Colombia asks US to remove Farc from terror list in event of peace deal

President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia would like the United States to remove the country’s largest rebel group from its list of terrorist organizations and suspend drug warrants against guerrilla commanders if he seals a peace deal to end the country’s five-decade civil war.
In an interview days before a key visit to the White House, Santos said that once a deal is signed it would be appropriate for the Obama administration to strike the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or Farc, from a State Department list of terrorist organizations where it has been included for almost two decades. 
The Farc, which as part of peace talks has already renounced kidnapping and declared a unilateral truce, has long demanded it be excluded.
“If they sign it’s because we have a timetable for their disarmament and they have committed themselves to lay down their arms and make this transition to legal life. So I would say yes, I hope that they would be eliminated from the terror list,” said Santos.
His 4 February meeting with President Barack Obama will celebrate 15 years and some $10bn in US counterinsurgency and anti-narcotics aid to its staunchest ally in the region.
The high-profile meeting underscores Colombia’s historic moment: the peace talks taking place in Cuba have reached what both sides describe as a point of no return, with a final deal to end a half century of bloodshed expected as early as March.
This week the UN security council unanimously endorsed sending a mission to monitor an eventual accord, handing Santos a diplomatic victory as he tries to drum up funding for what he said will be a 10- to 15-year effort to recover vast parts of the country he says had been ceded by the state to illegal armed groups.
When pressed about how soon after the accord is inked should the Farc be removed from the US terror list, Santos said “the shorter the better”. A Colombian paramilitary umbrella group had to wait a full six years after it completely disarmed to be removed.
In the same vein, he said he would like to see the US follow his lead in Colombia and suspend arrest warrants targeting the Farc’s top leadership, many of whom are negotiating in Havana.
US federal prosecutors in a 2006 indictment accused 50 Farc leaders of supplying more than half of the world’s cocaine – claims that Santos said were exaggerated and out of sync with commitments made at the negotiating table to abandon its involvement in the drug trade and help the government eradicate cocaine crops.
“Any effort by the United States to allow us to apply transitional justice, for example by suspending the arrest warrants, would help us tremendously,” he said.
Coca production skyrocketed 39% in 2014 and many experts say it will climb even further after Santos last year halted a US-backed aerial eradication campaign over health concerns.
He likened the Farc’s charging of a war tax on cocaine moving through territory it dominates to tactics used by the Irish Republican Army in its fight with Britain.
“The way the IRA was robbing banks, the guerrillas were financing themselves from drug trafficking,” he said.
But he warned that if guerrillas continue to enrich themselves through drugs all bets are off.
“Let’s be very clear: if they don’t behave, they’ll be extradited,” he said.
US officials have long insisted that only prosecutors can suspend the warrants. A Justice Department spokesman, Peter Carr, declined to comment on Thursday.

Santos, a former defense and finance minister and the scion of the family that founded Colombia’s largest newspaper, described Colombia’s evolution from a near failed state when Plan Colombia began under President Bill Clintoninto one of the world’s fastest-growing emerging markets with lower levels of conflict-linked violence.
As the country has stabilized, US aid has steadily declined from almost $1bn a year to about a third of that now. He said with a peace deal, demands for spending will surge as Colombia attempts to build roads, schools and extend the state’s reach to traditionally forsaken and economically unproductive areas.
He said he is optimistic that US aid to Colombia, which until now has had bipartisan support, will jump again and plans to discuss future funding with Obama. He will also meet with Republican leaders in Congress, some of whom have echoed criticisms by conservatives in Colombia that Santos is easing up on the war on drugs and being too lenient with the rebels behind scores of atrocities.
“Colombia is at a tipping point,” Santos said. “If we receive the help that we need, because we are in a difficult situation financially as is all of Latin America, we can take advantage of this new situation.”



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