U.S. Senate to Santos Government: U.S. Support for Peace Agreement Hinges on Justice & Voter Ratification
In the current climate, the Colombian government and its people are antagonists. And while the Obama administration has chosen to legitimize the Santos-FARC alliance, the Senate, unanimously and commendably, chose to stand with the Colombian people
By Lia Fowler*
May 3, 2016
On April 27, the Unites States Senate unanimously approved a resolution supporting Colombia’s efforts to end decades of terrorism by the narco-terrorist group FARC. Originating in the Committee on Foreign Relations, Senate Resolution 368 was introduced to mark the 15th anniversary of Plan Colombia, a U.S. foreign aid package designed to combat drug trafficking and terrorism, and comes four years into “peace” talks between Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC in Havana. In a flurry of propaganda, the Santos government immediately touted the resolution as a full endorsement of what has been negotiated so far. It is nothing of the kind. In fact, Resolution 368 is a concise list of conditions that Santos would be wise to meet if he wants any U.S. funding to implement his peace deal.
Omitting any specific endorsement of the Santos administration or the negotiations thus far, the resolution, instead, set three specific conditions for continued aid: appropriate punishment for terrorists, ratification of the accords by the Colombian people, and continued cooperation with the U.S. in combating drug trafficking – none of which are being or seem likely to be met.
In stark contrast to the Obama administration’s explicit and specific support for Santos, the FARC, and the agreements thus far, the resolution’s first of six points pledges support by the people and Government of the United States only “for the people of Colombia in their pursuit of peace.” The resolution’s second point also deliberately omits any mention of the Santos government, the FARC, or the so-called “peace” negotiations, but simply commends “efforts to bring an end to Colombia’s enduring internal armed conflict,” which would apply to the efforts of the country’s last three Presidents, all of whom combated terrorism and are mentioned in the preamble.
It’s an eloquent omission. In all the latest polls, Santos’ approval ratings oscillate between 10 and 20 percent (the lowest in the region), and more than 90 percent of Colombians oppose two of the main points of the deal with the FARC so far – no jail time and political eligibility for terrorists. It’s fair to say, then, that in the current climate, the Colombian government and its people are antagonists. And while the Obama administration has chosen to legitimize the Santos-FARC alliance, the Senate, unanimously and commendably, chose to stand with the Colombian people.
The third point of the resolution called for an agreement that ensured perpetrators of serious crimes be “appropriately punished.” This is critical, because the Transitional Justice Agreement announced by the Santos-FARC alliance – and endorsed by the State Department through U.S. Envoy to the negotiations Bernard Aronson — calls for no jail time for any crime at all. The sanctions established in it would never qualify as “appropriate punishment” under U.S. or International law. The will of the Senate, then, stands in clear opposition of the agreements on transitional justice.
Consistent with its support for the people of Colombia – and in contrast to recent actions by Colombia’s government — point four calls for voter ratification of the agreements and point five goes further, making any U.S. assistance for implementation of a “potential” peace accord contingent on it, by including the caveat, “IF such an accord is endorsed by the Colombian people.” (emphasis added.)
This is a key point, because, though President Santos originally promised to hold a referendum to ratify the negotiations, he disavowed it last year, calling it “a suicide.” Instead, the Colombian Senate approved an enabling law, giving Santos rule-by-decree powers to implement the peace agreements – bypassing both congress and the electorate. Simultaneously, the Constitutional Court is considering giving the accords International Treaty status, so the agreement could never be modified in the future. And while those dictatorial measures make their way through the system, Santos has proposed a plebiscite to appease the call for a popular vote of some kind.
Not only would a plebiscite – a single question to be answered yes or no – be an inadequate tool to ratify complex agreements, Santos and his well-greased Congress lowered the threshold for approval from 51 percent, as established by the Constitution, to 13 percent of the electorate. Yet even that treacherous tactic seems unlikely to happen, as Rafael Nieto Loaiza, respected columnist, lawyer, and former Vice Minister of Justice, explained in a recent column: “What has been approved is so obviously unconstitutional that the Constitutional Court will have no option but to knock it down.”
How the Santos-FARC alliance will ratify and implement the accord has yet to be seen, but, in approving Resolution 368, by unanimous vote, the message from the U.S. Senate was clear: if the Colombian people don’t ratify the accord, there will be no U.S. money to implement it.
The last point of the resolution also deviates from the Obama and Santos administrations’ recent attitudes toward the FARC. Though it is still designated a terrorist organization by the State Department, Obama has invited the FARC to a baseball game, Kerry has held meetings with them, and Santos has demanded that they no longer be called drug dealers or terrorists. Despite those warming relations, the Senate made clear in its final point its stance on what the FARC is and how the terrorists should be treated by reaffirming its commitment “to ensuring justice for those who have caused indelible harm to our populations.”
The Santos propaganda machine can give the Resolution any spin it wants, but both the Santos and the Obama administration should take heed: The U.S. Senate will continue to combat drug trafficking and terrorism; it will continue to bring drug traffickers and terrorists to justice; and it still stands, as it has for decades, with the victims of FARC narco-terrorists, both in Colombia and the U.S.
*Lia Fowler is an American journalist and a former FBI Special Agent.