Unite denounces the imprisonment of a blind Colombian peacemaker

Unite logo on building
Peter Bolton

Delegates at Unite the union’s July 2018 policy congress have called for the release of a detained Colombian peacemaker.

Jesús Santrich was a key negotiator during the Colombian peace process, which effectively brought an end to the country’s decades-long armed conflict. This war killed over 200,000 people and displaced millions [paywall]. Delegates, including the union’s leader Len McCluskey, held signs with the words “Justice for Jesus” for cameras at the conference:

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Santrich, who is blind, is a member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) – Colombia’s main guerrilla organization (now disarmed). He was arrested in April 2018 on allegations of conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the US. He’s currently incarcerated in Colombia and facing extradition to the US, which initiated the charges. Supporters of Santrich have condemned his arrest as a frame-up by the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), orchestrated in collaboration with right-wing forces within Colombia. Ironically, Santrich was one of the few members of the FARC’s leadership whom the US and Colombian governments had not accused of drug trafficking until recently.

‘Special Jurisdiction for Peace’

The matter has been further complicated by the terms of the peace agreement governing the trying of alleged conflict-related crimes. According to the final document, that was signed and ratified by the Colombian Congress in 2016, crimes committed by the FARC before the conclusion of the peace process are to be tried in a special court, known as the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP).

The JEP decided in May to suspend Santrich’s extradition for 120 days in order to determine whether there is any evidence that the crimes alleged by the DEA took place after, rather than before, the signing of the deal. It also issued a subpoena for all information “related to the extradition process and privation of liberty.” Santrich ended a 41-day hunger strike protesting his arrest in response to the decision.

Peace agreement in peril

The affair has added further strain to the peace process after hard-right politician Iván Duque narrowly won the 2018 presidential election against leftist candidate Gustavo Petro. Duque ran on a platform of opposing the peace process and is a protégé of former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe. During Uribe’s time in office, Colombia launched an aggressive and controversial counter-insurgency campaign with US backing. Uribe allegedly had ties to drug cartels and was accused of colluding with right-wing death squads. Petro, on the other hand, ran a campaign based on supporting and building on the peace deal, and is himself a former guerrilla with the now-defunct M-19 rebel group.

Supporters of the peace process have pointed out the hypocrisy of the likes of Duque and Uribe in their labelling of the peace process as a “monument to impunity” for the FARC, given the fact that right-wing paramilitaries were responsible for the vast majority of civilian casualties during the conflict. Uribe’s hypocrisy is particularly flagrant given that he is widely believed to have himself financed these death squads and is described in a 1991 intelligence report from the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) as a “close personal friend of Pablo Escobar” who was “dedicated to collaboration with the Medellín [drug] cartel at high government levels.” Furthermore, during his presidency, the Colombian military itself murdered more civilians than the FARC did in the prior three decades combined.

Reliable ally of many years

Colombia has for years been one of the most dangerous countries in the world for union members and activists. Over the last two decades, for example, around 3,000 trade unionists have been murdered in Colombia – with an impunity rate of about 87%.

Unite the union has not just been a consistent consistent supporter of the Colombian peace process, but also a staunch advocate for human and workers’ rights in Colombia. It is affiliated with and has even provided office space for Justice for Colombia, an NGO that works to promote peace, social justice, human rights and especially improved security for union activists in Colombia. Justice for Colombia’s affiliates include current TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady, Labour MP Tony Lloyd, and Labour MEP for East of England Richard Howitt.

Unite’s continued support for peace and justice in Colombia is well worth celebrating.

Get Involved!

– Support Justice for Colombia by joining or donating.

Join Unite the union.

– Support The Canary if you appreciate the work we do. Also, see more Canary articles on Colombia.

Featured image via William Murphy/Flickr

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