In 2011, five members of the FARC Secretariat — “Timochenko,” “Pablo Catatumbo,” “Alfonso Cano” (killed in November 2011), “Ivan Marquez” and “Efrain Guzman” (died of natural causes in 2002) — were sentenced in absentia for ordering the murder of the Arch Bishop of Cali, Isaias Duarte Cancino, while leaving a wedding ceremony he had been officiating.
However, the Cali Tribunal overturned the verdict, absolving the FARC leaders of the 25-year sentence previously issued against them.
The decision was made on the basis that the testimonies implicating the FARC rebels were not “solid” and that the presumed order to kill the bishop did not come from the FARC Secretariat. Pablo Catatumbo, the current leader of the FARC’s Western Bloc, did not belong to the FARC Secretariat at the time of the murder. Nor did Ivan Marquez, who currently serves as leading negotiator at the FARC-government peace talks in Havana, Cuba.
In one of the testimonies, the demobilized FARC rebel, Julio Rodrigo Iriarte, said he overheard the leaders of the organization’s 30th Front, which is active south of Cali, talk about receiving the order to kill the archbishop. The Tribunal concluded that Iriarte did not form part of said Front at the time and that his testimony was to be considered dubious.
Another key testimony which was rejected by the Tribunal’s second instance came from Duarte’s driver, who allegedly said he had heard about death threats against the archbishop. The Tribunal said information about the alleged testimony came from a police officer who was never contacted by the relevant authorities to follow up the claim.
So far, only one alleged FARC member has been found guilty of the murder of Duarte. Alias “El Cortico” was sentenced to 35 years in prison in 2005, while alias “Basilio” successfully appealed his 35-year sentence and was set free. He was subsequently killed in a shootout in Cali less than a year after being released from prison.
Despite the FARC leadership being absolved from any involvement in the crime, other sentences against them remain. For example, Timochenko, the organization’s current top leader, was in 2012 sentenced to 34 years in prison by the Superior Tribunal of the southwestern city of Neiva for a 1999 attack in which three people died.