Former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos won a Nobel Peace Prize for giving terrorists unelected seats in Congress, disregarding the rejection of the Colombian people and rupturing the nation’s constitutional order. Now, the senators are going to war, months before Afghanistan is poised to make the same mistake.
Santos insisted throughout the “peace process” – brokered by the Communist Party of Cuba, one of the world’s worse human rights abusers – that its ultimate goal was to export it globally. With the blessings of the Nobel Prize Committee and then-President Barack Obama, Santos appears to have done just that, as Afghanistan continues a months-long process of integrating its own narco-terrorist group, the Taliban, into the nation’s democratic government.
The spectacular failure of the Colombian peace deal should give pause to those who believe the Taliban will lay down its arms if offered civilian political power.
“Jesús Santrich” and “Iván Márquez,” two senior members of the Marxist terrorist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), resurfaced after months as fugitives and on Thursday announced the launch of a new “armed struggle” against the Colombian government.
In their video announcement, recorded in an undisclosed location, Márquez said the group was once again appealing to “the universal right of all the peoples of the world to rise up in arms against oppression.” He accused both Santos and current Colombian President Iván Duque of breaking the terms of the peace deal and vowed the destruction of the “exclusionary and corrupt mobster oligarchy,” meaning the democratically elected Colombian government.
The FARC claimed to have abandoned violence after signing a peace deal with the Santos government in 2016 that allowed them to form a political party, granted most members legal impunity, and gave the group’s leadership legislative seats they did not have to be elected to receive. Santrich and Márquez both received senate seats, though Márquez never accepted his.
The head of the FARC, a terrorist who adopted the name “Timochenko,” immediately dismissed Santrich and Márquez on Thursday, stating he “felt shame” watching the “comrades” return to war.
Santos responded to the video announcement by repeating Timochenko’s talking point that most FARC terrorists had abandoned war nearly verbatim.
Márquez and Santrich – senior leaders of the FARC, not mere “dissidents” as much of the media claim them to be – will re-enter a state of war far richer and more empowered than before the peace deal. As a senator under the peace deal, prosecutors allege Santrich was filling his coffers with outlandish sums by trafficking cocaine; the peace deal led directly to the biggest cocaine boom in Colombia’s history. Unlike Santrich, Márquez is not facing prosecution for selling drugs, but his immediate disappearance after prosecutors revealed evidence that Santrich was trying to flood the United States with 10,000 kilograms of cocaine is, at the very least, suspect.
The FARC choosing war after amassing political power, generating untold riches through drug trafficking, and laughing in the face of the international community presents a global threat because Santos promoted his peace deal as a model for the world.
“We are sure that this model of justice, which is framed within an integral system of guarantees of the rights of victims, as the Rome Statute establishes, will be a useful precedent for future peace processes,” Santos told the United Nations General Assembly in 2016, declaring that the FARC had given up both violence and drug trafficking. “Colombia gives hope to the world that it is possible to achieve the dream of peace when there is will and commitment.”
Then-President Obama applauded Santos and thanked the Castro regime in Cuba, which harbored the FARC leadership for years, upon the signing of the deal.
“This is a historic day for the people of Colombia. With the finalizing of a peace agreement between Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the longest-running war in the Western Hemisphere is coming to an end,” Obama said. “We have witnessed, once again, that a sustained commitment to diplomacy and reconciliation can overcome even the most entrenched conflicts.”
Three years later, the FARC is stronger than ever and the Taliban stands ready to benefit from Santos’ error.
The U.S. State Department is currently negotiating a peace deal in Afghanistan, arriving at a draft in January that will seem familiar to observers of Latin American politics. The Taliban must agree not to allow groups like the Islamic State – which it is currently at war with, anyway – to operate in Afghanistan in exchange for American troops to leave the country in 18 months. The Taliban will be allowed to form a political party and participate in elections in exchange for an end to the violence. The Afghan government has repeatedly encouraged the Taliban to trade its weapons for legislative seats and the Trump administration has called a victory in the Afghanistan war as “political reconciliation,” meaning a Taliban presence in Afghan politics.
Unlike the FARC, Taliban leaders do not identify as a guerrilla – they consider themselves the legitimate government of Afghanistan and refuse to talk to the real Afghan government, considering it a usurping force. This has led to the Taliban canceling several attempts at talks over the years. The Taliban did agree to some talks recently but used them only to declare, “Americans stand defeated, and Afghanistan will again be liberated.”
Also unlike the FARC peace talks, the Taliban talks have not addressed the Taliban’s record-high opium profits. Instead, the United States quietly ended its campaign against Taliban opium cultivation hotspots, allowing drug growth to flourish.
Similarly, however, the main draw offered to the Taliban is political power.
The logic behind a plan that seems so absurd at face value is that terrorists take up arms because they feel the political process has failed them and their only hope of being heard is to fight. Leaders like Santos argued that most FARC terrorists fought because they believed they had no other choice and that giving them a seat on the table would offer them the exit they so desperately seek.
The obvious reality that this logic fails to take into account is that Colombia is a democracy and a political avenue to power already existed for these people – and the same goes for Afghanistan. Terrorist leaders are not fighting for a seat at the table; they are fighting to blow up the table, because the table – the democratic system – stands in the way of their true goal: to establish a kleptocracy that allows them to run a drug empire and rape and kill children with impunity.
Which leads to the next reason the FARC deal failed: much of the rank-and-file of the terrorist organization is made up of children, or adults who joined the group not because they felt disenfranchised, but because they were kidnapped as children and forced to fight, brainwashed into a culture of death. In 2001, when the Colombian government was actively fighting the group, the United Nations estimated that Colombia was home to 7,000 child soldiers. In 2018, two years after the signing of the peace deal, the U.N. estimated that 293 child soldiers were recruited nationwide, not counting children born to terrorists who would grow up in the resistance, or former child soldiers who had grown up but still fought.
These children are raised into a terrorist lifestyle and are not fighting for political power, but fight because it is all they know.
“These children [who are demobilizing] have lived through something so difficult they may feel the only option is to stay in these groups. That’s where they feel they’ll be safe,” Juanita Barragán, a former FARC terrorist “recruited” at age 13, wrote in 2017. “The state needs to be there, needs to be vigilant so that there’s another option. And both the children and the families need psychosocial support, so that the same thing doesn’t happen again.”
Child soldiers are similarly critical to the Taliban’s terrorist corps. The Taliban forces impoverished families to hand over their children to be trained for battle in madrassas in areas they control, taught to shoot and build bombs. The group denies that it uses child soldiers, but uses the presence of beards to define who counts as a child, according to Human Rights Watch.
“Boys begin indoctrination as young as six years old, and continue to study religious subjects under Taliban teachers for up to seven years,” the NGO noted in 2016. “According to relatives of boys recruited by the Taliban, by the time they are 13, Taliban-educated children have learned military skills including use of firearms, and the production and deployment of IEDs. Taliban teachers then introduce those trained child soldiers to specific Taliban groups in that district.”
Terrorist leaders have no interest in political power if it precludes them from engaging in lucrative violence and drug crime. The rank and file are largely made up of indoctrinated children and adults who know of no other life, much less that of being a lawmaker. Yet these are the audiences Juan Manuel Santos thought he could woo out of the terrorist lifestyle with a senate seat and a clean criminal slate.
Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani is now banking on the same strategy working on the other side of the world. He should heed the message of Márquez and Santrich, before that of the Nobel Peace Prize committee sweeps him away.