When the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, finally signed a peace deal with the Colombian government in 2016, the U.S. foreign office already had a plan in place to frustrate it. They immediately went to work with allies in the country to make sure that any ounce of legitimacy would be dissolved to impede any possible advances for the communists in their newfound public arena.
Colombian newspaper El Espactador has recently revealed that the U.S. State Department, together with the Colombian intelligence service, drew up an elaborate plan to frame several FARC leaders as narcotraffickers. Colombia’s prosecution office went as far as using money and tons of cocaine seized from actual drug cartels in an operation to bait FARC members. When the bait was not taken, the authorities were forced to tamper audio evidence.
Among those targeted was Jesús Santrich, who was jailed for over a year awaiting trial despite there being insubstantial evidence. It has also come to light that Iván Márquez, a FARC chief who played a leading role at the peace talks with the government, was also being targeted in this operation. Had it not been for the fact that the former guerrillas negotiated a special court, known as the JEP, when they signed the 2016 peace process, their extraditions to the U.S. would have been swift.
This outlandish plot was not seriously questioned because there is a longstanding and widespread belief that the guerrillas sustained themselves through drug-trafficking. Over the decades, the United States and the Colombian state have described the insurgent communists as a “narco-terrorist” or “narco-guerrilla” organization, even though proof that they were directly involved in the drugs trade is sketchy at best.
Colombia’s mainstream media began to use the term “narco-guerrilla” in the 1980s following the claims made by former U.S. Ambassador to Colombia Lewis Tambs. According to Tambs, the communists were the owners of a massive cocaine laboratory that was found in a remote jungle in the Cauca department. The U.S. diplomat never provided any concrete evidence for this claim, but he did not need to. In Colombia’s mainstream and popular discourse, “narco” and “guerrilla” have become interchangeable. In this sense, Colombia’s insurgent left has had to deal with the fallout of Donald Trump-style fake news for decades.
What is unequivocal, and admitted by the guerrillas themselves, is that taxes and rents were received from coca leaf producers as they shared the same remote territories. The profitability of the coca leaf means that many Colombian peasants are pushed towards producing this raw material which is then sold to those who control cocaine laboratories. It is widely known that the War on Drugs and Plan Colombia have failed to eradicate the illicit drug economy for various reasons, one of them being that its resources are in fact used to quash popular and left-wing activism rather than criminal activity.
Furthermore, as Rodrigo Londoño, an ex-commander and the leader of the new FARC party has explained; there were cases of rogue soldiers and commanders profiting more directly from the illicit trade. According to him, however, it was never policy to be directly involved in the drugs trade because it would contradict their revolutionary principles. In short, Londoño argues that guerrillas would charge taxes and rents to producers of all agricultural industries in the areas they operated in regardless of what it was then processed into.
In this context, one can observe that the U.S. State Department’s recent plot to extradite communist leaders on drug-trafficking charges is just another strategy to debilitate Colombia’s leftist movement. This strategy worked before in 2004 when they captured one of the FARC’s leaders, Simón Trinidad, in Ecuador even though he was on a peace negotiation mission with the United Nations.
The U.S. did not have any outstanding warrants for Trinidad, so the George Bush and Álvaro Uribe administrations worked together to create one. He was soon extradited to the U.S., where he faced charges for drug trafficking and hostage taking. The jury hung on the drug charges (the majority of them in favor of acquittal) but was nevertheless sentenced to 60 years for a hostage-taking incident he played no part in. Trinidad is currently still in a U.S. maximum-security prison where he is held in isolation.
Unsurprisingly, Uribe, who has been reported to the U.S. government for having verifiable links to the narco trade, and who has been recently placed under house arrest for fraud and bribery, has never been investigated. What matters here, evidently, is not the actual crime but where your political loyalties lie.
By presenting them as narcos rather than a political organization, they have undermined the FARC’s legitimacy in the country and in the international arena. The guerrillas had at least some defence against the military operations that sought to destroy them in their decades-long war against the state. They were equally well prepared to combat anti-guerrilla propaganda in the countryside where they enjoyed widespread support. Now that they have put down their arms and attempted to join the liberal democratic process, they are being eliminated from the political sphere with a propaganda war led and backed by the U.S., forcing a group of them to abandon the peace deal.
The incredible silence regarding this situation in Western media suggests that there is an ongoing need to keep the South American country away from even the slightest socialist or communist influence.