The former guerrilla ideologue was reported missing by the National Protection Union, which has been in charge of his security, on Sunday.
His disappearance from a FARC reintegration camp in Los Robles La Paz, a municipality near the border with Venezuela, FARC have confirmed.
His disappearance allegedly came after he got wind of a plot to either assassinate or kidnap him, and has created another major challenge for Colombia’s fragile peace process.
Santrich is free to do as he pleases, for now
Despite the widespread furor caused by his disappearance, the virtually blind Santrich broke no law and did not violate the peace deal by dumping his security detail and going off the grid.
As long as he doesn’t leave the country, Santrich is free to travel and under no obligation to inform the authorities of his whereabouts.
The FARC’s House faction leader is not even in danger of losing his seat as of yet, since Congress is in recess until July 20.
Had he disappeared while the legislature was in session, he would have risked losing his seat, as happened to “Ivan Marquez,” Santrich’s close friend who was set to be the FARC’s Senate faction chief before disappearing in May last year.
The Supreme Court date
Santrich’s absolute freedom ends on July 9 when he is due to appear before the Supreme Court over a US claim he conspired to traffic drugs after the FARC signed a peace deal in November 2016.
One of the conditions of Santrich’s liberty, as mandated by the peace accord, is his cooperation with the legal cases he faces.
If he fails to appear before the court without providing an adequate excuse, he could be held in contempt of the court that has the authority to warrant his arrest.
In that event, Santrich would become a fugitive and the authorities would be able to arrest him and put the FARC leader in jail for the third time since the peace process began.
War crimes accusations
The Supreme Court is not the only legal body with which Santrich is obliged to cooperate. After news broke of his disappearance, the war crimes tribunal reminded Santrich of his legal obligations to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), which can call him to appear at the transitional court’s convenience.
Together with 31 other FARC leaders, Santrich is expected to testify about the guerrillas’ mass kidnapping of civilians, the first of multiple investigations into war crimes committed by the FARC.
Failure to comply with the directives of the JEP could result in the elimination of judicial benefits like his conditional freedom and even his exclusion from the peace process.
In such an event, Santrich would have to face war crimes charges before Colombia’s ordinary justice system.
Santrich’s disappearance caught his political party by surprise. Hours after the UNP reported his disappearance, the FARC called on the congressman to re-emerge and reminded him that any member who abandons the peace process would have to face the consequences.
The FARC leadership, which is struggling to keep its former guerrillas and mid-level commanders in line, has made it clear that it accepts no dissidence and demands full commitment to the peace deal from its members.
Because Santrich was never elected, the FARC can unilaterally decide to remove him from congress and replace him with a different leader.
The Venezuela option
According to people close to the FARC leader, Santrich has fled to Venezuela where he is also a citizen.
If the congressmen did make the 20-mile trip from the FARC reintegration site in Cesar across the border with Venezuela, he will be in violation of both the peace deal and the conditions of the Supreme Court.
At that point he would become an international fugitive and Colombian authorities can request Interpol to issue a Red Notice, a type of international arrest warrant.
Whether that would lead to anything while disputed President Nicolas Maduro is in power is unlikely; Colombia and Venezuela have broken off all diplomatic relations and much of the neighboring country is in utter chaos.
What is certain is that, while perfectly legal for now, Santrich’s disappearance has plunged his country’s peace process in the latest of a series of crises.