U.S. to Drop Colombian Rebel Group FARC From Terrorist List to Bolster Five-Year-Old Pact

U.S. to Drop Colombian Rebel Group FARC From Terrorist List to Bolster Five-Year-Old Pact

19:19 - 2016 peace deal between FARC, Colombian government ended 52-year conflict

The Biden administration will remove a former Colombian rebel group from a list of foreign terrorist organizations, a measure intended to demonstrate American support for a fragile peace agreement with the guerrillas in Colombia, said U.S. and congressional officials with knowledge of the coming announcement.

The officials said the move could come this week, coinciding with the five-year anniversary of the historic peace accord between then-President Juan Manuel Santos and rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. Negotiated with U.S. support, the agreement ended a 52-year-conflict and resulted in Mr. Santos winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

The FARC began to demobilize shortly after the signing, with 13,000 men and women laying down their arms.

Colombian officials who spent four years negotiating with the FARC had been quietly pressing U.S. officials to drop the terrorist designation against the group. By doing that, the U.S. recognizes the steps rebels took to transform their group into a political party, now called the Common People party, officials said.

“For the Biden administration, this is a low-cost thing to do,” said Sergio Jaramillo, the Santos administration’s architect of the peace talks, which took place in Cuba. “It sends the signal to the FARC, ‘it is been five years, you’ve done your bit, behaved properly, and we’re delisting you.’ ”

The administration is also exploring whether to place militant groups made up of former FARC rebels on the list of terrorist organizations, including the New Marquetalia group, which is led by a former FARC commander who broke from the peace pact and operates along the border with Venezuela, the officials said.

In the years since the peace pact, thousands of former FARC members have begun small-scale rural farming projects, and a handful of former rebel commanders were given posts in Colombia’s congress. The former guerrillas are also participating in a special judicial system investigating the myriad crimes committed by combatants.

By dropping the group’s terrorist designation, the U.S. can fund programs in Colombia in which former rebels participate, such as replacing crops used to make cocaine with legal products.

One of the former top commanders of the defunct FARC, Julian Gallo, now a senator, was surprised when told about the developments in Washington.

“We don’t know about it but if it’s true we thank the Biden administration for its decision,” Mr. Gallo said. The administration of Colombian President Iván Duque didn’t respond to a call seeking comment.

Guerrilla commanders asked to be taken off the terrorist list in 2015, when the talks between the Santos administration and the rebels were in their third year. U.S. officials said they would consider the request upon a peace process taking hold, said Bernard Aronson, a former U.S. envoy in the peace talks.

Mr. Aronson said dropping the designation for groups such as the FARC when they make good on pledges during peace talks sends a global message to other violent groups the U.S. opposes.

“If groups that were once violent revolutionary groups are never allowed to get off the list, that’s one less incentive for them to make peace,” said Mr. Aronson. “You undermine incentives for other groups to renounce terrorism, renounce violent struggle.”

Founded in 1964, the FARC was responsible for attacks on towns, summary executions and the kidnappings of thousands of people, including Americans, most notably three U.S. contractors who spent five years in captivity until they were freed in 2008. The U.S. added the group to the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations in 1997, when the FARC was reaching its apex of power.

The designation has restricted the U.S. from funding programs aimed at advancing the peace accords if the rebels were involved, leaving it unable to support efforts to destroy land mines, programs in which the FARC has played an essential role.

“They’re the people who put the land mines there and are best able to tell us where to find them,” said Tim Rieser, a senior aide to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.) who works on Colombia policy.

There are many critics of the former rebels, including victims of war who assert they haven’t admitted to all their crimes or provided reparations. In the U.S., Rep. María Elvira Salazar, a Florida Republican who represents a region with Colombian immigrants, wrote on Twitter that by taking the FARC off the list, “the Biden White House is signaling that FARC is not so evil.”

Though thousands of fighters disarmed under the peace pact, enrolling in school and working on small farms, they are tainted by association with several hundred rebels who didn’t participate in the peace process. Those guerrillas either formed or joined drug-trafficking gangs, which they continue to call FARC, though their goal isn’t to topple the state.

The State Department has previously said that it is reviewing the FARC’s designation, and all designations are subject to review every five years.

The White House referred questions on this topic to the State Department.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said Tuesday that the department has notified Congress of forthcoming actions regarding FARC.

The Biden administration is “fully committed to working with our Colombian partners on the implementation of the peace accord,” he said.

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