The Special Envoy of United States President Barack Obama reportedly met with Colombia’s largest rebel group FARC over the weekend, presumably to discuss pending extradition requests of guerrillas and the fate of rebel commanders in US prisons.
Special Envoy Bernard Aronson met with the FARC delegation on the Communist-run Caribbean island state on both Saturday and Sunday, a source told Spanish news agency EFE.
Aronson, a senior diplomat, also held his first meeting with the government delegation.
The meetings were held behind closed doors and both the FARC and the US government tried keeping the meeting and its agenda secret.
What the FARC wants from the US
A life-size cardboard cutout photo of extradited rebel commander “Simon Trinidad” has been present at FARC press conferences, clearly indicating that the guerrillas want their extradited “foreign minister” out of a United States prison.
The rebels initially had included Trinidad in their original negotiation team and requested his expatriation, but without success.
The United States failed to release the FARC commander who is serving a 60-year prison sentence for the kidnapping of three US military contractors in 2002.
A second guerrilla the FARC have asked to expatriate is “Sonia,” a low-ranking rebel who was extradited and convicted for drug trafficking in 2007.
The armed conflict
Causes of the conflict
Pending extradition requests
Another issue that can only be solved with US help is the FARC’s inability to take part in politics while there are dozens of pending US extradition requests for FARC fighters and commanders, mostly on drug charges.
What both the government and the FARC are trying to achieve with the peace process is grant the FARC access to politics, allowing them to pursue their political goals democratically rather than through violence, thus removing a decades-old cause of the armed conflict.
Following a meeting with Aronson, Colombian President Santos had already said that the pending extraditions had to be tackled.
“We have to find a solution. Nobody is going to surrender their weapons to go and die in an American prison. This is completely unrealistic,” Santos told Spanish newspaper El Pais.
Santos said he would personally negotiate the pending extradition requests.
“It is my responsibility to use the relationship with the United States for the seeking of a solution to this,” said the Colombian head of state.
The FARC and the War on Drugs
In order to finance their war against the Colombian state, the 50-year-old rebel group has since the 1970s been increasingly involved in drug trafficking and other criminal activities to finance their military force.
The production of cocaine aimed for US and European consumption markets has long been the FARC’s primary revenue stream and made the rebels an enemy in the United States’ War on Drugs.
The FARC’s deep involvement in Colombia’s drug trade also made them one of the main targets of “Plan Colombia,” which provided major funds to the Colombian military to combat both drug trafficking and leftist guerrilla groups like the FARC and the smaller ELN.
Following the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York city in 2001, the FARC — then deemed a terrorist organization like for example Al-Qaeda — also became a target in the War on Terror declared by former US President George W. Bush.
The rebels and the Colombian government already have an agreement on the FARC’s abandoning of drug trafficking and political integration in the event of a peace accord. However, in order to make this possible, the US will have to remove the FARC from its terrorist organization list.
The warring parties have been talking since November 2012 and are currently negotiating victim reparation, transitional justice and a bilateral ceasefire that would effectively end the armed conflict.