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Obama’s pardons and peace in Colombia

Gearóid Ó Loingsigh

26 January 2017

Obama’s recent pardons and commutations cheered up some and disappointed many.  Obama behaved as a real liberal, for once in his life, and commuted Chelsea Manning’s sentence and he freed the Puerto Rican activist López Rivera.  Others wished for a presidential pardon for Edward Snowden and a commutation for Leonard Peltier, amongst others.  I wanted Peltier to be freed, but it didn’t happen.  We all have the right to wish and hope that liberals behave as liberals, and that it bring positive consequences for political prisoners in the USA, but we don’t have any right to trust their good offices.

In Colombia, many hoped that Obama would free the FARC commander Simón Trinidad as a sign of his trust in and contribution to the peace process.  One thing is to harbour the hope that it happens, quite another to trust the US government.  A short while ago, the FARC issued an open letter addressed to Simón Trinidad, where they expressed their pain at his imprisonment and the decision of Obama not to free him.  In the said letter, the FARC expressed human feelings, pain, impotence, sadness and they humanised both themselves and Trinidad in the letter.  However, it is not just a moving letter, it is, at the same time a political document and it is there where we see the political decadence of the FARC.  Many have highlighted the humane qualities of the authors of the letter, which we should accept, but they do not speak of the serious political judgements of the FARC and why they hoped with a certain amount of confidence that Simón Trinidad would be one of those freed.

The letter says that the FARC had asked for Trinidad to be freed in order to participate in the negotiating team.  But the government rejected the idea.

You know that the US government turned up at the Talks, through their special envoy Bernie Aronson and that the National Secretariat of the FARC met with the Secretary of State John Kerry.  Both of them expressed the firm support of President Obama for the peace talks and achieving a definitive agreement.  At every opportunity we openly expressed our interest in your freedom.

We also knocked on all kinds of doors, starting with those of the Colombian government.  We never let up in pressing the official delegates on this and on various occasions we raised the issue with President Santos.  Personalities from round the world, respectable organisations and bodies and countless people with greater or lesser influence and contacts were, at our request, working on the issue of your well-deserved freedom.  It would seem that all our efforts were in vain.

The FARC engaged in a type of lobbying in order to achieve freedom for Trinidad, they placed their faith in the goodness of the Colombian and US governments and other bodies, i.e. they trusted the bourgeoisie and their good intentions.  It would seem that they believe the tale of peace, they might have actually believed that they were partners for peace with the Colombian government and the so-called international community.  But the letter, belatedly, acknowledges the reality of these states and says that

there is a common thread between one and the other, the representatives of international capital and the dominant oligarchies within our countries, which does not make them as different as they like to present themselves.  They agree on the main political issues, such as the plundering of natural resources and the labour of the weakest peoples whilst at the same time meting out exemplary punishment to those who dare to rebel against it.

So, if this is the case, why did they trust them? And why did they say that everyone, including these dominant oligarchies wanted to and were going to transform Colombia?  In their letter they acknowledge that it was not a whim or a slip of the mind on Obama’s part.

Your fate is not the result of the whim of a cowardly governor, but rather the result of the prevailing logic in the world, that people like you, us and many others everywhere are dedicated to changing to make the world a much better place.

Precisely, and that is the class struggle, something the FARC and the fans of the process deny exists nowadays, or at the very least they deny that the peace process is one step in that class struggle and it is a step taken by a triumphant bourgeoisie against a defeated guerrilla army.


After many delays and difficulties the peace process with the ELN kick-starts in February 2017.  One of the most recent difficulties was the issue of the freeing of the politician Odin Sánchez held by that guerrilla group.  The ELN linked his freedom to a pardon for two ELN commanders in jail and their participation at the negotiating table.  The FARC could have demanded Trinidad’s freedom from the very beginning; they could have said that without him, there will be no negotiations. But they preferred to place their faith in the good offices of what they refer to in their letter as the “dominant oligarchies”.  The FARC’s surrender is such that they weren’t even capable of achieving Trinidad’s freedom.  In their rush to start the peace process they left everything to the whim of the government.


Some liberals will try to explain Obama’s decision in the light of the nature of the crime for which Trinidad was sentenced: drug trafficking.  First of all, it is not true that he played the role they claim.  But even if it were true and Trinidad were a drug trafficker as the North Americans claim, this is not a problem for them.  Bill Clinton gave us Plan Colombia, a counter-insurgency plan disguised as part of the war on drugs.  Without blushing, Clinton pardoned Harvey Weinig, a New York lawyer sentenced for laundering 100 million dollars of money for the Cali Cartel.  Thanks to his presidential pardon, Weinig can practice law again.  That is the type of person they pardon in the US.


Why do they only talk about Simón Trinidad in their letter?  Why don’t they ask for Sonia’s freedom?  Sonia was also sentenced for drug trafficking.  According to the judgement she imported five kilos of Cocaine, and even if it were true it is a lot less than Weining laundered.  But the FARC do not mention Sonia.  Why? Is she not a guerrilla fighter like Trinidad?  There are differences between her and Trinidad.  She never held such a high rank in the FARC as Trinidad and she is from a peasant background, Trinidad is from a wealthy family.  They say that everyone in the FARC is equal, but just like in Orwell’s famous novel, Animal Farm, some are more equal than others.

With their letter the FARC have shown that they trust the bourgeoisie, its institutions, lobbying, and the goodness of those who govern us in Colombia and other parts of the world.  Sonia and Simón Trinidad will serve out their sentences, because the FARC not only harboured a humane hope, but rather they placed their faith in the good nature of their enemies, a major mistake and a betrayal of their presumptive political positions.

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