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.
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.”
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).