 50 years of bloodshed to reach is in a very fragile state. And the actions of the FARC, which threaten to undermine all of it, come as no surprise to most Colombians or the Americans who have spent time there.