As a historic peace accord nears, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has petitioned the United States to remove the FARC from its list of terrorist organizations and suspend arrest warrants against guerrilla leaders, but warned that those who continue trafficking drugs will be extradited.
Santos made the request during a January 28 interview with the Associated Press (AP) at the presidential palace in Bogotá, saying it would be appropriate for the United States to remove the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) from a State Department list of terrorist organizations once a peace deal is signed.
"If they sign it's because we have a timetable for their disarmament and they have committed themselves to lay down their arms and make this transition to legal life. So I would say yes, I hope that they would be eliminated from the terror list," Santos remarked.
Santos also said he would like for the United States to suspend arrest warrants against the FARC's top leadership. According to the AP, around 50 FARC leaders have been indicted in the United States on drug trafficking charges.
"Any effort by the United States to allow us to apply transitional justice, for example by suspending the arrest warrants, would help us tremendously," Santos said.
Nonetheless, Santos issued a word of caution for FARC members, warning that those who continue to engage in drug trafficking will be extradited.
Santos is set to meet with US President Barack Obama on February 4 during a visit to Washington DC, when he will also meet with Congressional Republicans. On the table for discussion is increasing US aid to Colombia to help fund post-conflict programs.
A self-imposed deadline for reaching a final peace deal has been set for March.
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The possibility of FARC leaders being extradited to the United States has dogged peace talks since their inception in 2012. Nonetheless, while the FARC do engage in the drug trade as a source of revenue, Santos has been consistent in his reluctance to send guerrilla leaders to the United States to face drug trafficking charges.
To this end, Santos has even pushed for expanding the definition of "political crimes" to include drug trafficking when "it is used as a tool to economically support political ends in an armed conflict." In the FARC's case, such an interpretation is meant to assure guerrilla members they will not be prosecuted for drug crimes after demobilizing; a trade-off between justice and peace Santos sees as necessary in order to secure a final peace deal.
However, as the AP notes, US officials maintain only prosecutors can suspend the arrest warrants against FARC leaders, retaining a degree of uncertainty as to whether or not the US will pursue extradition requests.
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What US officials do control, however, is the designation of the FARC as a foreign terrorist organization -- the removal of which could potentially serve more than just a symbolic gesture of support. That is, such a designation makes it "unlawful for a person in the United States or subject to the jurisdiction of the United States to knowingly provide 'material support or resources'" to the FARC. Presumably, US government agencies and non-governmental organizations will have some role in any future post-conflict scenario in Colombia, raising questions over legal complications if this involves offering services to FARC members and demobilized fighters in their transition to civilian life.