COLOMBIA: Reconciling Post-War Terrorists – Contextualizing the New FARC in History’s Shadow

When a lemon-in-the-eyes social experiment symbolizes the prospective hope yet logical reservation of one terrorist organizations' transition into peace. Photo (c) Semana 2016; FARC logo artistically  added.When a lemon-in-the-eyes social experiment symbolizes the prospective hope yet logical reservation of one terrorist organizations' transition into peace. Photo (c) Semana 2016; FARC logo artistically added.

Colombian journalist Daniel Samper recently conducted a light-hearted YouTube challenge…with FARC leader Jesus Santrich.

Participating in a viral stunt, it involved squeezing lemon juice into their eyes and seeing who endured it best and longer. Samper summarized that there was no telling who “won” the challenge, and likened the air of ambiguity  yet novel comradery-in-sharing-a-literally-bitter-experience to the recently terminated conflict amid Santrich’s FARC and the Colombian government (Samper’s uncle is a former President).

The initially humorous segment dychotomically resulted in the following solemn, interview-styled conclusion:

Samper (to Santrich): “I would never vote for you (the FARC). But thank you for giving me (the Colombian people and government) this chance. The chance to beat you in the elections. And I recognize and thank you for signing the peace agreement. Before, you didn’t have a way to beat us. Now, you can do that in the elections – eye to eye.”

   Santrich: “The idea is not only to beat us, but to convince us. So all of us can continue moving forward.”

     Samper: “Agreed. There is no way to truly reconcile the immense damage we’ve caused one another. There is only to give thanks that we won’t do it anymore.”

Photo (c) Hola Soy Danny 2017

The Hola Soy Danny segment emphasized that both parties can indeed have symbolic lemon squirted in their eyes, call their endurance of it mutually unfortunate and a tie, and move on, agreeing not to do it again. Photo (c) Hola Soy Danny 2017

Such demonstrated marble of prospective hope, yet logical reservation captures the current philosophical limbo of the FARC under Colombia and the world’s microscope.

“The line between competition and conflict, between peaceful and fair fights for votes by persuasive means, and hostile antagonism which resorts to disruptive or destructive and even violent means is often crossed,” Alex P. Schmid, scholar and ex-Officer-in-Charge of the Terrorism Prevention Branch of the United Nations notes in his 2010 article “Frameworks of Conceptualizing Terrorism”, “Acts of terrorism usually, but not exclusively, take place in the context of political conflict.”

And as Samper highlights, the FARC’s expression of political motives are maturing. Now the element of “hostile antagonism” can be removed from implemented FARC political motivations. Historically a terrorist organization, this transition into its new political party and process of socio-economic and political metamorphosis survives the days of its long peace process. Such overall bitter, yet hopeful prospects of uncharacteristic symbiotic harmony between the FARC and Colombia furthermore challenges certain definitions of terrorist organizations in the 21st century.

Guerilla-to-Government Track

Photo (c) Estadao Internacional 2013

How does the FARC – former guerilla-flavored yet lacking Pepe’s marketable charm – succeed on ethos, pathos and logos levels today? Photo (c) Estadao Internacional 2013

Many still believe negotiating with terrorists is unethical, including a vocal right-wing sector of Colombian political opposition. Others claim that it is mutually strategic and demonstrates that however extreme a terrorist organization’s past dictates, peaceable reform is possible. That both sides can have symbolic lemon squirted in their eyes, call their endurance of it mutually unfortunate and a tie, and move on, agreeing not to do it again, can indeed occur. Now, it is a matter of how and if that optimistic proposition endures time, circumstances, opposition and an irreconcilable violent past.

South American guerilla organizations and individual members have successfully politicized in the past. The long defunct Uruguayan left-wing urban guerilla organization, the Tupamaros, combated their country’s Operation Condor era dictatorships (1970s-80s). Certain Tupamaro members and their children have since gone onto produce a powerful, legitimate presence on the democratic front.

Uruguayan Ex-President Jose “Pepe” Mujica (2010-2015) was a Tupamaro guerilla and political prisoner for over a decade. He ultimately became  known for his progressive policiesstraight talk and diplomatic equilibrium. His wife, Lucia Topolansky, is the estranged member of a wealthy family-turned-Tupamaro-comrade, and has since served as Senator, Deputy, In-term President, and most recently Vice President of the Republic, succeeding son of a Tupamaro founding father, Raul Sendic. Most uniquely, Mujica is internationally beloved as having been the  “world’s poorest president”, a nod to his humble lifestyle and meme-worthy philosophical thought before, during and after office.

But how does the FARC – former guerilla-flavored yet awkward and lacking Pepe’s generally marketable charm – succeed on ethos, pathos and logos grounds today?

“New Terrorism”?

Photo (c) US Department of State 2017

US Department of State still classifies the FARC as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (or FTO). Photo (c) US Department of State 2017

Brigitte L. Nacos in her book Terrorism and Counterterrorism describes the September 11, 2001 attacks as having “reshaped the priorities and the actual policy agenda of a victimized state”. She additionally defines its extreme impact on domestic and international levels as “new terrorism”. The half-a-century-long civil war between the Colombian government and terrorist organization, the FARC (in Spanish: Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) also dramatically “reshaped” its host country and hemisphere, but so did the historic peace negotiations that ended that conflict.

One Nobel Peace Prize later, the FARC has disbanded its radical modus operandi and converted to a legitimate political institution. Yet the US Department of State still classifies the FARC as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (or FTO). According to the State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism, two years are required of a formerly designated FTO to be deemed non-terrorist. How the FARC has manifested is motivations and politics in the past, and what it decides to do from here will shed light on the multi-layered definition of Nacos’ “new terrorism”.

If  the FARC qualified for the FTO classification in the first place, how does it stand a chance of departing the FTO list so soon? Analyzing the basic context of the FARC’s motivations and politics amid the terrorism spectrum, as well as the pro and anti responses from national and international entities, help clarify the matter. Moreover, observing how the FARC’s motivations are being translated from terrorism to purely legal ones thus far also becomes pivotal to assess its prospective success…or ultimate failure.

Fatal Novela

Photo (c) TeleTrece 2017

The FARC allegedly fought and continues to rationalize their terrorist past to combat corruption, inequality and elitism. But… Photo (c) TeleTrece 2017

The original FARC was Colombia’s largest terrorist organization, waging a 52-year long war with the country’s government, intelligence organizations, armed forces and ally corporations and countries. Established in 1964, the FARC was inspired by far-left ideologies, operated in and beyond Colombia with a maximum 20,000 members. According to Insight Crime, it was principally financed through narco-trafficking, kidnapping for ransom, arms contraband, human trafficking, illegal mining, oil pipeline tapping and real estate robbery .

The ensuing war cost approximately 220,000 casualties – civilian and non-civilian. It has displaced and victimized at minimum 7 million Colombian nationals. BBC World Service journalist Grace Livingstone elaborates in Inside Colombia: Drugs, Democracy and War that overall, the FARC’s stated political and ideological incentive is to defend the unprivileged populous living among Colombia’s socio-economically and politically segregated atmosphere.

In summary, the FARC allegedly fought to combat such corruption, inequality and elitism. However, while public and private authorities were targeted, an El Pais analysis documents that more impoverished and otherwise vulnerable civilians were affected by this war on terror‘s cross-fire. National and international entities responded.

Washington Involvement

Photo (c) Reuters 2003

The US has specifically provided troops, equipment, radar, ships, military and police training, as well as advisory services totaling over U$S10billion between 2002 and 2010 – half of the US’s declared security expenditure to Latin America in the same time period. Photo (c) Reuters 2003

Multinational efforts to impede FARC terrorist activities have permeated northern South American politics and security at critical depths. In Colombia, a US Department of Justice report notes that Colombian counterparts were combating the guerilla group before and after fighting large 20th century drug cartels such as the Medellin, De la Costa and Cali Cartels. Throughout that period, numerous peace negotiations between presidential administrations and the FARC were attempted but failed…until recently.

Colombia hence accepted mass foreign aid from the US. This involves dozens of clandestine and non-clandestine military bases on domestic soil. The US has specifically provided troops, equipment, radar, ships, military and police training, as well as advisory services totaling over U$S10billion between 2002 and 2010 – half of the US’s declared security expenditure to Latin America in the same time period.

These activities are part of Plan Colombia – a US-Colombian joint initiative created during the Clinton administration, ampted during the Bush administration and publically aimed at tackling narco-trafficking, including non-cartel participants such as the FARC. This dynamic serves numerous additional geo-strategic means, as well.

Isthmus Ally

Photo (c) El Heraldo 2015

Panama’s US-aided SENAFRONT helped Colombian forces cull FARC activities in the Darien Gap. Photo (c) Panama America 2015

In addition, elite police forces from neighboring Republic of Panama – also heavily aided by the US – have collaborated with Colombia via anti-FARC efforts. This partially entails relatively small, albeit highly-trained Panamanian forces – such as SENAFRONT and SENAN – to aid Colombia in cutting down FARC terrorist training sites and illegal trafficking routes along the densely variegated Panamanian-Colombian border, the Darien Gap.

Between 2007 and 2016, SENAFRONT under Commissioned Officer Frank Abrego reduced FARC Darien activities by over 90%. Meanwhile, SENAN stopped 63-tons of mostly Colombian cocaine from crossing the border in 2016 alone, and hopes to see less product upon the FARC’s decriminalization.

However, overall counter-FARC operations have never been universally supported.

Polarizing Agendas

Photo (c) TeleSUR 2011

The early 2000s featured US-friendly Uribe typically isolating himself – and being isolated – by populist neighbors. Photo (c) TeleSUR 2007

Unanimous anti-FARC policy has been and continues to be inexistent. Populist administrations in Venezuela and Ecuador have previously defended the FARC as “freedom-fighting, anti-imperialist revolutionaries”. FARC monetary trails and “safe havens” were found in Venezuela under President Hugo Chavez (1999-2013), and encampments were found in Ecuador under President Rafael Correa (2007-2016). This era also encompassed one of Plan Colombia’s strongest periods, when headed by right-wing President Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010), who meanwhile was accused by the populist governments for backing Colombian paramilitary activity in their own territories.

A 2017 analysis from The Economist notes that Uribe was a supporter of Bush‘s “democratic institutions” agenda and Operation Iraqi Freedom.  He also occupied a unique, timely role as one of the few right-wing, purely pro-US interest strong-hold heads-of-state amid an otherwise Pink Tide / Bolivarian-booming South America. In office, President Uribe’s consequential antagonism toward his neighbors and their alleged sympathies for the FARC sparked numerous diplomatic crisis. Colombian military and paramilitary violations of international borders, and at one point potential war in 2008 added to the mix. However, circumstances altered when Uribe was succeeded by center-right, President Juan Manuel Santos.

Santos entered Casa de Nariño as Uribe’s former hardcore anti-FARC, anti-populist Minister of Defense and supported presidential candidate to continue Uribe security joie de vivre. Today, President Santos is preparing to leave office with quite a different reputation. It began when Santos proposed early into his first term an alternative methodology to ridding FARC the terrorism organization – transforming it.

Multi-Dimensional Transition

Photo (c) El Tiempo 2016

The Santos administration understood that while predecessor Uribe’s Plan Colombia-mentality debilitated much of the FARC’s strength, strategic diplomacy and dialogue would be mandatory to resolving overall war with the FARC. Photo (c) El Tiempo 2016

Wolf-Dieter Eberwein and Sven Chojnacki from the Scientific Center Berlin for Social Research observe that, “Conflict is crucial for the integration within and between societies as long as violence is absent, thus a major productive force in the evolution of the relations within and between societies. If, however, violence is used, conflict is disruptive if not destructive.”

The Santos administration understood Eberwein and Chojnacki’s analysis. While predecessor Uribe’s Plan Colombia-mentality debilitated much of the FARC’s strength, strategic diplomacy and dialogue would be mandatory to resolving overall war with the FARC. Hence, Santos knew that advocating said “conflict without violence” angle was going to be crucial to neutralizing them as a terrorist organization. A diplomatic delegation from the Colombian government initiated peace negotiations with FARC representatives in 2011, hosted in La Habana, Cuba and accompanied by Norwegian foreign affairs specialists. An overall peace deal was finalized this year, leading to President Santos winning a Nobel Peace Prize and the FARC publically discontinuing all criminal activities.

Jorge Gomez Pinilla from El Espectador notes that the peace deal includes disarmament, legal immunity from former crimes, and establishing a political party scheduled to participate in the upcoming 2018 Presidential Elections. However, “peace” with the FARC has yet to prove a universal concept.

Pot Calling the Kettle…Morally Ambiguous

Photo (c) Vanguardia 2016

Uribe has a history of strong indications toward narco and paramilitary influence throughout his long, continuing political career. Photo (c) Vanguardia 2016

Supporters of former President Uribe believe that Santos is a “traitor to the homeland”, as well as to Uribe himself. To Uribe, individuals and organizations titled “terrorists” parallel Michael Radu’s definition of being criminals and murderers, but stops at not accepting “one persons’ terrorist is another persons’ freedom-fighter”.

Contrarily, Uribe argues that negotiations with terrorists are legally and ethically unacceptable in that they implicitly identify illicit and violent groups as powerful and legitimate enough to be reckoned with by national governments. Uribe continues that the only way to curb terrorism is to end not just the activities of the terrorists, but the terrorists themselves. Mass “No to Peace” protests and presidential elections were influenced by this nationally polarizing topic. Therefore, the debate less questions the concept of supporting peace than what risks and compromises it may entail to achieve such peace.

One argument regards the BACRIM / bandas criminals – a powerful criminal network that has taken the place of early 2000 paramilitaries and oversees extortion, illegal mining, as well as cocaine, human and arms trafficking. An Insight Crime investigation lists the BACRIM as “rife with criminal opportunities created by the withdrawal of thousands of demobilizing leftist insurgents”. Uribe characteristically backs these concerns, questioning what impedes former FARC guerillas from turning back to criminal liftstyles and citing doubts of the FARC’s full disarmament as a point of concern. While the Colombian government has highlighted legal job hunt opportunity aid and training for ex-FARC individuals, only time can tell whether such efforts prove effective. Certain associates of the FARC’s right-wing counterpart organizations have made it to top positions in the country.

Parapolitica

Photo (c) Semana 2016

FBI report: “During the past decade we have witnessed dramatic changes in the nature of terrorist threat. In the 1990s, right-wing extremists overtook left-wing terrorism as the most dangerous threat”. Photo (c) Semana 2016

It is worthy of note that anti-FARC Uribe himself has a history of strong indications toward narco and far right-wing paramilitary connections throughout his long, continuing political career. Such a profile fits Uribista philosophy of fighting fire with fire…or perhaps  terrorism with terrorism.

Or “democide“, Yale University and University of Hawaii political scientist R.J. Rummel’s terminology for government-induced terrorism.

During the later half of the 20th century, Nacos notes that “most violent right-wing perpetrators of political violence” were once interpreted as “freedom fighters because of their anti-communist pedigree”. However, this is increasingly a Cold War mentality that is interpreted as outdated, increasingly groundless and even paranoid. Indeed, a 2002 US Federal Bureau of Investigation review on domestic terrorist threats emphasizes that “During the past decade we have witnessed dramatic changes in the nature of terrorist threat. In the 1990s, right-wing extremists overtook left-wing terrorism as the most dangerous threat”.

Even the terroristic paramilitary group associated with US-ally Uribe – the AUC, whose Uribista connections sparked one of Colombia’s most significant scandals, the parapolitica –  was ultimately forced onto the US State Department list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations for thirteen years.

Reduced Blood Spill, but not Philosophical Bullets

Photo (c) Radio Francia Internacional 2017

However extreme a terrorist organization’s past dictates, is lasting peaceable reform possible? Photo (c) Radio Francia Internacional 2017

Overall, the terrorist-organization-turned-political-party FARC has more to prove than redefining their acronym to Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Común (translated: Alternative Revolutionary Force of the Common man). If the renewed FARC desires political success within Colombia and a matured reputation from its origins of Alex P. Schmid’s “power asymmetry” with the national government, they must prove to Santos supporters that their head of state was correct to grant thousands of criminals a chance at expressing their motives on purely legal, peaceable terms.

Meanwhile, the FARC must prove to Uribe supporters that those who once contributed to terrorist activities – that is, those who did / do not coincide with their agendas also occasionally enforced – a la parapolitica / falsos positivos / or as cousin Pablo Escobar would say, “plata o plomo“-styled chainsaw – can reform and consistently uphold democratic institutions.

Yet perhaps even a greater task is proving to major economic-political aid, the United States, that the new FARC can be worthy of joining the likes of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine – Hawatmeh Faction (1999), the Japanese Red Army (2001), the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (2014) and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (2015), among others revoked of their FTO classification.

If proven worthy over the following years, the State Department’s revocation would help solidify an additional element to Nacos’ “new terrorism” concept – that however extreme a terrorist organization’s past dictates, peaceable reform is possible.

About the Author

Ailana Navarez
Ailana Navarez is Pulsamerica’s Editor-in-Chief, Owner, Digital Marketing Manager and Contributor; and Deputy Editor of partner-magazine International Policy Digest. She is former Contributor of Uruguay and Venezuela. She has published over 80 international relations-related articles as a political analyst / journalist with a concentration in Latin American leadership analysis, economy, history, international relations, and her research passions, politics and narco-trafficking. As a photographer, she has covered international summits – including of MERCOSUR and the UN. She holds a BA in Government and Psychology at Harvard, pursuing an MA in Homeland Security at Penn State, and is certified in Competitive Counter Intelligence, Technical Surveillance Countermeasures and Countering Terrorism & the Asset Threat Spectrum. She has volunteered for environmental, educational and law enforcement entities - domestically and abroad. She maintains permanent residency status in Panama, the United States and Uruguay. She speaks English, Spanish, Portuguese and Hawaiian Creole.