Colombian Officials Arrest Ex-FARC Commander For A Second Time

On May 15th, a Colombian tribunal issued a court order calling for an end to the detainment of Seuxis Hernández, formerly a commander for the FARC rebel group (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). However, the Attorney General’s office’s assertion that new evidence had been uncovered which contributed to Hernández’s drug charges (outlined by the United States) led authorities to immediately arrest him again after his release on May 17th. This event stirred already tense relations between the Colombian government and the FARC who are working to implement a peace agreement established in 2016 after decades of conflict. The arrest and re-arrest lead many to question whether war crimes committed during the years of conflict are being dealt with using adequate severity. The debate over Hernández’s arrest signifies continuing confusion over how to administer justice after the conflict, and more generally, over how to successfully implement the peace agreement.

Reactions from officials in Colombia exacerbate the division of opinions in the country on Hernández’s detainment. According to The Wall Street Journal, the President of Colombia, Ivan Duque, is in favor of keeping Hernández in jail in order to further a strict system of justice for drug and war crimes, stating, “All of our institutions will be working so that there won’t be impunity.” Former Colombian Attorney General Néstor Martínez and his deputy even resigned their positions in response to Hernández’s initial release. According to The Wall Street Journal, this bold act of protest was characterized as “patriotic” by U.S. Ambassador Kevin Whitaker. In contrast, other members of the FARC support Hernández’s assertion that he is innocent of the charges against him and that the arrest was a response to divisions created by the peace deal. According to The Wall Street Journal, one member of the FARC, congressman Julián Gallo, agrees that Hernández’s detainment is a result of the government’s lack of accountability in holding up their end of the peace agreement, stating, “This is a hard and blunt blow to the peace process.” According to The New York Times, Gallo has previously defended this position on the government’s inadequate honoring of the peace agreement of 2016, stating, “It’s undeniable that the government hasn’t made good on its promises, whether it’s reintegrating former fighters, agrarian development or political reforms. There’s been a general neglect.”

Following such a long period of intrastate conflict, a peace agreement between groups is extremely promising and provides hope for the eventual wellbeing of the Colombian people. However, even in the midst of a settlement of differences and compromise, a pursuance of justice for victims and punishment for perpetrators who featured in the conflict of previous decades takes necessary importance in discussions of future peace. Difficulties occur when different views on how this pursuit of justice should be carried out further divide groups like the FARC and the Colombian government, threatening the already fragile peace that exists between them. While the punishment of crimes such as Hernández’s is of utmost importance to the healing and betterment of Colombia, especially following years of conflict, effort should be made whenever possible to honor the peace agreement established in 2016 in order to foster cooperation and peace between groups.

For about five decades, Colombia endured a brutal civil war between the country’s government and rebel groups, the largest of which is FARC. After the loss of more than 220,000 lives, the destruction of infrastructure and lack of provision of government services in many areas, and the rise of Columbia’s drug economy, the government and the FARC finished a detailed and complex peace agreement in 2016. This agreement outlined the proposed improvement of life for citizens in rural Colombia (the main goal of the FARC), a stop to the violence inflicted by rebel groups, the inclusion of members of the FARC in Congress and future elections, and special tribunals for war crimes and abuses that severely limited potential jail time. However, though it has been roughly two and a half years since the agreement was written, the government has not instituted the reforms promised for many rural areas, violence from rebel groups has resumed, and the question has been raised of whether the tribunals are effective or sufficiently strict.

In light of a lack of adherence to original promises, the fate of the peace agreement reached between the Colombian government and the FARC remains uncertain. Events like the detainment of Hernández call into question the best way to pursue justice after the civil war and have the potential to further divide Colombians. Through this division and negligence in upholding promises outlined in the peace agreement, the potential for peace in the near future deteriorates. Though the creation of an agreement holds promise, adherence to its stipulations is essential to the building of trust and long-lasting peace between groups.