US to Begin Dialogue With Terrorist Groups in Colombia
Wednesday, December 1, 2021
Lucas Leiroz, research fellow in international law at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
It is well-known that the US-backed Colombian state has for long struggled to establish an open dialogue with organizations involved in drug trafficking in South America, such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). It has been able to validate FARC’s former guerrillas as members of a new political party, ignoring the organization’s involvement in cocaine trafficking in the region. Now, in a much deeper sense, the US government itself has resolved to take a step toward the political recognition of Colombian criminal organizations, removing the FARC from the US blacklist of terrorist financing groups.
On November 30 the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, announced that his country had annulled the classification of the FARC as a terrorist financing organization. The removal does not imply the suspension of individual charges by the US courts against former FARC members, however, it is undeniable that from this moment on there will be a broader, more dynamic and direct dialogue between the American government and the Colombian militia, which brings a series of suspicions about the real interest of Washington in deciding to take such a measure.
In fact, the FARC is no longer an illegal organization in Colombia since 2016, when the government of Juan Manuel Santos (2010-2018) started a process of pacification in the country and signed an amnesty agreement, transforming the guerrilla into a formal political party. However, the measure had little practical effect, as the FARC continued to operate in the illegal drug market, maintaining relations with cocaine cartels and promoting violent guerrilla activities in the interior of the country and in the Amazon rainforest. The merit of former president Santos was, in short, to be able to end a civil war that lasted for more than five decades by signing an agreement between the government and the FARC, but he was not able to neutralize the harmful effects that the organization generates in Colombian society.
Apparently, Santos, who received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in the FARC issue, was the one who advised, in private consultations, the American government to take the measure announced this week. For Santos, cleaning up the image of the FARC as a terrorist organization is a fundamental step to be taken in order to guarantee the social inclusion of former rebel combatants. The categorization of “terrorists” prevents many FARC’s members, even living legally, from being able to get good jobs and open bank accounts, for example, which contributes to their marginalization. With this measure, this tends to change, at least to some degree.
A number of factors need to be taken into account to understand what is currently happening in Colombia. Former president Juan Santos has been away from public life in recent years but has lately signaled some interest in resuming his political activity, not necessarily from an electoral perspective. He has also shown interest in dialoguing with Ivan Duque, current president, in several strategic points that can be mutually cooperated. Unlike Santos, who is a respected academic around the world, professor at Oxford and whose image looks “clean” to transnational elites, Duque has a more conservative and antiquated political stance, in addition to maintaining almost open connections to criminal networks, having public appearances with drug trafficking leaders recorded in photos. However, both converge on a central point, which is the alignment with Washington, considering that it was Santos who signed the agreement to elevate Colombia to the status of a global NATO partner and that Duque significantly deepened this partnership, transforming his country into a military base of maximum importance in the American encircling strategy against Venezuela.
In practice, it seems that Santos’ political expertise may be working in favor of the Duque government as well as for his own benefit. With the US stopping to consider the FARC a terrorist organization, Santos and Duque are opening the way for the social insertion of the organization’s members and, consequently, guaranteeing their votes. In a scenario of alliance between them, the current president will be able to say that it was his government that managed to clean up the FARC’s image, while, in a scenario of split, Santos’ new candidacy or his support for another candidate, the former president will say that the measure was his merit. In either scenario, there will be a large vote acquisition.
And, once again, Washington benefits from the situation. It is in the interests of the US to control as many organizations involved in drug trafficking as possible. In the early 1990s, the US government started a historic crusade to overthrow the so-called “Medellín Cartel”, led by Pablo Escobar, which had monopolized the export of cocaine to North America and Europe. To defeat Escobar, the US security agencies formed an alliance with the so-called “Cali Cartel”, a drug trafficking organization which disputed the control of the cocaine production with Escobar. After defeating the Medellín Cartel, the American intelligence took full control of most of the production and export of cocaine in Colombia and this scenario continues today.
Most of the uncontrolled production of cocaine in Colombia came precisely from the dissident political organizations that maintained the production of illicit substances as a source of financial resources. The civil war scenario prevented the control over these groups, but peace allows for greater dialogue in this regard. It is known that the FARC is now a legal organization and that its members suffer social prejudice in the country, but there is no point in trying to socially insert FARC’s members when the organization continues to maintain armed groups engaged in drug trafficking and terrorism. The measure that Washington took seems really wrong and can only be understood taking into account that the US government wants to open up the possibility of negotiating directly with drug trafficking organizations.
Gaining control of drug trafficking is a fundamental step for a country with expansionist plans. Washington is making clear its interest in controlling Colombian cocaine, and the Colombian government is making clear its willingness to cooperate with it.
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