Farc commander’s nephew strikes plea-bargain deal with DEA

Colombian peace process suffers jolt after Marlon Marín held on trafficking charges

Farc supporters demonstrate against the arrest of Farc former peace negotiator Jesús Santrich, outside the General Prosecutor’s Office in Medellin, Colombia,  earlier this month. File photograph: Joaquin Sarmiento/AFP/Getty Images

Farc supporters demonstrate against the arrest of Farc former peace negotiator Jesús Santrich, outside the General Prosecutor’s Office in Medellin, Colombia, earlier this month. File photograph: Joaquin Sarmiento/AFP/Getty Images

 

The decision by the nephew of a former senior Colombian guerrilla leader to co-operate with the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has sparked the latest crisis in the South American nation’s troubled peace process.

Marlon Marín, whose uncle is former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) leader Iván Márquez, was arrested by Colombian authorities along with three other men, including former Farc negotiator Jesús Santrich.

They were picked up on charges of plotting with Mexico’s powerful Sinaloa cartel to import 10 tonnes of cocaine, with an estimated street value of $320 million (€260 million), into the US.

Following his arrest, Mr Marín unexpectedly indicated his willingness to co-operate with the DEA in exchange for a plea-bargain deal.

According to reports in Colombia, he spent seven hours last Friday providing details about drug trafficking to DEA agents in the Colombian capital, Bogotá.

As a result, US authorities dropped their extradition request and instead this week flew Mr Marlín to the US as a protected witness in the case.

He reportedly told the DEA the 10 tonnes was just a first shipment agreed with the Sinaloa cartel and, as well as providing details about the alleged Farc-Sinaloa operation, he also said he had knowledge of Venezuelan involvement in shipping cocaine.

Senior figures in Venezuela’s military and the chavista regime of President Nicolás Maduro have been implicated in cocaine trafficking in recent years. Two nephews of Mr Maduro’s wife were sentenced last year to 18 years in prison after their conviction in New York on trafficking charges.

Hunger strike

The Farc, now transformed into a political party called the Revolutionary Alternative Common Force, has rejected the accusations against Mr Santrich. He is now on hunger strike and has told his family he would rather die in Colombia than be extradited to the US.

Mr Márquez warned that his comrade’s arrest could undermine the 2016 peace agreement that saw the Farc end its half-century guerrilla campaign which in recent decades was partially funded by involvement in Colombia’s cocaine trade.

Both Mr Márquez and Mr Santrich are among the Farc leaders slated to take up 10 seats reserved in the peace agreement for the movement in Colombia’s new congress, after the former guerrillas failed to win any in congressional elections last month. Under the peace terms the Farc cannot replace Mr Santrich following his arrest.

In a bid to diffuse tensions President Juan Manuel Santos met with the Farc’s principal leader Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, who reaffirmed his support for the peace process.

A majority of Colombians have rejected the peace deal principally because it is seen as too lenient towards the Farc, whose leaders can expect light sentences in a specially designed justice system despite decades of human rights abuses, kidnappings and drug trafficking.

The arrest of a senior Farc leader on trafficking charges could boost the chances of right-wing candidate Iván Duque in next month’s presidential election. The senator is a fierce critic of the peace terms, which he has vowed to redraw so the Farc faces sterner justice for its alleged crimes.