U.S. extradition plot targets peace in Colombia
Jesus Santrich. | Courtesy FARC

For 50 years Colombian governments and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) fought a civil war; 200,000 lives were lost. After four years of negotiations, the two sides signed a peace agreement that took effect in November 2016.

Now the agreement is in trouble, mainly at the hands of right-wing extremists led by former president Alvaro Uribe and represented now by President Iván Duque. They opposed the negotiations, the agreement itself, and now they block implementation.

The U.S. government posted an envoy to the peace negotiations and sent the Secretary of State to one of the signings of an agreement. Seemingly, it supported the peace process,

Now it does not. Colombia’s El Espectador newspaper on November 8 published Edinson Bolaños’s report that outlines a U.S. plot aimed at immobilizing FARC leaders.  His information came from 24,000 recordings of wiretapped telephone calls occurring in 2017.

In most of the conversations, Marlon Marín speaks with two U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents posing as representatives of Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel. They talked about 10 tons of cocaine that agents of Marín, posing as FARC members, eventually sold to the cartel for $5 million. The Office of the Attorney General supplied the cocaine used in the deal.

According to Bolaños, the conversations introduced alleged drug-trafficking accomplices by mentioning their names or faking their voices on the calls. One was Jesús Santrich, spokesperson for the FARC peace negotiators in Havana. Another was Iván Márquez, who headed the FARC’s negotiating team and is Marlon Marín’s uncle. Over 1,300 recordings of talk on Iván Márquez’s telephone apparently disappeared.

Other names, or voices, cropping up included those of General Oscar Naranjo, former vice president and government peace negotiator; Gustavo Petro, 2018 presidential candidate for the left-leaning Humane Colombia coalition; and Piedad Córdoba, outspoken former Liberal Party senator.

Police agents arrested Santrich on April 9, 2018. Charged with conspiracy to export cocaine to the United States, Santrich faced extradition and trial before the U.S. District Court – Southern District of New York. Colombian authorities also arrested Marlon Marín and quickly flew him to the United States as a witness against Santrich.  Iván Márquez went into hiding before being detained. The Office of the Attorney General provided the press with information taken from the recordings.

The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), created by the peace agreement, enters the story.  The JEP decides on pardon or punishment for guerrillas who may have committed crimes while they were rebels, but only then. The JEP had accepted Santrich into its program. But, if his alleged narco-trafficking occurred after the civil war, the JEP would lose jurisdiction over him.

To make a determination, the JEP sought to examine the audio recordings. But it only received 12 of the thousands that existed, plus a video, publicized by the press, that showed Santrich talking with Marlon Marin. The audio was lacking. No documentation showed up of a grand jury indictment in New York.

Santrich spent 13 months in prison, where he carried out a 41-day hunger strike. Unable to establish the time-frame of any drug-dealing, the JEP ordered Santrich’s release on May 19, 2019. He was immediately rearrested, but Colombia’s Supreme Court released him on May 31. That court has jurisdiction over persons serving in Congress, Santrich included. He had a seat there, courtesy of the peace agreement.

Attorney General Martínez resigned. The Supreme Court announced plans to prosecute Santrich on the drug-trafficking charge.

On August 31, 2019, Santrich, Iván Márquez, and other former FARC insurgents returned to armed conflict. Almost a year later, the DEA and State Department announced rewards for information leading to the convictions of Santrich and Márquez – up to $10 million for each.

No peace now

Presently, implementation of the peace agreement is floundering. Exceptions are the JEP and political participation for FARC members; there’s now a FARC political party. Agrarian reform, prioritized by the FARC negotiators, is moribund. Food-producing crops were to have substituted for coca production, but aerial fumigation with glyphosate has returned. The peace agreement provided for the former guerrillas’ safety. But 242 former combatants plus 1,055 social and community activists have been killed.

The FARC negotiators sought assurance that former combatants would re-enter civil society as citizens with rights. Enabling the fight for progressive change to move from insurgency to civilian life, the JEP was central to implementing the entire agreement. Conversely, damage to the JEP threatens the agreement itself.

Prosecution of a rebel leader like Santrich as a common criminal, for drug-dealing, jeopardizes his lower-ranking comrades. It showed the JEP to be irrelevant. Taken together, the arrest of Santrich, his threatened extradition, and his removal from JEP jurisdiction show off the JEP as the Achilles heel of the agreement.

The U.S. government is no fan of the JEP. U.S Ambassador Kevin Whitaker in April 2019 insisted that if the JEP protected former guerrillas from extradition, Colombia would lose U. S. military assistance.  

Sections of the U.S. government were already reluctant to accept the peace agreement, perhaps because of long-nurtured animus against the FARC. U.S. interventionists had jousted with the FARC off and on, in one way or another, since 1964. Pretexts evolved from anti-communism to drug war to narco-terrorism.

They most likely believed, with Colombian military colleagues, that the FARC insurgency must disappear, starting with military defeat. That’s the gist of remarks that General John Kelly, former head of the U.S. military’s Southern Command, expressed in 2015, during the negotiations: “[T]he FARC claims the Colombian military has failed to defeat them [but] The truth is that the Colombian military has crippled the FARC, enabling the government of Colombia to begin charting the path to peace.” (Miami Herald, op-ed)  Kelly dismisses FARC ideas on peace.

Signatories to Colombia’s 2016 Peace Accord march to Bogota’s Plaza de Bolivar. November 1, 2020. | Photo: Twitter / Hernán Tobar @TobarteleSUR

U.S. hardliners reviewing past experience in Colombia can’t tolerate FARC leaders, even in civilian life. After 2000, the interventionists nurtured U.S. Plan Colombia with its bases, personnel on the ground, generous funding, and new equipment. Presumably, personal ties with Colombian colleagues are solid. It’s understood also that FARC leaders oppose U.S. domination of their region and U. S. designs on Colombia’s natural resources.

Extradition weaponized

The government of President Uribe in 2008  arrested 14 paramilitary leaders and extradited them to the United States for prosecution exclusively on drug-trafficking charges. There would be no embarrassing trials in Colombia that show off the paramilitaries’ dealings with politicians.

Extradited to the United States in late 2004, FARC leader Simon Trinidad specialized in negotiations and political education. He is serving a 60-year sentence, in isolation, at the supermax federal prison in Colorado. Trinidad escaped conviction on narco-trafficking charges but succumbed to a charge of conspiring to capture three U.S. drug-war contractors after FARC gunfire brought their plane down.

His case is a useful entry point for agitating against U.S. imperialism. The argument might focus on U.S. military intervention in Colombia as emblematic of U.S. interventions globally. Then, to introduce the Colombia situation, it would point to the extradition and torture of Simon Trinidad. Having gained attention, the discussion expands.

Piedad Cordoba visited the imprisoned Simon Trinidad. Few others have been allowed to do so. Cordoba commented recently on Simon Trinidad, the Santrich case, and U.S. military intervention.

Referring to “the recently exposed collusion between the North American DEA agency and the Colombian attorney general,” Cordoba points out that, “War in the 21st century in our country has been sustained with North American assistance.”

And, “The United States owes something to the Havana agreement. The first item would be the repatriation of Commander Simon Trinidad, who has been accepted into the JEP, but who also must be recognized as a victim of the genocide of the Patriotic Union. There must be some form of presidential pardon that exists and would remain valid …This was shown in the case of Puerto Rican patriot [Oscar] López Rivera. A pardon for Simon Trinidad would be excellent news for peace and reconciliation …”

She called for “re-evaluation of [U.S.] military assistance in view of the ongoing crisis of serious violations of human rights by Colombia’s military.”  In any case, “With the intervention persisting and present situation unchanged, we are fated to be a country at war.”


W. T. Whitney Jr.
W. T. Whitney Jr.

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine. W.T. Whitney Jr. es un periodista político cuyo enfoque está en América Latina, la atención médica y el antirracismo. Activista solidario con Cuba, anteriormente trabajó como pediatra, vive en la zona rural de Maine.