The U.S. Congress will insist on major changes to Colombia’s controversial peace deal with leftist rebels before approving funds committed by President Obama to support the process, according to senior congressional sources who say that key officials of the incoming Trump administration share their skepticism.
Together with the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, the Iran nuclear deal and normalizing relations with Cuba, Colombia’s peace process is another piece of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy legacy that could be undone under President-elect Trump.
Colombia is highly divided about the deal negotiated by President Juan Manuel Santos after five years of talks with leftist rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, in Cuba. Mr. Santos won a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts, but his campaign to sell the deal to voters back home has not gone smoothly.
Seeking to end the Western Hemisphere’s longest military conflict, Mr. Santos has been trying to push his 294-page agreement through Colombia’s congress and high courts, facing stiff opposition from conservatives led by his predecessor, former President Alvaro Uribe, who says that the deal is unconstitutional, facilitates drug trafficking and is too generous in its offer of amnesty to violent FARC fighters.
The U.S. has a key role underwriting the deal because congressional appropriators are reviewing a request for $600 million to help implement the agreement.
“There are very worrisome aspects about the peace deal that are unacceptable,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, Florida Republican. “We are going to be attaching more and more strings to make sure that the money does not go to handing Colombia over to FARC.”
Mr. Santos was forced to scramble after voters unexpectedly rejected the original agreement in a national referendum in early October. A slightly reworked text was then ratified by the national legislature — a second national vote was not held — Nov. 3, but Mr. Uribe rejected the changes as “cosmetic” and will undermine the rule of law in Colombia.
“The more impunity you grant FARC, the more people will be stimulated to produce drugs in the hope of future immunity,” Mr. Uribe said on a recent visit to Washington to lobby against the agreement.
Under the Plan Colombia aid program first begun under President Clinton, billions of dollars of U.S. military and economic aid enabled the Colombian government to retake large swaths of the country that FARC controlled up to a decade ago. GPS-guided smart bombs decimated much of FARC’s leadership and infrastructure, limiting the group’s operations to remote border zones with Venezuela, Ecuador and Brazil, where it still operates important drug routes and threatens strategic oil installations.
“As the U.S. helped to win the war with FARC, it must now help to win the peace with FARC,” said Mr. Santos, who administered a series of blows against the guerrillas when he served as Mr. Uribe’s defense minister from 2006 to 2009. Mr. Santos has said that his new peace accord is the best way of assuring that FARC disarms and leaves the drug business.
Coca production rebounding
But drug trafficking has grown since peace negotiations started, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Colombia’s production of coca, the base ingredient for cocaine, has risen by 46 percent since talks got underway, according to the U.S. anti-drug agency, which blames the increase on the suspension of aerial eradication in FARC-controlled areas.
“It’s no secret that the peace negotiations have aided coca production,” said Mr. Diaz-Balart. “The new administration will not have the same tolerance as Obama. We will insist on scrapping parts of the deal that define narcotrafficking as a political crime and allow narcoterrorists to enter politics,” he said.
The rebels’ estimated 6,000 troops are supposed to disarm and report to U.N.-run camps in the coming months, but continuing violence, political discord and a string of assassinations of leftist activists in the countryside have cast a shadow over the timetable. A widely circulated Spanish television video showing U.N. monitors of the peace deal dancing with FARC guerrillas at a New Year’s Day party has fueled the doubts of Mr. Uribe and other conservative critics that the accord will be impartially administered.
The U.N. Bogota office announced Thursday that four officials from its peacekeeping mission in Colombia had been removed in the wake of the video scandal.
Policy analysts working with the Trump transition team say that extradition provisions in the FARC accord are another “sticking point.” Sixty members of FARC wanted by the U.S. for terrorist and drug-trafficking offenses could be protected from prosecution under the peace agreement.
“The Obama administration did nothing to tighten the many loose screws in the agreement,” said Ana Quintana, a Latin American policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation. Secretary of State John F. Kerry eagerly agreed to key FARC demands, including deleting the group from the State Department’s terrorism list, before the peace deal was even signed, according to Ms. Quintana.
By contrast, right-wing paramilitary groups who entered into a peace agreement with the Colombian government in 2003 were not taken off the U.S. terrorism list until eight years after they disarmed.
FARC is supposed to shed tons of firearms and explosives during the course of the year under the supervision of a U.N. force that includes military components from Cuba and Venezuela — who have supported the FARC.
Havana played host to critical endgame negotiations, but also aided the leftist guerrillas by jamming Colombian army attempts to eavesdrop on conversations between negotiators in Havana and commanders in the field, according to Colombian intelligence officials.
FARC leader Ivan Marquez has been living in Venezuela. He flew to a deal-signing ceremony with Mr. Santos in Cuba from the private ranch of a security minister escorted by Venezuelan warplanes, according to the Colombian weekly news magazine Semana.
John Marulanda, a Colombian military intelligence officer and international security consultant, said that the disarmament agreement does not require registration of the serial numbers of weapons turned over by the guerrillas, so as to conceal their Cuban and Venezuelan origin.
The FARC is only expected to hand over a fraction of its arms, according to an official who served on the military advisory team at the Havana negotiations. A guerrilla defector who operated important logistical facilities told CNN that FARC only plans to turn in “30 percent” of its arsenal.
Retired Marine General John Kelly, President-elect Trump’s pick to head the Department of Homeland Security, could be a major voice on Latin American policy in the new administration after having served as commander of the U.S. Southern Command, which has responsibility for Latin and South America, from 2012 to 2016.
While head of Southcom, Gen. Kelly denounced a major arms acquisition by FARC as peace negotiations got underway. He reported that the guerrilla group purchased $88 million of Russian arms, including 200 SA-18 and SA-7 portable surface-to-air missiles, in 2013.
“Gen. Kelly is bound to be consulted closely on Colombia policy in view of his awareness of the security issues involved and his military-to-military relations with the Colombians,” said Evan Ellis, chief Latin American analyst at the U.S. Army War College.
Mr. Ellis also noted that Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerman “will bring in a team with more heightened sensitivity about the fragility of the peace process in Colombia.”
A rise in activity by Colombia’s other major guerrilla group, the ELN, has been reported in recent weeks. Defense analysts say that the group is absorbing members of FARC who are rejecting the peace deal.