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Will the arrest of an ex-FARC leader threaten peace in Colombia?

Will the arrest of an ex-FARC leader threaten peace in Colombia?
From Al Jazeera - April 15, 2018

Bogota, Colombia - The arrest of a former top FARC commander last week has put an already fragile peace deal under further strain, but could help bolster the peace process in the long run, depending on how the charges are carried out, according to analysts.

The deal between the left-wing rebel groups Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)and the state, signed in late 2016, formally ended 52 years of conflict that had left an estimated 222,000 people dead and more than seven million displaced.

Despite having received near-universal praise on the international stage, domestically,Colombia's landmark peace accord has never received the same level of popularity.

Following delays in its implementation and corruption scandals, the process encountered another setback this week when Seuxis Hernandez, better known as Jesus Santrich, was charged by US courts and the Colombian general prosecutor with conspiracy to ship 10,000kg of cocaine - with a street value of $320m - to the United States.

According to analysts, the charges pose some serious issues for the peace accord by further damaging trust with the FARC, potentially frightening ex-rebels into joining dissident rebels and potentially swelling support for reversing an already unpopular agreement.

"This is a serious blow for the political standing of the FARC," said Jorge Restrepo, director of the Conflict Analysis Institute, CERAC.

"They did not get more than 50,000 votes in the elections - [the arrest] shows there was reason in the majority of Colombians who did not trust them to abandon organised crime," he added, referring to last month's elections that saw the FARC participate as a political party for the first time.

A setback for trust in FARC?

With their history of drug-trafficking, kidnapping, extortion and massacres, building societal trust in the FARC was never going to be easy, analysts say.

A large sector of the population still doubts their ability to reform themselves from narco-criminals to ordinary citizens and despise the special judicial arrangements in the peace accord, which are perceived to let ex-rebels off easy for serious crimes they have committed such as kidnap, murder and drug-trafficking.

According to a Gallup poll from February, 73 percent of those interviewed said they do not believe the FARC will comply with what was agreed on in the accords.

Trusting these individuals only became more difficult when it was revealed that Santrich, who played a role in the historic peace negotiations in Havana, had allegedly continued to conduct illicit activities after the deal was signed.

The blind commander was also one of 10 former rebel leaders guaranteed a seat in congress according to the peace deal, individuals who critics argue should not be in politics but jailed for life for their past actions.

"I do not understand how this can happen," former Vice President Francisco Santos Calderon told Al Jazeera.

"Somebody who just won a huge prize of having all his crimes cleaned gets caught drug-trafficking? It gives the peace huge problems, and it gives the organisation huge problems".

'Who will be next?'

In response to the shock arrest, President Juan Manuel Santosannounced his "hand will not waiver" in extraditing Santrich if he is found guilty. The prospect of jail and extradition to the US, however, has caused a lot of anger among the FARC who continue protesting the innocence of their comrade and reiterating the potential negative consequences for the peace deal at a critical juncture.

"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," announced Ivan Marquez, another high-ranking FARC leader.

The former rebels also claim the arrest is a conspiratorial move - "orchestrated by the US along with the public prosecution" - which was hatched when US Attorney General Jeff Sessions was in Colombia last December.

Restore faith in the peace process?

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