Biden, the FARC, and Domestic Politics

The Biden admin is about to take a demilitarized group off the terrorist list and some people aren't happy about it.

Photo by SLT

Via Politico: Biden Colombia plan stirs up Florida hornets nest

The Biden administration’s plan to remove a Colombian rebel group from a list of foreign terrorist organizations barely caused a ripple outside Washington when the news broke this week.

But in Florida, home to an estimated 150,000 Colombian American voters, it’s a different story. Biden’s policy is reverberating loudly among Democrats, leading some of the state’s top elected officials, strategists and activists to rail against the decision.

Here is some basic context. The Revolutionary Amered Forces of Colombia (FARC) were a guerrilla group that operated in Colombia from the early 1960s until the peace accords in 2016 (which were difficult and controversial). The group became a political party (the Alternative Revolutionary Force for the Common People) in 2017. It stands to reason that the US would remove it from its list of terrorist organizations because it is no longer a terrorist organization.

Nonetheless, there are a number of Colombian-Americans who aren’t happy about this (and likely haven’t been happy about the peace process).

“This is terrible. It’s bad policy. It’s bad politics,” said Florida state Sen. Annette Taddeo, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate who’s Colombian American.

Calling the news “outrageous,” Taddeo criticized the Biden administration on Twitter and recounted how she fled her home country at the age of 17 “because of the Marxist terrorist organization, FARC, a group of militias who kidnapped my father who was a WWII American fighter pilot.”

Stories like Taddeo’s aren’t rare in Miami-Dade, the state’s most populous county. It’s home to a hugeconcentration of Hispanic voters and Latin American exiles who fled leftist violence or dictatorships in Colombia, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela and found a common political bond in Florida.

[…]

“These were terrorists, murderers,” Taddeo said.

Look, I understand the sentiment. The FARC did some pretty awful things and deserved to be on the US terrorist list when they were actively fighting the Colombian government. Of course, I would be remiss if I did not note that the Colombian military also did some pretty awful things during Colombia’s decades of guerrilla war. It was an ugly, messy conflict that makes moving one very difficult, especially since full peace has not been achieved due to ongoing drug-related violence, crime, and the fact that the ELN remains in the field.

Indeed, to that point, a piece published today in the New Humanitarian notes Five years after ‘peace’, the Colombian communities living in forced confinement.

This week, Colombia marked five years since the deal that ended decades of conflict between the government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas, but groups like the ELN and a range of other non-state actors are fighting as much as ever.

I would note, therefore, that given the fact that the FARC have left armed conflict behind is a rather compelling reason for the US government to remove them from the terrorist list.

Back to the Politico piece and the politics of the now:

Former Gov. Charlie Crist, now a congressman who is also running in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, expressed concern for the decision, saying the FARC “caused decades of war and death — they’ve earned their designation.”

Yes, they earned it. But at some point, if a group lays down its arms and enters into civil society, it also earns the re-classification of that group. Indeed, if demobilization does not earn a group new status, there is little incentive to demobilize.

The State Department had notified Congress of its forthcoming plans, a senior administration official said, but the Colombian government hadn’t even been notified when the story broke.

The State Department’s decision to drop FARC from its list of terrorist groups isn’t giving a free pass to the former guerrilla group, according to the senior administration official, who declined to speak on the record. The plan to remove the FARC from the list, the official said, comes after an annual review that included input from the intelligence community, law enforcement, the U.S. embassy and the State Department.

Five years into the peace process, 90 percent of FARC rebels have demobilized and met their commitments under the agreement, the official noted. And a key piece of the administration plan, the official said, is to add the new armed groups — formed by former FARC rebels and dissident groups, including the group known as Nueva Marquetalia and one faction led by guerrilla leader Gentil Duarte — that are now pushing instability and violence in Colombia.

“This isn’t pulling back punches. It’s pointing them in the right direction — and that’s the [FARC dissidents and their] terrorist and criminal activity,” the senior administration official said.

That the Colombian government is learning of this via the press is a problem, although I would note that members of the FARC sit in the Colombian congress, so the notion that this would be some kind of dramatic shocker is more than a bit overwrought. Indeed, the report in today’s El Tiempo did not come across as anything other than a shrug, with President Duque (a fan of neither the FARC nor the peace process) stating that the US government would no doubt inform his government in accordance with US processes and protocols. The story did note that the Colombian government still classifies dissident FARC groups that remain in the field as terrorist organizations and the expectation is the US would do the same (and the reporting suggests that it will).

The Politico piece focuses on the electoral politics:

But some Democrats and expertsargue that the distinction will be lost on voters, especially those who have an emotional and personal antipathy toward FARC and are against the peace accord.

“I can explain this to my students. I can have this debate among my colleagues, but local politics isn’t making that distinction, especially because there are people in this community who were either kidnapped or had relatives who were kidnapped — while some of the people responsible [former FARC rebels] are now sitting in the Colombian Congress,” said Eduardo Gamarra, who polls Latino voters in the United States and throughout Latin America.

I won’t deny that this is true. Further, in a state as close as Florida, it could matter to statewide races to some degree. Still, the long-term interest of peace and democracy is that demobilized groups are welcomed back into civil society if they meet appropriate benchmarks of behavior.

Gamarra argued that it will be an “even harder sell” for the Biden administration because it did not consult with Florida’s Colombian community before making the decision.

“I don’t know what they gain by doing this. There’s more of a gain for Colombia than there is for the Democratic Party or the Biden administration,” said Gamarra, who is also a professor of Latin American studies at Florida International University in Miami.

Quite frankly, it strikes me as an odd notion that the administration should consult with “Florida’s Colombian community” before making a decision. Who is the leader of said community? What if the “community” disagrees? How would we know? Are we going to farm out all foreign policy decisions to the respective ex-pat communities?

But of course, this is all in the context of some supreme conflation and simplism:

“They’ve seen the poll numbers. It’s a disaster,” said Juan Zapata, a former Republican state representative who was the first Colombian American elected to the Florida Legislature.

“The people of South Florida, and now throughout the United States, know this is a terrible deal,” Zapata said. “And it’s not just Colombian Americans. It started with Fidel Castro in Cuba. There’s Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua. And it went to Venezuela with Hugo Chávez.”

It is all just one big commiepalooza with no subtly (and yes, such are mass politics, but still).

Sergio Otálora, a former Colombian American journalist who now works for the Latino voter registration group Mi Vecino, said that he believes the community is more supportive of the peace process than the public criticism suggests, and that political leaders like Taddeo and Levine Cava shouldn’t listen to critics who want to exploit “the Marxism-Communism boogeyman.”

And, indeed:

Longtime Democratic activist Carolina Castillo, however, said she has seen more and more of her family members and neighbors leave the Democratic Party because so many in “the progressive left” of the local party have become supportive of Marxist leaders in Latin America.

“It’s a betrayal, a clear betrayal,” Castillo said. “We wanted a strong president who was going to stand for democracy, but here we are giving power to the extreme leftists in Colombia and the timing couldn’t be worse. This will only help bring more Colombian families to the Republican side.”

This is definitely the message being sent by many in the GOP (it was part of Trumps’s re-election campaign in Florida, for example). It is largely nonsense. Taking the FARC off the terrorist list does not “give power” to them. And no one of significance in the US supports the Maduro regime in Venezuela. One can state that the Biden administration has ignored the current mess in Nicaragua, but one should also note there isn’t a lot that can be done about it.

Ultimately, I get the notion that this could be a political issue for some voters, but I also think that if this is enough to turn a Democratic voter into a Republican, then said voter is already so close to the tipping point that if it isn’t this issue that pushes them, something else will.

And I will reiterate: if terrorist groups who give up their terrorizing aren’t recognized for doing so, it makes getting them to that point all the harder and the US government has to behave accordingly (not to mention, it makes no sense to use the terrorist list as some kind of life sentence for a given group).

FILED UNDER: Joe Biden, Latin America, US Politics, World Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Dude Kembro says:

    Sharp and informative.

    Thank you.

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  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    +1

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  3. gVOR08 says:

    @Dude Kembro: Indeed.

    However it really is a political problem for Ds in a purple state, albeit a reddish purple. And we’ve seen this movie before with the Miami Cubans whenever a D prez wants to do something realistic about Cuba.

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  4. Kathy says:

    At what point do republicans realize they should favor immigration in their own self interest?

    ReplyReply
  5. de stijl says:

    Some people can’t let go. Even when their perceived “enemy” has long ago.

    When I was young The Troubles in Northern Ireland were thought to be endemic. Nowadays, water under the bridge. (Brexit re-inflamed some passions.)

    ReplyReply
  6. John430 says:

    Yes, they earned it. But at some point, if a group lays down its arms and enters into civil society, it also earns the re-classification of that group

    In other news, Nazis are asking Dr. Taylor if he’d admit them to his country club too.

    ReplyReply
  7. de stijl says:

    @John430:

    We integrated with Germany. Italy. Japan. Invited them into the larger international community. NATO. ASEAN. We’re buds now. Got each others’ backs.

    What was the unifying concept? They let go. They gave in. Our path was bad, they said. They self-corrected.

    “Abjure” is a bleeping awesome word we get to use rarely.

    Transgenerational blood feud and a cycle of revenge is bad mojo and is perhaps the biggest impetus for stupid provocation and aggression stance bullshit that perpetuates the cycle.

    Let go. It is the past.

    (I highly recommend playing The Last Of Us and TLOU 2. Revenge is mostly pointless and by wanting it and doing it, you destroy your chance at a decent, whole life.)

    Let go

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  8. de stijl says:

    @de stijl:

    The Cranberries did a pretty cool song Zombies about people who can’t let go. About people where “It” became part of their identity so much so that letting go was not accomplishable or desired. Dead enders. Pitiable.

    If you cannot adapt you die.

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  9. Gustopher says:

    It would be better if FARC would simply rebrand, and reconstitute themselves as a political party that happens to have some of the same leaders as the terrorist organization, but which explicitly rejects terrorism.

    Until then… “Former Terrorist Organization” is a good label, and leave it in a not-quite-on-or-off-the-list status that means we’re watching them closely, for the next 20 years, but we are not including them in any sanctions at this time.

    As a stupid, vindictive man once said, “trust, but verify.”

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  10. Gustopher says:

    @de stijl:

    Transgenerational blood feud and a cycle of revenge is bad mojo and is perhaps the biggest impetus for stupid provocation and aggression stance bullshit that perpetuates the cycle.

    Let go. It is the past.

    5 years ago isn’t a transgenerational blood feud. It’s barely even the past.

    The cycle has to be broken for peace to have a chance, and that means some people will never be held accountable, but letting go isn’t simple or easy.

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  11. Dude Kembro says:

    @gVOR08:

    However it really is a political problem for Ds in a purple state, albeit a reddish purple.

    Embrace of grievance and culture war over smart, substantive policy is a political problem for Democrats all over the nation.

    I agree with the thinking that we cannot do foreign-policy-by-expat. This is one of those issues where the Biden admin has to hold the line, despite politics. The terror list is serious business and should be governed by specific guidelines. If FARC is giving up violence to assimilate, then they must be removed from the list. And they can be put back on if they backslide.

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  12. de stijl says:

    @Gustopher:

    Letting go is never simple or easy. It is extremely fucking difficult.

    Yet, we need to do it.

    Get experience on the easier ones first. Level up. Practice.

    Treating every slight as blood feud material is exhausting. It goes no where. Bites you in the butt. Hurts you more than them.

    By no means am I saying not to knock somebody down when they are being a dick. Do that. Stick up for yourself always and for people you love (when they deserve it) and for things you cherish.

    Sticking up for things that are important to you is essential to being a good human. But, you have to be careful and thoughtful. Sticking up for yourself does not mean you get to be a dick to somebody forever because they once did you wrong.

    Nowadays when somebody goes out of their way to be provocatively annoying or hurtful I just walk away. I tell them why I’m walking away and then walk away.

    I am so not into drama. Nope. Not for me.

    Let go

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  13. de stijl says:

    I reconnected with my mother in my mid 40s after decades of total radio silence. No calls. No holiday cards.

    She was a shit mother. I knew what I was going to get myself into. Not a totally bad person. Divergent – bipolar. Not her fault.

    I set firm limits on communication after we reconnected. These topics are totally off limits. This method of communication style does not work for me. She immediately pushed back as was her wont.

    I told her I did not want or appreciate this topic. Please don’t go there. Change the topic now or I will hang up on you. If you continue I will hang up. She pushed. I hung up on her mid rant.

    I blocked her when she called me back 6 times in an hour. No.

    When I was a young adult I hated her so. Even then, I didn’t wish harm on her (mostly), I just wanted her to leave me alone.

    It took a few years and a few phone calls before she figured out that I was serious about the rules I had established. I meant it when I said that. I will tell you when you are pushing. Fair warning. This is not something I want to discuss. She would push. I would hang up.

    Eventually she got it. She constrained herself. She learned (kinda) to respect boundaries. She was super salty about it, but she got it.

    We became to be not friends, but compatriots. We talked once or twice a month for a half hour or so. Phone buddies.

    She was interesting and smart. Insightful. Quite charismatic. Many of her opinions and judgements I disagreed with respectfully. But that is not my business. Her life.

    At the end, I think I was her only friend. She’d burned every other bridge.

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  14. @Gustopher:

    It would be better if FARC would simply rebrand, and reconstitute themselves as a political party that happens to have some of the same leaders as the terrorist organization, but which explicitly rejects terrorism.

    Well, as noted in the post:

    The group became a political party (the Alternative Revolutionary Force for the Common People) in 2017.

    One could assert, I supposed, that they should ditch the letters, but it is not unusual for demobilized guerrilla to retain their old acronym. In Colombia the M-19 went from guerrilla group to party in 1990 and kept M-19 as part of its party name. The EPL, also in Colombia, kept the letters and changed what the words meant in 1991. The FMLN kept their name in El Salvador after their civil war–and that’s just off the top of my head.

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  15. @John430:

    In other news, Nazis are asking Dr. Taylor if he’d admit them to his country club too.

    Your snark is wrong on so many levels that I am not even going to try and answer.

    Honest question: what’s your goal here? Do you think you are actually making salient points?

    ReplyReply

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