Blow to Colombian peace deal as former Farc rebel chief arrested on drug charges

Prosecutors accuse Seauxis Hernández, AKA Jesus Santrich, of conspiring to ship 10,000kg of cocaine to the US but supporters cry setup

A former Colombian rebel commander has been arrested on US drug-trafficking charges, in a shocking development that heaped more pressure on the stumbling peace process with the demobilized Farc guerrillas.

Seuxis Hernández – a blind former peace negotiator better known by his alias Jesus Santrich – was detained early on Monday and awaits probable extradition to the United States, where prosecutors in New York accused him of conspiring to ship 10,000kg of cocaine.

Santrich’s former comrades rejected the charges, accusing the government of using the former guerrilla as a “trophy” to be presented to President Trump, who had been due to visit to Colombia and Peru this weekend.

Iván Márquez, another Farc leader, said on Tuesday that Santrich’s arrest was the result of a plot orchestrated by US and Colombian authorities following a December visit to Colombia by Jeff Sessions, the attorney general.

“With the capture of our comrade Jesus Santrich the peace process finds itself at its most critical point and threatens to be a true failure,” said Márquez.

The 2016 peace deal formally ended 52 years of civil war that left at least 220,000 dead and over 7 million displaced. Though lauded by the international community, it has never gained widespread support in Colombia and initially failed to pass a public referendum before being revised and passed through congress.

Many former fighters are growing frustrated by the glacial pace of the deal’s implementation and fearful for their own safety. The Farc, now a political party, say that more than 50 members and relatives have been killed since the deal was signed and that the government has not done enough to protect them.

An estimated 1,200 former fighters have taken up arms again and joined various dissident groups, according to Colombia’s military.

The accord grants lighter sentencing to rebels for crimes committed during the conflict but Santrich stands accused of crimes after the signing of the deal.

“This is a massive blow to the Farc,” said Jorge Restrepo, director of Cerac, a conflict-monitoring thinktank. “But I think it actually strengthens the peace process because it shows that the law will be followed.”

Restrepo said it was unlikely that most Farc members would return to the armed struggle. “They have already handed in their weapons and they have a political setup now,” he said. “They would only go back if they seriously feared for their security.”

But Santrich’s capture complicates the group’s goal of achieving political relevance, following parliamentary elections in which their political party was trounced, gaining only 0.4% of the vote.

Santrich was due to take one of the 10 congressional seats the Farc are guaranteed by the peace deal in July. It is as yet unclear what will happen to that post.

President Juan Manuel Santos, who has staked his legacy on the peace process, defended Santrich’s capture. “The construction of peace requires the absolute commitment and respect for the law and the accords,” he said in a televised statement. “There can’t be any room for tolerance or weakness.”

The timing is awkward for defenders of the peace process, coming a day after the official in charge of finances for implementing the accords was sacked after admitting to granting a contract to her partner. Prosecutors are currently investigating wider mishandling of funds, with 10 intermediaries suspected of embezzling money allocated for the peace process.


Joe Parkin Daniels in Bogotá

The GuardianTramp

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