Bogota (AFP) – The arrest of a former FARC negotiator on US drug charges has brought Colombia’s landmark peace deal to its “most critical point,” the former rebel group warned on Tuesday.
Jesus Santrich, a senior member of rebel-group-turned-political-party who had been slated to take a seat in Colombia’s Congress in July, was arrested on Monday in Bogota.
Prosecutors in New York accuse him of conspiring to ship 10,000 kilograms of cocaine to the United States while serving as a senior member of the FARC leadership. They are pushing for his extradition along with three others who are also allied with the group.
The partially-sighted 51-year-old, whose real name is Seusis Pausivas Hernandez, was a member of the FARC’s peace negotiating team in Cuba, with the group warning his arrest posed a “genuine threat” to the deal.
Government peace commissioner Rodrigo Rivera also said the agreement was facing its “most grave, most serious and most delicate” challenge.
US prosecutors allege that between June 2017 and April 2018, the four worked together to produce and distribute approximately 10,000 kilograms of cocaine from Colombia to the States and elsewhere.
“These defendants conspired to ship thousands of kilograms of cocaine from Colombia to the streets of the US,” said Manhattan attorney Geoffrey S. Berman in a statement, which identified the other three as Marlon Marin, 39, Armando Gomez, 70, and Fabio Younes Arboleda, 72.
“They are now under arrest and face significant criminal charges.”
All four are facing one count of conspiring to import cocaine, and two counts of attempting to import it into the US.
If convicted, they could face life behind bars.
– ‘Twisted US justice’ –
Santrich’s arrest was swiftly denounced by the FARC, with a spokesman warning it could deal a damaging blow to the 2016 peace deal.
“With the capture of our comrade Jesus Santrich, the peace process is now at its most critical point, faced by a genuine threat,” C said in a statement.
The group accused Colombia’s prosecutors of colluding with a plan “orchestrated by the US government” describing it as yet another display of “twisted US justice.”
But Marquez also called for calm, urging supporters “not to be provoked.”
The arrest was also denounced by the ELN, Colombia’s last active rebel group, which said the move was “a slap in the face for the agreements made with FARC.”
Although the FARC’s leaders have ruled out any return to the conflict, there are fears that many former rebels could take up arms again.
– Pivotal situation –
Speaking to AFP, Colombian Senator Ivan Cepada, who acted as a consultant for the Cuba talks, agreed the situation was on a knife-edge.
“A false accusation could be very serious, even devastating and a threat to the peace process with FARC, but if it is true, it will be a lesson,” he said.
“There is absolutely no chance that the victims or the state will put up with being mocked if this really is a case of drug trafficking.”
Under the peace accord, repentant FARC fighters were required to confess their wartime crimes and pay reparations to victims to avoid jail.
But they could still be arrested for any crimes they committed after the deal.
Despite the November 2016 peace agreement signed between the FARC and Santos’s government, which ended half a century of bloodshed, the conflict still drags on parts of the country, financed by drug money.
Since then, the FARC has disarmed and transformed itself into a political party, swapping its crossed-rifles emblem for a red rose. Ten of its members, including Santrich, were given seats in Congress.
US President Donald Trump was to have visited Colombia over the weekend, but canceled his maiden trip to Latin America Tuesday to oversee the US response to an alleged gas attack in Syria.