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Arrest of Ex-FARC Leader Endangers Colombia’s Fragile Peace Deal

Arrest of Ex-FARC Leader Endangers Colombia’s Fragile Peace DealArrest of Ex-FARC Leader Endangers Colombia’s Fragile Peace Deal

Colombian authorities arrested a former top rebel peace negotiator on a US drug warrant Monday, delivering a major blow to the country’s already teetering attempts to put a half century of political violence behind it.

Seuxis Hernandez, a blind rebel ideologue best known by his alias Jesus Santrich, was picked up at his residence in Bogota on charges that he conspired with three others to smuggle several tons of cocaine into the US with a wholesale value of $15 million, AP reported.

According to an Interpol notice, Santrich met with cocaine buyers at his residence on Nov. 2, 2017, a day after one of his co-conspirators delivered a 5-kilogram sample of the narcotic to them at a hotel lobby in Bogota. During the meeting and subsequent negotiations, he and his co-conspirators allegedly discussed plans for a 10-ton drug shipment to the US, boasting they had access to cocaine laboratories and US-registered planes to produce and move the drugs inside Colombia, the world’s largest producer of the illegal narcotic.

President Juan Manuel Santos confirmed the arrest in a nationally televised address, saying that his “hand won’t shake” in signing off on Santrich’s extradition in order to safeguard the peace agreement’s integrity. Under terms of the accord aimed at ending Latin America’s longest-running conflict, rebels who lay down their weapons and confess their war crimes to special peace tribunals are to be spared jail time and extradition. But they are not protected for crimes committed after the December 2016 signing.

“The construction of peace requires the absolute commitment and respect for the law and the accords,” Santos said. “This is what the Colombian people demand. In this aspect, there can’t be any room for tolerance or weakness.” Santrich’s former comrades in arms accused the government of trying to sabotage the peace process.

“This is the worst moment that the peace process has gone through,” said the former rebel leader known as Ivan Marquez, who served as chief negotiator during the peace talks. “The government has to act to prevent judicial set-ups like these from spinning out of control and generating a great deal of mistrust among all of the guerrillas.”

But Chief Prosecutor Nestor Martinez said a New York grand jury handed down an indictment after evaluating evidence, including videos and communications, that indicated Santrich and three other co-conspirators who were also arrested hatched a plan in the second half of 2017 to smuggle into the US cocaine with a street value of $320 million.

 

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