Colombia arrests key negotiator in FARC peace deal on drug trafficking charge

'Jesus Santrich' (L) and fellow FARC commander Ivan Marquez after the former guerrilla group registered as a political party in 2017.

Story highlights

  • Ex-rebel groups says arrest is "worst moment" in peace process
  • Prominent member and three others face extradition to the US

(CNN)Colombia's former rebel group FARC has reacted angrily to the arrest of one of its prominent members on drug charges, warning the move is an obstacle to peace.

Colombian federal agents arrested Seuxis Paucis Hernández Solarte, alias "Jesús Santrich," on Monday, according to a statement from Colombia's attorney general. Santrich and three others face extradition to the United States, the statement said.
    The US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York announced Tuesday that Santrich and three other FARC associates were arrested in Colombia and accused of "conspiring and attempting to import cocaine into the United States."
    "As alleged, these defendants conspired to ship thousands of kilograms of cocaine from Colombia to the streets of the US. Thanks to the investigative work of the DEA, they are now under arrest and face significant criminal charges," US Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in a statement.
    The indictment, unsealed in federal court, alleges the suspects worked together to produce and distribute approximately 10,000 kilograms (about 11 tons) of cocaine. If convicted, they face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum term of life in prison, according the US Attorney's statement.
    Santrich was a prominent member of the FARC, a guerilla group formerly known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia that signed a peace agreement with the Colombian government in 2016.
    It now functions as a political party named the Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Común" or "Common Alternative Revolutionary Force."
    A FARC spokesman said in a statement posted to Twitter that Santrich's arrest was the "worst moment" of the peace process. Santrich was a member of FARC's main delegation at the negotiations that led to the peace deal being announced in Cuba.
    Under that agreement, former FARC combatants were allocated 10 seats in Colombia's congress until 2026. Santrich was one of FARC's candidates in last month's congressional elections.
    Santrich was indicted by a US federal grand jury on a narco-trafficking charge.
    An Interpol red alert said Santrich conspired to export cocaine to the United States between June 2017 and April 2018 -- after the November 2016 signing of the landmark peace deal that saw the former rebel group turn in its arms in exchange for reintegration into society.

    FARC responds

    FARC slammed the arrest and extradition request in a statement released Tuesday: "The judicial order issued yesterday by the US goes against national sovereignty and is a slap in the face to the agreements made with the FARC. It also shows the lack of willingness from the regime to facilitate a true peace process, with the new changes in Colombia."
    On Monday, Ivan Marquez, a chief negotiator during the peace process, called on the Colombian government to "act and prevent these legal obstacles from generating mistrust."
    FARC leaders also stated that the arrest demonstrated the group's vulnerability.
    "This is a very delicate and dangerous situation. This, yet again, underscores what we have been complaining about in relation to the legal insecurity and lack of guarantees that we have as members of the FARC political party," former FARC commander Victoria Sandino said in a statement. "This is sabotage and an obstacle for those that have committed wholeheartedly to this process, starting with one of the main negotiators and signatory of the peace accord."

    Colombian President says law must be respected

    Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for overseeing the accord to end Colombia's half-century civil conflict, addressed Santrich's arrest.
    "The vast majority of former fighters have complied with the peace accord in good faith, in line with the law and the constitution. We guarantee all of them that we will respect the accord, in particular their special legal treatment and their reintegration.
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    "But I must be emphatic and categorical: Building peace requires absolute compliance with and respect for the law and for accords. This is what the Colombian people have demanded. There will be no tolerance or wavering on this," Santos said.
    He added: "The attorney general has informed me that, following rigorous investigations, he has strong and conclusive proof that will show Mr. Seuxis Hernandez, a.k.a. Jesus Santrich, is responsible for narco-trafficking crimes committed after the signing of the accord. Of course he, like all citizens, should have his rights respected, including his right to due process.
    "The accord is clear and I will strictly abide by it: I will not extradite anyone for crimes committed before the signing of the accord and during the conflict.
    "That said, if due process is followed -- and if there is irrefutable proof -- there is room to carry out extraditions for crimes committed after the signing of the accord. I will have no hesitation to authorize that."

    What is the FARC?

    FARC was formed in 1964 with rebels wanting to forcibly redistribute wealth in Colombia. Inspired by the success of the Cuban revolution and espousing anti-US and Marxist ideology, the group drew the overwhelming majority of its members from the rural poor.
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    It was funded by a sophisticated cocaine trafficking network and was armed with child soldiers.
    The armed group seized territory, attacked government forces and interfered with political life through high-profile kidnappings.
    Among the group's most notorious feats was the 2002 capture of presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, who was held deep in the jungle for six years before a Colombian military operation rescued her.
    Both the United States and European Union designated it as a terrorist group.