Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos wants the United States to remove the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) from the State Department’s terror lists and suspend drug warrants on FARC drug commanders. President Santos says by doing this it will help seal the peace deal between Colombia and FARC. The United States State Department designated FARC a terrorist organization in October 18, 1997.
The Colombian government have said that President Santos and FARC are progressing in their peace accords, and both sides are highly confident a deal will be reached by the March 23 deadline. The United States decision on whether to keep or remove FARC on the State Department’s terror list may determine the outcome.
While 50 FARC leaders have been indicted on drug trafficking charges in the United States, President Santos says he wants the United States to allow Colombia to instill “transitional justice” that will suspend the warrants on indicted FARC members. He wants FARC members to be treated with leniency by not having any prosecutions it will allow FARC members to make a smooth transition back into society.
FARC has a long history of violence, terrorism, extortion, and drug trafficking throughout South American and Central America. Some of the groups more daring crimes included the kidnapping of presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt in 2002; the assassination of the Cultural Minister in 2001; and the hijacking of a commercial airliner and subsequent kidnapping of Senator Turbay.
In 2009, the United States government determined that FARC was responsible for 60% of the cocaine supply entering the United States. The U.S. Treasury Department froze accounts of suspected FARC members it identified as significant traffickers.
A 2012 report from Insight Crime, an online periodical specializing on crime in Latin America and the Caribbean, claimed that FARC made $200 million per year in drug trafficking. In contrast, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon believes the numbers are really $2.4-$3.5 billion from drug profits.
FARC has had a strong connection to the Lebanon-based terrorist group Hezbollah in drug trafficking since the early 1980s. They cornered much of the market in cocaine and had assistance from friendly nations to distribute narcotics from South America all the way up to the United States.
In 2000, U.S. lawmakers approved Plan Colombia, an aid package that would help the country combat guerillas violence, strengthen its institutions, and stop drug production and trafficking. Between 2000-2015 the United States could did contribute $10 billion in assistance to the Colombian government.
By comparison, On February 4, 2016, President Obama requested $450 million in aide for Colombia, conditioned in the finalization of the peace plan.
The deal has been met with skepticism by analysts in the United States in regards to the Colombian government’s role in disarming and controlling FARC. While President Santos previously pledged that any FARC member that continues to deal in drug trafficking will be extradited to the United States last March he said that no FARC member would ever be extradited to the United States.
President Santos found himself in an election campaign controversy when his political strategist Juan Jose Rendon, was accused of receiving $12 million from drug cartels. A former ally now opponent of President Santos accused Rendon of using drug cartel money to cover up debt costs from Santos’ 2010 presidential campaign. While Juan Jose Rendon denied the allegations he still immediately resigned from further participation in the Santos campaign.
As peace talks progress between FARC and Colombian government there is hope throughout the western hemisphere it will lead to stability in a region disseminated by violence for fifty years. It is reported that up to 220,000 people have been killed, 25,000 are missing, and 5.7 million displaced since the conflict began.