Mark Burton is a Denver, Colorado attorney long involved the Colombia solidarity movement. He is the American attorney for Simon Trinidad.
MLT: What is the significance of the impending peace agreement between the FARC-EP and the Colombian government?
MB: The impending agreement represents the first time that Colombia will be at peace since 1948, and includes comprehensive agreements that encompass many aspects of Colombian life. The FARC recognize that the agreements aren’t socialist in nature, but reflect their minimal demands for a more democratic and peaceful country.
The FARC and the Colombian government have been at war for 52 years. The FARC was formed in response to a massive military attack on 3 villages in the Department of Tolima in 1964. This military attack was instigated by the United States as part of their Alliance for Progress and their attempt to stop the spread of “Castro Communism”. Since that time Colombia has experienced a war over the length and breadth of the country.
As part of the comprehensive peace agreement there is an agreement on comprehensive agrarian reform that foresees distribution of unused and stolen land to peasants as well as funds for technical assistance to small farmers. There is an agreement on the issue of illicit drugs which calls for humanitarian methods to deal with crop substitution for small coca farmers and drug treatment for users: police methods are to be used against large drug trafficking organizations.
There is an agreement on political participation where members of the left, who have been excluded from political life by the use of state terror and also by institutional methods, will be guaranteed participation in the political life of the country. There are also agreements on how to make whole victims of the war, how to end the war, and on disarmament.
MLT: Despite the optimism on reaching a final settlement between the FARC and the government of Colombia some issues remain to be resolved. Can you tell us what these issues are?
MB: The main issue to be resolved at this point is how is this peace agreement to be implemented. The government wants to implement it by means of a plebiscite; that is an up or down vote of voters. This issue is now before the Constitutional Court of Colombia as to whether the proposal is constitutional, and if so, how it is to be implemented.
The FARC believe that the current government structures are not adequate to implement the peace agreement and they want a constituent assembly that represents all citizens who can have input on constitutional and legal changes that are needed to reflect this new Colombia at peace. The FARC state that whatever the method is used to initially implement the agreement, that they will continue to advocate for a constituent assembly.
MLT: Simon Trinidad was named by the FARC as one of their top negotiators yet he remains in the US at the federal “supermax” prison in Florence, Colorado. Can you tell us what are the prospects for the release of Trinidad and what is the attitude of both the Colombian and U.S. Governments regarding his release?
MB: Simon Trinidad was named a negotiator and also in charge of the FARC’s program of disarmament by the FARC. The release of Simon Trinidad is very important for the FARC, and also for many sectors of Colombian society. HIs name comes up very often in both the mainstream and the alternative press in Colombia.
The Colombian government has stated on several occasions that it is in agreement with the release of Simon Trinidad as part of the peace agreement. Given the Colombian government’s traditionally subservient relationship with the U.S. government, it is not clear however, how hard it has lobbied the U.S. government for his release.
The U.S. government’s position is not clear at this point. The US government has stated on several occasions that the issue of the release of Simon Trinidad is not up for discussion. Iván Márquez, the lead negotiator of the FARC, at a recent press conference stated that in a recent meeting between the FARC and Secretary of State John Kerry that Kerry gave the FARC hope that Simon Trinidad would be released and that they would “not forget this.”
The only thing that is clear at this point is that Simon Trinidad’s fate is in the hands of the U.S. government that has not indicated that Trinidad’s release is possible as part of the resolution of Colombia’s civil war. Many Colombians will see the peace process as incomplete if Simon Trinidad is not released.
MLT: Once a final settlement is signed, what do you think will be the danger to its successful implementation?
MB: The Colombian government has promised to suppress paramilitary/criminal organizations in order to ensure a peaceful country. These organizations have traditionally been sponsored by more reactionary sectors of the Colombian government and by large landowners in order to fight the FARC, and to terrorize popular movements. There is the danger that if the government is not serious about fighting this problem that the left could be once again in the position that they can not operate openly. This possible situation would be a tremendous blow to the successful implementation of the peace agreement.
There is the question of the reintegration of the FARC guerrillas into civilian life which is a huge task that is to be undertaken. How can the peace agreement assure that the thousands of guerrillas ( the Colombian government has recently estimated that there are some 17,000 guerrillas, and this number does not include members of militias that support the FARC) are reincorporated into civilian life. The questions of employment, housing, assurances there are no reprisals or discrimination against the demobilized guerrillas all need to be addressed, and is an enormous and complex task.
There is also the question of funding. Some of the measures will require large investments and the Colombian government has been somewhat successful in acquiring funds from European countries. Canada also just announced that it was giving money to the peace process. If the international community does not contribute to the peace agreement, there could be a lack of funds to implement programs agreed upon by the FARC and the Colombian government.