Grand Rapids, MI – On Nov. 2 the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) will meet with the Colombian government in Havana, Cuba to push forward the peace process. This follows the “no” vote on Oct. 2 rejecting the peace agreement. Despite the margin of difference being less than 1/2%, the “no” vote was a victory for the far right and ex-President Uribe. Uribe and the far right openly oppose reforms and some hope to continue the U.S.-funded war in Colombia.
It is important to know that the Colombian peace agreement was carefully negotiated over a four-year period and though momentum may be slowed, a return to war seems unlikely. Another fact is that it is an agreement with standing in international law and cannot simply be reversed or changed.
For their part, the FARC are willing to make it work, so the most powerful liberation movement in Latin America is returning to the table to find solutions to problems. The FARC wants to end 52 years of war, end the terror of right-wing death squads, end the displacement, poverty and misery for farmers and workers, and end the $10 billion U.S. military intervention in their country. The FARC want a country where Chiquita Banana is not funding, arming and directing death squads and where Coca-Cola and Drummond Coal do not conspire and pay for the assassination of union leaders.
During negotiations the FARC questioned the wisdom of a referendum, and desired instead huge assemblies across the country. FARC proposed a process of participatory democracy with debates about what peace with justice should look like. A process where social movements, political parties, churches, unions, universities, schools, business associations and community groups propose and discuss suggestions.
Instead President Santos offered an up or down vote. So the vote no groups simply campaigned against their former battlefield enemy, emphasizing the negative, lying about facts, and claiming topics that are not even in the peace agreement. They also threatened and intimidated people campaigning for a yes vote. That is how they won, just barely.
The FARC know that Colombians are cynical about elections where one faction of politicians loyal to one rich family or another trade places every few years. Colombian turnout for elections is low, as was true for the failed peace referendum, with only 37% voting. Consider too that one third of the politicians in the Colombian Congress are controlled by narco-traffickers and you can understand how the peace process is challenging vested interests.
In terms of the U.S. role in the Colombian peace process, the U.S. government appointed a special envoy and should now take steps to guarantee success. The European Union recently took the FARC off the terrorist list with Secretary of State John Kerry looking on and the U.S. should do the same. It shows good will and confidence in Colombian peace.
However, the most pressing matter is to free Simon Trinidad, also known as Ricardo Palmera. President Obama should free Simon Trinidad from the Florence Supermax prison in Colorado.
Trinidad is one of the FARC's most talented leaders and probably has the best understanding of how to form a political party and run elections. Freeing Trinidad and having him tour Colombia, campaigning and speaking to crowds of supporters and the curious would advance the peace process tremendously. By keeping Trinidad in a U.S. prison, the Obama administration holds peace back and encouraged the belligerent right wingers who fear contested elections.
If the Obama administration freed Simon Trinidad, it would be a real gesture of peace from the U.S. towards the people of Colombia. Trinidad is one of the few survivors of the UP (Patriotic Union), the leftist party that ran for office in the 1980s and 1990s, but suffered almost 5000 assassinations by government death squads. That was why Trinidad gave up his life as a professor and politician and joined the FARC at the age of 37. Now, Trinidad can help the FARC and people’s movements navigate how to make change in a new Colombia.
Tell President Obama to help secure the peace in Colombia. Free Simon Trinidad!