Global Ethics Corner: FARC Comes to the Table

Dec 3, 2012

After decades of violence, rebel group FARC is negotiating with the Colombian government. The group has unsuccessfully petitioned the American government, though, to release a FARC leader, incarcerated in the U.S., to take part in the talks. Should the U.S. release the prisoner in a gesture of good faith?

Since mid-October, the Colombian government has been negotiating for an end to its conflict with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the Marxist-Leninist guerilla organization better known by its Spanish acronym, FARC.

The FARC has waged an often brutal war from Colombia’s dense rainforests since 1964almost 50 years. It seeks land reform, control of natural resources, and a rollback of what it sees as the outsized influence of the United States in Colombian politics and domestic affairs. But its methods are frequently vicious and illegal. The group funds its activities, in part, through drug sales and kidnappings for ransom.

In the last decade, however, the organization’s ranks are thought to have been decimated by desertions and casualties at the hands of government forces receiving significant military support from the U.S.

In anticipation of the latest round of talks, which are taking place in Havana, Cuba, the FARC called for a unilateral ceasefire.

The FARC’s negotiators have taken the unusual step of asking the Obama administration to release a high-ranking FARC member from federal prison in Colorado so that he can participate in the peace talks. Simon Trinidad is serving a 60-year sentence in the United States for his role in the kidnapping and imprisonment of three American military contractors. The FARC team reportedly brought a life-size cardboard cutout of Trinidad to a negotiating session in Havana.

U.S. officials have refused this request and said they are unlikely to release any imprisoned FARC members in support of the peace talks. The rebels have used previous ceasefires as opportunities to regroup and rearm.

What do you think? Would releasing Simon Trinidad in a gesture of good faith give the negotiations the momentum they need to succeed? Or would it reward the FARC for decades of violence and allow it to claim an easy victory in this ongoing conflict?

For more information see

Chris Kraul, "Colombia rebel group declares truce as peace talks resume," Los Angeles Times, November 19, 2012

Dan Molinski, "FARC Declares Cease-Fire as Colombia Talks Start," The Wall Street Journal, November 19, 2012

Associated Press, "US official says Colombian guerrilla 'Simon Trinidad' to remain in US prison," Fox News, November 26, 2012

Jeff Fraks, "Colombia, FARC peace talks off to good start: rebel," Reuters, November 20, 2012

Photo credits in order of appearance:
OECD/Herve Cortinat
Santiago la Rotta
Juan Ospina
Camilo Rueda Lopez
The White House
Department of Defense
U.S. Department of Defense Current Photos
FARC [also for picture 13]
Robert Thivierge

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