Former Colombian guerrilla fighter sentenced in murder of Catholic archbishop

Archbishop Isaías Duarte Cancino Archbishop Isaías Duarte Cancino

The Criminal Chamber of the Colombian Supreme Court of Justice sentenced “in absentia” former FARC leader Luciano Marín Arango, alias Iván Márquez, to 25 years in prison as the orchestrator of the 2002 assassination of Archbishop Isaías Duarte Cancino.

Márquez is at large and must be captured in order to serve the sentence.

The prelate was archbishop of Cali when he was murdered on March 16, 2002, by two hitmen on a motorcycle as he left Good Shepherd parish after celebrating en masse the weddings of 105 couples. The hitmen were later found to have been paid by FARC’s Joint Central Command of the West.

Márquez was part of the Secretariat of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) that had ordered the assassination of the prelate due to his constant statements against the guerrilla group.

He was also part of the group that negotiated a peace accord with the government of President Juan Manuel Santos, which led to the disbanding of this guerrilla force in 2016 and its subsequent transition into the far-left Commons political party.

However, in August 2019 Márquez announced in a video that he was returning to the armed struggle, after he had been linked to drug trafficking again. He currently leads one of the FARC factions that rejected the peace accord, known as the Second Marquetalia, which operates on the border with Venezuela. He must be captured in order to serve the sentence.

In the verdict, posted yesterday on its website, the Supreme Court upheld the 25-year sentence handed down by a lower court in December 2011 against Márquez and other members of the FARC Secretariat, but whom the Cali Superior Court acquitted in 2013. 

That same year, the attorney general’s office then filed an appeal for the Supreme Court to examine the case, but the process did not advance until it was referred to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), created with the 2016 Peace Accord.

However, on Dec. 15, 2021, the case was returned to the Supreme Court of Justice, which decided to review the rebel leader’s case as he was no longer under the Special Jurisdiction for Peace because he had reneged on the 2016 Peace Accord.

Regarding the other members of the Secretariat, Rodrigo Londoño, Noel Mata Mata, and Pablo Catatumbo, who are also implicated in the crime, the Supreme Court said that since they accepted the peace process, their cases fall under the JEP.

The Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice thus upheld the sentence handed down in 2011, stating that in its 2013 ruling the Cali Superior Court made errors in assessing the evidence that showed that the murder of Archbishop Duarte was ordered by the FARC Secretariat. 

In its sentence, the Criminal Chamber noted that the prelate “criticized and censured the actions of the FARC-People’s Army, which he did in the course of his religious preaching and through press releases condemning attacks on the civilian population and kidnappings ordered by said group.”

Former guerilla fighter Julio Rodrigo Iriarte testified in the case that the Secretariat ordered the crime, committed by the 30th and 6th Fronts and the “Arturo Ruíz” Mobile Bloc led by Pablo Catatumbo.

“Undoubtedly, as it is a properly hierarchical organization and organized under clear and precise mandates given by the Secretariat, it could be expected that the group’s orders and operations would be carried out under a strict command logic, whose actions with the greatest resonance and connotation only could be authorized by the most important decision-making body,” the Supreme Court said.

The biographer of Archbishop Duarte, Father Efraín Montoya Flórez, said that on the day of the assassination, the prelate repeated twice the Prayer of Abandonment of St. Charles de Foucauld, a French mystic: “My Father, I abandon myself to you. Do what you want with me.”

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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