Colombia Court: Drug Trafficking is ‘Political Crime’

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Colombia’s Supreme Court president suggested that the judiciary won’t block efforts by lawmakers to ensure that FARC guerrillas receive amnesty for alleged drug trafficking crimes, one of the more controversial points of the country’s peace process. 

On September 17, President of the Supreme Court Jose Leonidas Bustos said he believed it was possible to define drug trafficking as a “political” crime, “When it is used as a tool to economically support political ends in an armed conflict.”

The Attorney General’s Office later released a copy of Bustos’ full remarks, which are significant due to ongoing uncertainty over whether top leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group will be extradited to the US to face drug trafficking charges. 

According to the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), US courts have indicted at least 60 FARC members on drug trafficking and related charges. 

The FARC has been involved in peace talks with the Colombian government since 2012, and the issue of possible extradition to the US has long cast a shadow over negotiations. In one possible scenario, FARC leaders could be granted amnesty from extradition, if Colombia’s judiciary and legislature rules they participated in drug trafficking in order to fund themselves during the armed conflict.

Bustos’ comments implied that for now, Colombia’s judiciary supports President Juan Manuel Santos’ position on the matter, and is prepared to view the FARC’s drug trafficking activities as a “political” rather than a criminal issue. Santos has said that Colombia’s current peace process will not succeed if the government cannot assure the guerrillas they will not be prosecuted for drug crimes after they demobilize. 

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Bustos’ assertion prompted criticism from the most prominent opponents of Colombia’s current peace process: former president and current Senator Alvaro Uribe, and the General Inspector of Colombia, Alejandro Ordoñez Maldonado. While this was to be expected, it is nonetheless indicative of the tough task facing the Santos administration: selling the prospect of a FARC amnesty to the Colombian public. 

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The FARC have previously said the guerrillas want “zero jail,” a scenario that war-weary Colombians are highly unlikely to tolerate. The government is unlikely to mete out justice to the FARC in a way that would please hardline opponents of the peace process, like Uribe. However, as pointed out by Colombian legal expert Rodrigo Uprimny in an interview with Verdad Abierta (excerpts of which were republished in English by WOLA), if the government doesn’t manage to win over other skeptics, “the peace is already lost.” 

It is possible that Santos’ government may yet rely on legal wrangling — such as passing laws that would definite drug trafficking as a political crime in certain cases — in order to avoid the Herculean task of building a stronger political consensus around the peace process. Bustos’ comments may be another hint that that the government is ready and willing to go down this road. 

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