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How the US Is Quietly Undermining Colombia's Fragile Peace Process
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=57687"><span class="small">Cruz Bonlarron Martinez and Evan King, In These Times</span></a>   
Saturday, 26 December 2020 13:30

Excerpt: "Colom­bia made an unex­pect­ed entrance into the 2020 U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion when its far-right politi­cians endorsed Pres­i­dent Trump, and Biden defend­ed his role in craft­ing Plan Colom­bia in an op-ed in El Tiem­po, one of the largest news­pa­pers in Colom­bia."

Thousands march in support of the Colombian government-FARC peace deal in Medellin, Colombia. (photo: Fredy Builes/VIEWpress/Corbis/Getty Images)
Thousands march in support of the Colombian government-FARC peace deal in Medellin, Colombia. (photo: Fredy Builes/VIEWpress/Corbis/Getty Images)

How the US Is Quietly Undermining Colombia's Fragile Peace Process

By Cruz Bonlarron Martinez and Evan King, In These Times

26 December 20

hrough its reckless war on drugs, the U.S. is escalating tension and violence.

olom­bia made an unex­pect­ed entrance into the 2020 U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion when its far-right politi­cians endorsed Pres­i­dent Trump, and Biden defend­ed his role in craft­ing Plan Colom­bia in an op-ed in El Tiem­po, one of the largest news­pa­pers in Colom­bia. Even still, the role of the Unit­ed States in Colom­bia, the fourth largest coun­try in the West­ern Hemi­sphere, remains large­ly a mys­tery to most North Americans.

But in Colom­bia, the role the Unit­ed States plays in the coun­try is part of the dai­ly news cycle — and is a top­ic of inter­est in the every­day lives of Colom­bians. This role has been most pro­nounced in the U.S. coun­ternar­cotics pol­i­cy in the coun­try for the past few decades. Under the Trump admin­is­tra­tion this pol­i­cy has been mixed with ani­mos­i­ty toward the 2016 peace agree­ment between the Colom­bian Gov­ern­ment and the country’s largest left-wing guer­ril­la group, the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Armed Forces of Colom­bia (FARC).

Entrap­ping Peace Negotiators

After more than 50 years of civ­il war, the Colom­bian gov­ern­ment and the FARC agreed to put an end to a dead­ly armed con­flict that left over 262,000 peo­ple dead and rough­ly 7 mil­lion inter­nal­ly dis­placed. The agree­ment con­sist­ed of sev­er­al key points aimed at begin­ning the process of build­ing real and sus­tain­able peace. One of these points includ­ed basic con­di­tions for the polit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion of the for­mer FARC guer­ril­las and their lead­ers. The agree­ment guar­an­teed 10 seats in Colombia’s con­gress to for­mer FARC guer­ril­la lead­ers, and ded­i­cat­ed an entire chap­ter to a nation­wide project to allow small-scale coca, pop­py and mar­i­jua­na farm­ers to vol­un­tar­i­ly sub­sti­tute their illic­it crops in exchange for social invest­ment and gov­ern­ment-spon­sored sub­sti­tu­tion programs.

The most direct inter­fer­ence of the U.S. gov­ern­ment is still being uncov­ered in the form of a Drug Enforce­ment Admin­is­tra­tion (DEA) oper­a­tion that involved top FARC peace nego­tia­tors and Colom­bian Vice Pres­i­dent Óscar Naran­jo, and even led to the tap­ping of then-sit­ting Colom­bian Pres­i­dent Juan Manuel San­tos’ phone.

Ear­ly last month, El Espec­ta­dor, one of Colombia’s largest news­pa­pers, broke a sto­ry expos­ing over 24,000 secret audio record­ings of a joint oper­a­tion by the DEA and the Colom­bian attor­ney general’s office to entrap Ivan Márquez, who was the head of the FARC’s peace nego­ti­a­tion team in Havana, and Jesús Santrich, who was a also a part of the FARC’s peace nego­ti­a­tion team and a sit­ting mem­ber of Con­gress for the FARC Party.

Under­cov­er DEA agents posed as mem­bers of the Sinaloa Car­tel with con­nec­tions to Rafael Caro Quin­tero, the alleged mur­der­er of DEA agent Kiki Camare­na, one of the pro­tag­o­nists of the Net­flix show “Nar­cos: Mex­i­co.” The under­cov­er agents approached Mar­lon Marín, Iván Mar­quez’ nephew, with the aim of estab­lish­ing con­tact with Márquez and Santrich.

The agents were even­tu­al­ly able to get a meet­ing with Santrich, a blind and eccen­tric for­mer FARC guer­ril­la, under the pre­text that they were going to pub­lish his book of poet­ry in Mex­i­co. The DEA agents then got him to agree to send over books in a meet­ing secret­ly record­ed on cam­era by the two under­cov­er agents and, togeth­er with the attor­ney gen­er­al’s office, have tried to use this man­u­fac­tured evi­dence to frame Santrich for drug-traf­fick­ing and extra­dite him to the U.S. by claim­ing that he was refer­ring to cocaine, not books.

The attor­ney general’s con­tin­ued attacks on Santrich over the DEA record­ed video, cou­pled with the U.S. government’s insis­tence on extra­di­tion, even­tu­al­ly led both Santrich and Márquez to leave Con­gress and return to arms under the name FARC-Sec­ond Mar­que­talia, a new left­ist gueril­la group that claims to con­tin­ue the war against the state and in defense of social move­ments while con­tin­u­ing to fight with oth­er orga­ni­za­tions for con­trol of drug routes in var­i­ous parts of the coun­try. The new name is a not-so-sub­tle ref­er­ence to the Mar­que­talia mas­sacre, a U.S.-sponsored attack on autonomous peas­ant com­mu­ni­ties that led to the foun­da­tion of the FARC in 1964 and the start of the inter­nal conflict.

This DEA mis­sion was a clear vio­la­tion of Colom­bian sov­er­eign­ty and an open affront to the move­ment for peace in Colom­bia. The DEA’s push to entrap and extra­dite two of the FARC’s top peace nego­tia­tors and sit­ting mem­bers of Colom­bian Con­gress put the whole peace agree­ment at risk. In the end, the oper­a­tion led to a split in the FARC lead­er­ship, pushed Márquez and Santrich back into the drug trade, and increased the lev­els of vio­lence in the poor­est depart­ments of Colombia.

Despite this out­come, the U.S. embassy has defend­ed the role that the DEA played in the oper­a­tion, claim­ing that any accu­sa­tion that the DEA did not act in accor­dance with Colom­bian law “under­mines joint efforts to fight transna­tion­al crime.”

Forced Erad­i­ca­tion

Harm­ful inter­ven­tion is also evi­dent in the U.S. government’s sup­port for forced Coca erad­i­ca­tion. The Nation­al Com­pre­hen­sive Pro­gram for the Sub­sti­tu­tion of Illic­it Crops is one of the cor­ner­stones of the Colom­bian peace agree­ment, aimed at putting an end to the country’s 53-year armed con­flict. The sub­sti­tu­tion pro­gram is part of a broad­er rur­al devel­op­ment agree­ment aimed at alle­vi­at­ing the social and eco­nom­ic inequities that led to the armed con­flict in the first place. This alter­na­tive strat­e­gy sought to work hand-in-hand with small grow­ers and rur­al com­mu­ni­ties across the coun­try to man­u­al­ly erad­i­cate coca plants. The vol­un­tary sub­sti­tu­tion pro­gram has proven far more effec­tive than the heavy-hand­ed, mil­i­ta­rized approach­es being pushed by the U.S. gov­ern­ment. Despite the lack of polit­i­cal will by the admin­is­tra­tion of Pres­i­dent Iván Duque Márquez, the nation­wide pro­gram has already led to the vol­un­tary erad­i­ca­tion of over 100,000 acres of coca by fam­i­lies enrolled in the pro­gram, with a stag­ger­ing­ly low 0.4% rate of recidi­vism, accord­ing to a recent UN report.

But the Trump admin­is­tra­tion has tak­en steps to under­mine this pro­gram. On Sep­tem­ber 13, 2017, the Trump admin­is­tra­tion threat­ened to place Colom­bia on a “black­list” of coun­tries deemed to not be doing enough to counter the glob­al drug trade. Coun­tries that are decer­ti­fied face a range of U.S. sanc­tions, includ­ing the sus­pen­sion of all U.S. for­eign assis­tance not direct­ly relat­ed to anti-nar­cotics pro­grams. This would also include sus­pen­sion of all assis­tance relat­ed to the peace accord implementation.

The threat of “de-cer­ti­fi­ca­tion” was made to put extra pres­sure on the right-wing Duque admin­is­tra­tion to dou­ble down on forced erad­i­ca­tion poli­cies, which send U.S.-trained mil­i­tary com­man­dos to man­u­al­ly erad­i­cate coca crops in rur­al areas. These kinds of oper­a­tions vio­late the vol­un­tary sub­sti­tu­tion pacts signed by near­ly 125,000 coca-grow­ing fam­i­lies. They have also led to hor­rif­ic human rights vio­la­tions, as hap­pened in 2017 in Tandil, Tuma­co when state secu­ri­ty forces opened fire on demon­stra­tors, indis­crim­i­nate­ly killing at least eight pro­test­ers and injur­ing at least 50 more.

A month after his elec­tion in 2018, under pres­sure from the Trump admin­is­tra­tion, Pres­i­dent Duque announced plans to go even fur­ther by rein­stat­ing aer­i­al glyphosate fumi­ga­tions. This tac­tic involves crop dust­ing entire vil­lages with an indus­tri­al-grade weed killer known as RoundUp — a Mon­san­to prod­uct declared in 2015 to be “prob­a­bly car­cino­genic” by the Inter­na­tion­al Agency for Research on Can­cer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization.

This is not the first time the U.S. gov­ern­ment has encour­aged aer­i­al spray­ing. In 2015, U.S. ambas­sador to Colom­bia Kevin Whitak­er pub­lished an op-ed in El Tiem­po that declared, “The major­i­ty of reduc­tion in coca cul­ti­va­tion is due to aer­i­al spray­ing,” while cit­ing the health of Colombia’s rur­al poor as, at best, a sec­ondary con­cern. A year lat­er, then-Colom­bian Attor­ney Gen­er­al Nés­tor Hum­ber­to Martínez, who would lat­er resign in May of 2019 due to his alleged role in a major cor­rup­tion scan­dal, met with then‑U.S. Attor­ney Gen­er­al Loret­ta Lynch. Imme­di­ate­ly after the high-lev­el meet­ing, Martínez pub­licly advo­cat­ed for the return to aer­i­al fumi­ga­tions with glyphosate in Colom­bia. Martínez’s stance came despite the knowl­edge that secur­ing a peace agree­ment with the FARC would hinge on the approval of a vol­un­tary man­u­al erad­i­ca­tion pro­gram. For years, envi­ron­men­tal NGOs, human rights groups and rur­al com­mu­ni­ties affect­ed by glyphosate fumi­ga­tions believed the pol­i­cy amount­ed to chem­i­cal war­fare, which makes any attempt to return to the harm­ful prac­tice incom­pat­i­ble with a holis­tic approach to peace.

In 2000, the Unit­ed States dou­bled down on its fund­ing for the forced erad­i­ca­tion of coca plants — one of many raw mate­ri­als in cocaine — with the imple­men­ta­tion of Plan Colom­bia, a mul­ti-bil­lion dol­lar aid pack­age, 80% of which went direct­ly to the cor­rupt secu­ri­ty forces between 2000 and 2007. In addi­tion, this plan financed wide­spread human rights vio­la­tions, such as tor­ture, forced dis­ap­pear­ances and the mass killings of thou­sands of inno­cent civil­ians by the Colom­bian armed forces. It also fun­neled mon­ey to para­mil­i­tary death squads respon­si­ble for the conflict’s most heinous atrocities.

The U.S.-led push for increased forced erad­i­ca­tion and a return to aer­i­al glyphosate fumi­ga­tions jeop­ar­dizes a suc­cess­ful pro­gram intend­ed to assist the more than 230,000 Colom­bian fam­i­lies who depend on coca to grad­u­al­ly move towards oth­er forms of sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture. It also endan­gers the imple­men­ta­tion of reforms in the peace agree­ment that are aimed at address­ing one of the main caus­es of the decades-long con­flict, access to land.

Accord­ing to a 2017 Oxfam report, Colom­bia remains the most unequal coun­try in Latin Amer­i­ca in terms of land dis­tri­b­u­tion, with less than 1% of the pop­u­la­tion con­trol­ling more than 80% of the land. In fact, this trend towards greater land con­cen­tra­tion was aid­ed by the mul­ti-bil­lion dol­lar U.S. esca­la­tion of the con­flict in the late 1990s and ear­ly 2000s, with the per­cent­age of large land­hold­ings (over 1,200 acres) more than dou­bling, going from 25.6% of total land own­er­ship in 1997 to 66% in 2014.

Colom­bia Returns to War

As the Unit­ed States under­goes a pres­i­den­tial tran­si­tion, Colom­bia is expe­ri­enc­ing a tran­si­tion from an unsta­ble peace to a new local­ized war with many more actors. In addi­tion to Sec­ond Mar­que­talia, there are var­i­ous groups of FARC dis­si­dents, the Nation­al Lib­er­a­tion Army, and right-wing para­mil­i­taries that act in coor­di­na­tion with ele­ments of the state, fight­ing for con­trol of ter­ri­to­ries that have been aban­doned by the gov­ern­ment, leav­ing the peo­ple that live in those ter­ri­to­ries in the mid­dle. Just this year alone, Colom­bia has seen 84 mas­sacres and 292 killings of social lead­ers, the most recent of whom was Frein­er Lemus, an indige­nous leader who was assas­si­nat­ed on Decem­ber 13. U.S. inter­ven­tion in Colombia’s inter­nal affairs will con­tin­ue to exac­er­bate this vio­lence until there is a seri­ous rec­ti­fi­ca­tion of the coun­try’s lega­cy in the region.

A recent report by the House For­eign Affairs Com­mit­tee took some steps toward acknowl­edg­ing the fail­ure of the drug war and poli­cies like Plan Colom­bia. But the report’s empha­sis on reduc­ing “the for­eign sup­ply of illic­it drugs,” pro­vid­ing law enforce­ment assis­tance, and impos­ing sanc­tions sug­gests a lighter ver­sion of the same mil­i­taris­tic poli­cies that it is report­ed­ly crit­i­ciz­ing. And it fails to address the root cause of the prob­lem: the lack of real alter­na­tives for drug pro­duc­ing communities.

The incom­ing Biden admin­is­tra­tion has the chance to change this lega­cy and sup­port a last­ing peace in Colom­bia by with­draw­ing DEA agents and U.S. mil­i­tary advi­sors from the coun­try, sup­port­ing the imple­men­ta­tion of the peace accords, and decrim­i­nal­iz­ing coca cul­ti­va­tion. Time will tell whether Pres­i­dent-elect Biden choos­es a new direc­tion or repeats the fail­ures of the long his­to­ry of U.S. inter­ven­tion in Colombia. your social media marketing partner