US State Dept. to Remove Colombia’s FARC From List of Terrorist Groups Five Years Since Legalization
01:05 GMT 24.11.2021 (Updated: 18:30 GMT 19.10.2022)
© AP Photo / Fernando VergaraFormer rebel commanders and current members of the FARC political party, Pastor Alape, second from left, and Rodrigo Granda, far left with Colombian flag, arrive for a ceremony to apologize to locals for the kidnappings carried out by the FARC over decades in the rural area of Pipiral near Villavicencio, Colombia, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020. Ex-combatants and social organizations plan to march to Bogota this weekend to demand the government guarantee their right to life and compliance with the 2016 peace agreement, amid hundreds of subsequent ex-rebel deaths.
Five years after signing a historic peace agreement with the Colombian government, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) could soon be removed from the US State Department’s list of groups deemed terrorist organizations.
US State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters on Tuesday it was beginning consultations with Congress on forthcoming actions regarding the FARC - which sources familiar with the matter say include removing the group from its list of foreign terrorist organizations. It was added to the list in 1997.
Price added the Biden administration was committed to the "implementation and preservation" of the 2016 peace deal reached between the FARC and the government of then-Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for the effort. The talks were hosted in Havana, Cuba, and helped end 53 years of armed conflict that left an estimated 260,000 people dead.
According to the United Nations, 80% of the deaths were at the hands of right-wing militias tied to the drug trade and allied with the Colombian government, while another 12% were at the hands of the government itself.
At its height, the Marxist-Leninist guerrilla group, now a legal political party known simply as The Commons, controlled perhaps one-quarter of the Andean country and counted at least 18,000 fighters, with wide support among the peasantry. However, with the US heavily arming and supporting the Colombian military and the US Drug Enforcement Agency, (DEA), a paramilitary police force, training the Colombian police, the FARC slowly lost ground and the conflict became increasingly unpopular for both groups.
The first peace agreement, reached in August 2016, saw Bogota agree to support massive investment for rural development and facilitate the FARC's conversion into a legal political party. In turn, the FARC agreed to help eradicate illegal drug crops, most notably coca used to produce cocaine, remove landmines in the areas of conflict, and offer reparations to victims. It also allowed FARC leaders to avoid prosecution by acts of reparation to victims and other community work.
© AP Photo / Fernando VergaraColombia's President Juan Manuel Santos, left, shakes hands with with Rodrigo Londono, known as Timochenko, the top leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, after signing a revised peace pact at Colon Theater in Bogota, Colombia, Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016
Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos, left, shakes hands with with Rodrigo Londono, known as Timochenko, the top leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, after signing a revised peace pact at Colon Theater in Bogota, Colombia, Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016
© AP Photo / Fernando Vergara
The deal required approval by a majority of Colombian voters in a national referendum. However, a slim majority rejected the agreement, with the “no” campaign being orchestrated by former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, Santos’ predecessor who opposed the peace deal and had waged an all-out war on the FARC.
A second deal, with more than 500 changes proposed by dissenters and requiring parliamentary instead of popular approval, was agreed to by November of that year. Among the changes was that the peace terms would be enforced by a Special Justice for the Peace who would report to the Constitutional Court, the country’s highest legal body, instead of to an international body, and both the legislature and the Special Justice would be able to modify the agreement.
Barriers to a Lasting Peace
Last month, the Washington Post reported on how FARC’s continued presence on the US’ terrorist list had kept US Treasury sanctions on members of the now-legal party, creating additional barriers to their complete reintegration.
“It’s a big contradiction,” Pablo Catatumbo, a former senior commander of the FARC, told the Post. “We signed a peace accord that the US government backed. The US gave a great deal of support to the war. They need to support the peace, too.”
“The FARC gave up their arms and complied with a justice system and to a peace process and they’re still on the list,” Santos also told the paper. “This is an outright contradiction.”
The United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia reported in late September that 98% of the FARC’s members remain committed to peace, but 46% are still unemployed.
In a statement accompanying the report, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres urged Colombian President Ivan Duque to “overcome the outstanding challenges” in fully implementing the peace deal, including integrating FARC members but also ending the ongoing killings of former FARC members, noting that 292 have been killed since the agreement was signed.
According to the report, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights recorded the killings of 4 FARC-EP former combatants, 43 human rights defenders and an unstated number of indigenous and Afro-Colombian community leaders this year, for a total of 158 killed. Many of those died during mass protests in April and May against a proposed tax reform scheme that Duque’s government put down with heavy force.
© AP Photo / Fernando VergaraEx-combatants of the disbanded FARC and social activists march to demand the government guarantee their right to life and compliance with the 2016 peace agreement, in Bogota, Colombia, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020. The mobilization coined "Pilgrimage for Life and Peace" is motivated by the murders of ex-combatants after the peace process.
Ex-combatants of the disbanded FARC and social activists march to demand the government guarantee their right to life and compliance with the 2016 peace agreement, in Bogota, Colombia, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020. The mobilization coined "Pilgrimage for Life and Peace" is motivated by the murders of ex-combatants after the peace process.
So far, however, Duque has resisted following up on Santos’ peace attempts, including abandoning peace talks hosted by Cuba with another Marxist rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), which returned to armed struggle.
“Even before Duque was elected, President Trump met with Uribe and former President [Andrés] Pastrana in Mar-a-Lago in what I believe was probably a strategy session just to foment what is happening in Colombia right now,” James Jordan, national coordinator for the Alliance for Global Justice, told Sputnik in 2019, when part of the FARC was considering taking up arms due to another wave of killings of former FARC members.
“President Trump has pushed attacks on the agreement that had to do with crop substitution for coca growers and rural development, so they can develop alternative crops and markets. President Trump has led an assault against the accords that had to do with amnesty and reincorporation of guerrillas into civilian life,” Jordan added.
The ELN peace delegation stayed in Havana after the return to hostilities with Duque’s government in January 2019 because the Cuban government said Bogota wasn’t holding to the terms of the peace talks, which called for security guarantees for the delegates and for a ceasefire until they returned home. Duque replied that it was Santos’ government, not his, that agreed to the terms of the talks, so he wasn’t bound by them. Duque then demanded the extradition of 10 members of the ELN delegation, which Havana rejected.
Two years later, in January 2021, one of the Trump administration’s final moves was to add Cuba to the US State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism due to the continued presence of the ELN delegation, which remained in Havana because the conditions for their safe return to Colombia had never been reached. The Biden administration has shown little interest in unringing that bell, keeping Cuba on the list in its annual May reevaluation and slapping a host of new sanctions on the socialist island nation after an astroturfed anti-government movement fizzled in July.