Biden’s plan in Colombia awakens a hornet’s nest in Florida

Calling the news “scandalous”, Taddeo slammed the Biden administration on Twitter and recounted how she fled her home country at the age of 17 “because of the Marxist terrorist organization, the FARC, a group of militias who kidnapped my father who was an American fighter pilot from the Second World War”.

Stories like Taddeo’s are not uncommon in Miami-Dade, the most populous county in the state. It houses a huge concentration of Hispanic voters and Latin American exiles who fled leftist violence or dictatorships in Colombia, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela and found a common political bond in Florida.

The Colombian government’s decades-long war with the guerrilla movement known as the The FARC killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions, cementing the reputation of the narco-funded group as a terrorist organization. Five years ago, Marxist rebels, officially known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, and the Colombian government signed a historic peace accord that is still being implemented. But support for the peace agreement has been mixed – and ill will towards the FARC on the part of Americans of Colombian descent persists, with some fiercely opposed to reintegrating former FARC members into society.

“They were terrorists, murderers,” Taddeo said.

Former Gov. Charlie Crist, now a congressman who is also running in the Democratic primary for governor, expressed concern over the move, saying the The FARC “caused decades of war and death – they earned their designation.”

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, a Democrat, calls on the administration reconsider and “redouble efforts to reject the extremist communist program that has destroyed nations like Venezuela”.

Recognizing the sensitivity of the issue, the White House was quick to hold a conference call on Wednesday to explain the decision, which was not supposed to be made public for days but surfaced on Tuesday afternoon when The Wall Street Journal reported on the impending decision.

The State Department had informed Congress of its upcoming plans, a senior administration official said, but the Colombian government was not even informed when the story broke.

The State Department’s decision to remove the FARC from its list of terrorist groups does not give the former guerrilla group a free pass, according to the senior administration official, who declined to speak officially. The plan to remove the FARC from the list, the official said, comes after an annual review including contributions from the intelligence community, law enforcement, the United States Embassy and the State Department. .

Five years after the start of the peace process, 90 percent of FARC rebels have demobilized and honored their commitments under the agreement, the official noted. And a key part of the administration’s plan, the official said, is to add the new armed groups – formed by former FARC rebels and splinter groups, including the group known as Nueva Marquetalia and a faction led by guerrilla leader Gentil Duarte – who are now instability and violence in Colombia.

“It’s not pulling punches. This points them in the right direction – and this is the [FARC dissidents and their] terrorist and criminal activities, ”said the senior administration official.

But some Democrats and experts argue that the distinction will be lost on voters, especially those who have an emotional and personal antipathy towards the FARC and are against the peace agreement.

“I can explain this to my students. I can have this debate with my colleagues, but local politics do not make this distinction, especially because there are people in this community who have either been kidnapped or whose parents have been kidnapped – while some of the officials [former FARC rebels] now sit in the Colombian Congress, ”said Eduardo Gamarra, who polls Latino voters in the United States and across Latin America.

Gamarra argued that it will be an “even more difficult sale” for the Biden administration because it did not consult with the Colombian community in Florida before making the decision.

“I don’t know what they gain from doing this. There are more gains for Colombia than for the Democratic Party or the Biden administration, ”said Gamarra, who is also a professor of Latin American studies at Florida International University in Miami.

Colombian American voters have always voted Democrat. But with Americans of Venezuelan descent and Americans of Nicaraguan descent, they have started to move further to the right, finding common cause with Republican-leaning Cubans in Florida in recent years.

With so many embittered Hispanic voters over the Democratic Party in Florida, Biden in 2020 carried high-density Latin American Miami-Dade County by just 7 percentage points – compared to Hillary’s nearly 30-point margin. Clinton had accumulated four years ago. In turn, Republicans felt emboldened by the forays made by then-President Donald Trump in 2020 and sought to build on this increased support from South Florida Latinos and across the board. national level at the midpoint of 2022.

“They saw the poll numbers. It’s a disaster, ”said Juan Zapata, a former Republican state representative who was the first Colombian-American elected to the Florida legislature.

“The people of South Florida, and now all over the United States, know this is a terrible deal,” Zapata said. “And it’s not just American Colombians. It all started with Fidel Castro in Cuba. There is Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua. And he went to Venezuela with Hugo Chavez.

Zapata said most Colombian-American voters in Florida live in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. About 65,000 Florida voters were born in Colombia, according to statistics from University of Florida political science professor Dan Smith.

Sergio Otálora, a former Colombian-American journalist who now works for the Latino voter registration group Mi Vecino, said he believes the community supports the peace process more than public criticism suggests, and that political leaders like Taddeo and Levine Cava shouldn’t listen to critics who want to exploit the “Marxism-Communism bogeyman”.
Otálora said Biden should come to Miami and brag about the politics, a stance echoed by several Colombian US Democrats who have expressed support for the administration’s decision.

“Biden should be here as soon as possible. He needs to clarify his position, ”said Otálora. ” I think that he is right. I mean, come on, you had the IRA in Ireland, the FMLN in El Salvador. The peace process is working.

Other Democrats in Florida and out of state who support the administration’s decision have acknowledged that officials will have to work overtime to explain nuances of the updated US policy – which is designed to target FARC dissidents – and encourage the continuation of the peace process.

“It’s hard to ring a bell, but you just have to be relentless to speak the truth,” said Dan Restrepo, one of former President Barack Obama’s top advisers on Latin America. “And the truth here is that they are updating things to reflect reality.”

Restrepo explained that it made sense for the Biden administration to make changes to “bring consequences to the right people” and stop having consequences for “the base who lay down their arms and are reintegrating into society.”

Long-time Democratic activist Carolina Castillo, however, said she has seen more and more family members and neighbors leave the Democratic Party because so many members of the local party’s “progressive left” support them. Marxist leaders in Latin America.

“It’s a betrayal, a clear betrayal,” Castillo said. “We wanted a strong president who was going to defend democracy, but here we are empowering the far left leftists in Colombia and the timing couldn’t be worse. This will only help bring more Colombian families to the Republican side. “





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