Florida lawmakers: U.S. should make no concessions to FARC in Colombia peace deal

In this March 11, 2009, photo, a group of rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia attend a ceremony where they graduated as "peacemakers."
In this March 11, 2009, photo, a group of rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia attend a ceremony where they graduated as "peacemakers." AP

Florida Republicans on Thursday urged the U.S. government not to make any concessions to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, even as a widely hailed peace deal is bringing the country’s largest guerrilla group into the political fold.

In a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the lawmakers said the U.S. should not remove the FARC from the U.S. terrorism list, and should not ease up on extraditing guerrilla members wanted in the U.S. for crimes.

In particular, the lawmakers said they were worried that the FARC members might not be held accountable for their drug-trafficking operations, especially because the deal could allow former members who might have been traffickers to run for political office in Colombia.

“The future security cooperation between our nations can be hindered by Colombia labeling drug trafficking as a ‘political crime,’ which is not in the best interests of Colombia nor the United States,” the letter reads. “This substantial rise in coca production will lead to a large infusion of funds to the FARC and its members may be able to wield substantial and undue influence over the political process in Colombia.”

The letter was signed by Florida Republican House members Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo — all from Miami — along with Ted Yoho, Ron Desantis and New Jersey Rep. Albio Sires, a Democrat.

President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC Commander Rodrigo “Timochenko” Londoño signed off on the historic peace deal in November and it was approved by congress days later — but only after an initial deal was narrowly rejected by voters.

Under the agreement, FARC leaders accused of serious crimes will be able to avoid jail time if they provide reparations, cooperate with a truth commission and serve alternative sentences. A special tribunal will also decide on a case-by-case basis if drug trafficking charges will be considered “political crimes” that can be amnestied.

Critically, the deal will also allow FARC members, even those serving sentences, to participate in politics.

The agreement has been praised internationally, and earned Santos this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, but the U.S. lawmakers suggested that having the FARC in government might strain U.S.-Colombia ties.

Strained relations?

“As ardent and longstanding supporters of Colombia and the U.S.-Colombia relationship, we are concerned that much of the progress that has been established over the past few decades may be upended should FARC officials be granted the opportunity to run for public office in spite of their criminal activities,” the letter reads.

In addition, the lawmakers are worried about efforts to extradite FARC leader Simón Trinidad, who is serving a 60-year sentence in the United States. Trinidad was charged with masterminding the kidnapping of three American contractors, and FARC negotiators have been petitioning for his release.

Colombia is the United States’ staunchest ally in the region, and Washington pumped $10 billion into the nation over the course of the 15-year Plan Colombia. The Obama administration has also been a firm backer of the peace deal and pledged some $450 million toward post-conflict programs. President-elect Donald Trump has said very little about Colombia or the peace deal, but he’s often said the U.S. is sending too much money abroad.

Amnesty law

The letter comes as Colombia’s congress is working through the holidays passing laws needed to breathe life into the deal. By Wednesday, for example, the legislature is expected to pass an amnesty law that will pardon FARC members accused of “rebellion” and lesser crimes.

And guerrilla troops are already headed to concentration zones where they will turn in their weapons and receive vocational training as they prepare to enter civilian life.

In a separate statement, Ros-Lehtinen said she and many in South Florida’s Colombian community have been “extremely worried about a deal with the FARC from the very beginning of this flawed process.”

“Regrettably, many of our worst fears have materialized as Colombia’s cocaine production has increased, justice for the FARC’s victims has been denied, and FARC members will be allowed to run for office, giving them even more opportunity to undermine both U.S. and Colombian security interests,” she said.

Colombia’s civil conflict has dragged on for more than half a century, leaving more than 220,000 dead and forcing millions to flee their homes. While many in this nation are wary that the peace deal is too lenient on the guerrillas, it’s also seen as a milestone for the long-troubled nation.