House nears vote chiding Joe Biden admin for removing Colombian FARC rebels from terrorism list
Rodrigo Granda, right, a former rebel commander and member of the FARC political party, shakes hands with Rocio Lopez, sister of two kidnap victims, who were eventually released, during a ceremony where former FARC members apologized to locals for the kidnappings they carried out over decades in the rural area of Pipiral near Villavicencio, Colombia, Oct. 29, 2020. The U.S. State Department on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021, revoked its designation of the FARC as a “foreign terrorist organization”, allowing U.S. officials to work with members of the rebel group as they continue to shift into political life. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara, File)

'They’re responsible for the world’s longest civil war at 57 years and ... hundreds of thousands of deaths and kidnapping.'

A bill formally opposing the decision by President Joe Biden’s administration to remove the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) from the United States’ list of foreign terrorist organizations is on its way to a full Florida House vote.

The measure (HM 1383), which expresses the chamber’s commitment to Colombia and condemnation of FARC, enjoyed sweeping support Monday from the House State Affairs Committee, its third and final stop before the House floor.

Its sponsor, Miami-Dade Republican Rep. Juan Fernandez-Barquin called the bill “personally important” to him and noted his district’s large Latin American population.

“For those of you who are not familiar with FARC … they are a Marxist terrorist group sponsored and assisted by narco-traffickers and countries that sponsor terrorism like Cuba and Venezuela,” he said. “They’re responsible for the world’s longest civil war at 57 years, and they’re responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths and kidnapping.

“Now, in 2016, there was a peace accord reached with this terrorist organization, but the reality is much more complicated than that. This organization and their splinter groups still remain a threat to Colombia and the stability in the Latin American region.”

HM 1383 is the House companion to Republican Miami Sen. Ileana Garcia’s measure (SR 1064) which cleared its final committee last week. Both versions of the legislation oppose “any effort to change the U.S. State Department’s designation of Cuba and Iran from their current designations as state sponsors of terrorism.”

Conflicts between the Colombian government and FARC stretch back more than five decades, during which it is estimated some 220,000 people were killed.

The nearly 7 million Colombians driven from their homes during that period represent the largest population in the world of what the United Nations designates as “internally displaced people.”

On Nov. 30, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced his department was revoking the designation of FARC as a foreign terrorist organization and amending the designation of its leader and other groups.

The move came just over five years after the Colombian government signed a revised peace agreement to end conflicts with FARC. By then, the U.S. Congress had pumped more than $10 billion into the country to support cartel- and insurgent-fighting operations.

Colombian voters had rejected the agreement for, among other things, being too soft on FARC commanders convicted of war crimes, including allowing them to run for public office.

Today, about 90% of FARC rebels have demobilized, and many former commanders from within their ranks are now prominent Colombian politicians. In remote areas of the country where it’s hard to deliver government aid, armed rebels continue to operate. One such ex-FARC splinter group was responsible, and later charged, for a July attack on a helicopter carrying Colombia President Iván Duque Márquez.

In a November statement, Blinken said removing FARC from the list would help to “better support implementation of the 2016 accord, including by working with demobilized combatants.”

Fernandez-Barquin’s bill said FARC “has murdered, tortured, and kidnapped innocent Colombians and committed gross violations of human rights.” Further, the group “opposes democratic institutions and those who have fought for them” and “has committed and supported terrorism and continues to do so.”

Assistant Miami-Dade Attorney Jess McCarthy, who lobbies Tallahassee on behalf of the county, signaled support for the bill but did not speak on the issue.

Jacksonville Republican Rep. Jason Fischer described Colombia as one of Florida’s strongest allies in Latin America and FARC as a continuing threat to democracy and the proper use of Florida’s trade dollars.

“About one-third of all international trade with Colombia is with our home state of Florida, but some people look at this and think, ‘Why is this a problem for Florida? Why should Florida get involved in it?’” he said. “Potentially, our resources will go to fund FARC and Marxist terrorists in another country. Members, I urge you to … stand up for the free people of Colombia.”

Democratic Homestead Rep. Kevin Chambliss also threw his support behind the bill.

“We’ve all held a consensus in our stance against communism,” he said. “On behalf of the Colombian Americans that live in my district, back in Miami-Dade, I’m glad that we are making a statement.”

Despite being a direct rebuke to a policy enacted under the top Democratic executive in the nation, opposition to removing FARC from the State Department’s foreign terrorist list is a bipartisan position for many in Florida, which is home to some 150,000 Colombian American voters.

Shortly after the group’s removal from the list in November, Democratic Miami state Sen. Annette Taddeo, who is running to unseat Gov. Ron DeSantis, called the Biden administration’s shift on FARC “terrible,” a “bad policy” and “bad politics.”

Her opponent in the gubernatorial Primary, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, a former Republican, said he was “deeply troubled” by FARC’s removal from the list.

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, also a Democrat, said the Biden administration should “reject this move” and “double down to reject the extremist communist agenda that destroyed nations like Venezuela.”

In December, Republican U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott sent a letter to Biden calling it “a step backwards for the stability and security of Colombia” that “will only provide these terrorists and their political sympathizers with enhanced capability, finance resources, and perceived international legitimacy to destabilize our closest ally in the region.”

That same month, Republican Rep. María Elvira Salazar filed a bill called the “No FARC Act” to block entry to the U.S. of any present or former FARC member.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


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