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While in Colombia they want to pardon Iván Márquez, SEMANA reveals the ‘indictment’ with the very serious charges pending in the United States

“Is the United States justice still looking for Iván Márquez? Yes”. And they are looking for him for drug trafficking? Yes”. The response of the United States ambassador in Colombia, Francisco Palmieri, to the director of SEMANA, Vicky Dávila, was forceful. In the eyes of that country, Márquez is a drug trafficker on whom deep-seated investigations weigh that associate him with the most dangerous criminal drug cartels on the continent.

This capo character does not surprise Colombians, but it does open a huge dilemma in the face of the “total peace” of President Gustavo Petro: can a pure narco enter into a peace agreement? Congress and the Government, for now, have opened the door for him, but the path is complex and full of controversy.

One of the biggest stones for that pardon that the Petro Government wants to give Márquez is an indictment of the North American justice that SEMANA heard. The 28-page document opens an investigation into Nicolás Maduro for being part of the feared group of the Soles cartel. It is signed by then US Attorney General William P. Barr, in March 2020, four years after the peace agreement with the FARC.

“The Venezuelan regime, led by Nicolás Maduro, continues to be plagued by criminality and corruption,” Barr said at the time. “For more than 20 years, Maduro and several high-ranking colleagues allegedly conspired with the FARC, bringing in tons of cocaine and devastating Americans.” In the indictment, members of the Farc, headed by Márquez, are accused of being lieutenants of a narco-terrorist association that sought to flood the streets of the United States with coca, with a sophisticated money laundering system.

Danilo Rueda High Commissioner for Peace
Danilo Rueda, High Commissioner for Peace. – Photo: Cesar Carrión

Márquez is accused of four charges: 1) participating in a narco-terrorism conspiracy, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years and a maximum of life in prison; (2) conspiring to import cocaine into the United States, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years and a maximum of life in prison; (3) using and carrying machine guns and weapons, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years and a maximum of life in prison, and (4) conspiring to use and carry machine guns and destructive devices, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

The document says that the FARC began to form part of this organization in 1999, in the middle of the peace process with former president Andrés Pastrana, and that from there until 2020, when the ruling was signed, they decided to relocate part of the drug trafficking operation in Venezuela to take the drug through the Caribbean, with stops in Central America, especially in Honduras. By 2004, the State Department already calculated that 250 tons of coca left Venezuela per year and by 2010 at least 75 flights via Honduras were already being tracked to bring that drug into the United States.

About Márquez, the indictment says that he joined the FARC in 1985 and that already in 2006 he was reviewed by the New York justice system for drug trafficking. The document indicates that by that time Márquez was already a “fugitive”.

That Márquez has such pending accounts with Uncle Sam has everything to do with the total peace that is being processed in Congress. The attempts to put it in the package have been as crude as they are obvious.

Nicolás Maduro President of Venezuela
Nicolas Maduro, President of Venezuela. – Photo: afp

The first became clear last Wednesday, when after approving the tax reform in the Senate, the president of Congress, Roy Barreras, called to vote for the conciliation of the extension of the public order law, which had the controversial article that opens the doors to the traitors of the peace process.

After the fatigue of that long day, the congressmen finally endorsed it without further discussion. Within that norm, it was stated: “Former members of illegal armed groups, demobilized through agreements reached with the Colombian State, will be understood as part of an organized armed structure of high-impact crime.”

The proposal had alerted the opposition, but it had struck the heart of the most authoritative spokesperson: Humberto de la Calle. The former chief negotiator has been the most upset with what he considers a trap in the spirit of the agreements. “They already had their chance and they failed,” he said in plenary. “What is it that can be negotiated with Mr. Márquez and the Second Marquetalia that has not been negotiated in Havana?” he asked himself.

But putting Márquez in the combo of total peace is an obsession of the Petro Government. And the first thing for this would not be legal, but political, according to the critics of the idea: wash his face as a criminal and present him as politically persecuted. For that, there was a spearhead: Vice President Francia Márquez.

In an interview with El Tiempo, Márquez said something that surprised, but went unnoticed. “He was part of the entrapment. Like Jesús Santrich, who was also in that process. We saw what the Attorney General of the Nation (Néstor Humberto Martínez) did to him. He set him up,” the vice president said.

Former prosecutor Martínez came out to deny it immediately. “There never was an entrapment of Márquez. It is said that he traps someone when he is induced to commit a crime to prosecute him. Márquez was not investigated, much less prosecuted, ”he explained to SEMANA. He recalled that the main witness against him is Marlon Marín, his nephew, but that the process is in the United States.

Did Francia Márquez speak on his own or is that the thesis of the Petro Government? Everything seems to indicate that it is the latter. In a meeting with media directors, the president assured that Iván Márquez took up arms for this “entrapment”. And the other angle is the impact it could have on the process with the ELN. For various sectors, the treatment of the FARC dissident could end up being a double-edged sword for this and future administrations.

This is explained by the fact that, in the event of reaching a peace agreement with this organization, there could be several dissident factions that do not share the terms of the agreement, abandon the process and return to committing crimes. And then the governments in power would have to dedicate themselves to negotiating with everyone who calls themselves “ELN dissidents.”

In addition, it would be contrary to what was said by various congressmen from the ruling party in the sense that the idea of ​​total peace is not to “recycle” criminals, as it would be doing with Márquez.

Jesus Santrich. – Photo: guillermo torres-week

As will be remembered, the dissident disappeared from the radar in 2018 and came back to light in 2019, in a video from underground. There he announced “a new stage in the armed struggle” and assured that he had taken this path because of the “betrayal” of the State to the peace process. In Colombia, after the peace process, Márquez never had an open investigation.

Petro’s narrative has changed. When as a senator he promoted the debate to defend Santrich, who was captured, he today president assured that Márquez “never fell into the trap.” And he added: “Marlon Marín, the nephew of Iván Márquez, knew that he worked for the DEA, and he was trying at all costs to make Márquez go on the phone to record a conversation with the DEA posing as the Sinaloa cartel and for a year, permanently failed.”

It is striking that in the historic meeting between Petro and Maduro, the presence of the FARC dissidents in this territory was not even mentioned. That omission, of something so essential in the relations of both countries, also sent a strong message.

Entering total peace has enormous advantages. The biggest, the benefit of suspending extradition and avoiding US justice. The US ambassador was very clear: “A complete stop to extradition would harm relations, cooperation, law enforcement, but I don’t think we are on that path.” However, a question remains in the air: how to give total peace to a traitor of peace who went to Venezuela to traffic? It will be hard for the government to explain.

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