Biden Colombia plan fuels hornet nest in Florida

Calling the news ‘outrageous’ Taddeo criticized the Biden administration on Twitter and told how she fled her homeland at age 17 “because of the Marxist terrorist organization FARC, a group of militias that kidnapped my father, who was a World War II American fighter pilot.”

Stories like Taddeo’s are not rare in Miami-Dade, the state’s most populous county. It is home to a huge concentration of Spanish voters and Latin American exiles fleeing left-wing violence or dictatorships in Colombia, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela and found common political bond in Florida.

The Colombian government’s decades-long war with the guerrilla movement known as FARC has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and displaced millions, cementing the drug-funded group’s reputation as a terrorist organization. Five years ago, the Marxist rebels, formally known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, and the Colombian government signed a historic peace agreement that is still being implemented. But support for the peace deal has been mixed – and Colombian Americans’ reluctance to the FARC persists, with some vehemently opposing the reintegration of the former FARC members into society.

“These were terrorists, murderers,” Taddeo said.

Former Governor Charlie Crist, now a congressman who is also in the Democratic gubernatorial primaries, expressed concern about the decision, saying the FARC “caused decades of war and death – they have earned their nomination.”

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, a Democrat, appealed to the administration to rethink and “double down on rejecting the extremist communist agenda that has destroyed countries like Venezuela.”

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

The State Department had notified Congress of its upcoming plans, a senior government official said, but the Colombian government had not even been notified when the story came out.

The decision by the State Department to remove the FARC from its list of terrorist groups does not give the former guerrilla group a license, the senior government official said, who declined to speak officially. The plan to remove the FARC from the list, the official said, comes after an annual review with input from the intelligence community, law enforcement, the US Embassy and the State Department.

Five years after the peace process, 90 percent of FARC rebels have demobilized and fulfilled their obligations under the agreement, the official noted. And a key part of the government plan, the official said, is to add the new armed groups — formed by former FARC rebels and dissident groups, including the group known as Nueva Marquetalia and a faction led by guerrilla leader Gentil Duarte. – which are now fueling instability and violence in Colombia.

“This is not a retreat. It points them in the right direction – and that’s the [FARC dissidents and their] terrorist and criminal activities,” the senior government official said.

But some Democrats and experts argue that the distinction will be lost among voters, especially those who have an emotional and personal antipathy to the FARC and who oppose the peace accord.

“I can explain that to my students. I can have this debate among my colleagues, but local politics don’t make that distinction, especially because there are people in this community who have either been kidnapped or have relatives who have been kidnapped – while some of those responsible [former FARC rebels] are now in Colombia’s Congress,” said Eduardo Gamarra, who polls Latino voters in the United States and across Latin America.

Gamarra argued it will be “even harder to sell” for the Biden administration, as it did not consult with Florida’s Colombian community before making the decision.

“I don’t know what they gain with this. There is more gain 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 historically voted democratically. But along with Venezuelan Americans and Nicaraguan Americans, they began to shift further to the right, finding common cause with Republican Cuban Americans in Florida in recent years.

With so many Hispanic voters souring the Democratic Party in Florida, Biden carried Latino-heavy Miami-Dade County by just 7 percentage points in 2020 — compared to the nearly 30-point margin Hillary Clinton had four years earlier. In turn, Republicans have been encouraged by then-President Donald Trump’s advances in 2020 and have sought to build on that increased support from Latinos in South Florida and nationwide in the 2022 interim terms.

“They’ve seen the polls. It’s a disaster,” said Juan Zapata, a former Republican state representative and 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 Colombian Americans. It started with Fidel Castro in Cuba. There’s Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua. And it went to Venezuela with Hugo Chávez.”

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

Sergio Otálora, a former Colombian-American journalist who now works for the Latino voter registration group Mi Vecino, said he believes the community is more behind the peace process than public criticism suggests, and that political leaders like Taddeo and Levine Cava should. to do. Don’t listen to critics who want to exploit “the Marxism-Communist bogeyman.”
Otálora said Biden should come to Miami to promote the policy, a position echoed by several Colombian-American Democrats who expressed support for the government’s move.

“Biden should be here sooner rather than later. He should clarify his position,” Otálora said. “I think he’s right. I mean, come on, you had the IRA in Ireland, the FMLN in El Salvador. The peace process is working .”

Other Florida and out-of-state Democrats who support the administration’s decision acknowledged that officials will have to work overtime to explain the nuance of the updated U.S. policy designed to attack FARC dissidents and a continuation. of the peace process.

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

Restrepo explained that it makes sense for the Biden administration to make changes to “bring impact to the right people” and stop bringing impact to “the grassroots who have laid down their arms and reintegrated into the society.”

However, Carolina Castillo, a long-time Democratic activist, said she has seen more and more of her relatives and neighbors leave the Democratic Party because so many in the local party’s “progressive left” support Marxist leaders in Latin America.

“It’s treason, a clear betrayal,” Castillo said. “We wanted a strong president who would stand for democracy, but here we are giving power to the far left 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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