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No Peace in Colombia as ex-FARC Guerrilla Sonia Awaits Release From US Prison

On joining the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 1990, Anayibe Rojas Valderrama, became “Sonia.” By then the insurgency had already, for 26 years, been fighting Colombia’s rich and powerful over their control of land.

Colombian soldiers captured her onFebruary10, 2004. Charged with drug trafficking, Sonia was extradited to the United States on March9, 2005. Convicted by the U.S. District Court in Washingtonon February 7, 2007, Sonia is serving a 16 year, eight month sentence at the Carswell woman’s prison in Fort Worth, Texas. She leaves prison on August 18 and presumably will be deported to Colombia. Her experience illustrates aspects of revolutionary struggle in Colombia and U.S. intervention and points to the currently dim prospects for peace there.

Humble origins

Sonia told an interviewer in 2005 that “I lived in a distant part of the country where there was no presence of the state. I couldn’t study and attended school only through the second primary-school grade. There was no work. My family is honest and very poor. They are workers. That’s why I decided to enter the FARC, because [I] saw in them the prospect of change for this country.”“It [still] pains me every passing day to see so many injustices and so much abandonment on the part of the state. There are so many people dying of hunger, with no jobs, no education, and no health care …The FARC has every reason to exist.”

Sonia performed “routine tasks” in FARC encampments like “doing guard duty, making food, finding wood and heading for town now and then to pick up something or do an errand.”  She dismissed accusations she had employed the telephone to sell drugs. Instead, the calls were “about ordering some motors from somewhere else and chainsaws, scythes, and spare parts for cars.” Alleged to have supervised finances for the 14thFront, Sonia noted that, “a person taking on that job ought to be someone with capabilities and a lot of schooling.”  In extraditing her, “the Colombian government is not only handing over compatriots but also surrendering … the country’s sovereignty … No parent delivers a child to a neighbor for punishment.”

In U.S. Hands

U.S. military advisors in 1962 encouraged the use of paramilitaries against rural insurgents. Thousands of Colombian military officers received training in the United States. From 2000 on, under Plan Colombia, the Colombian military received billions of dollars in U.S. aid. Joint drug-war operations became a façade for U.S. intervention in Colombia’s civil war.

Extradition of selected FARC combatants to the United States for imprisonment there became a weapon of war. Early cases were those of Sonia, Enrique Rodríguez Mendieta (Iván Vargas) and Ricardo Palmera Pineda (Simon Trinidad).  Unable to convict the latter on drug charges, a U.S. court sentenced him to a 60-year term for conspiring to take hostages.

Two months before Sonia’s arrest in 2004, The U.S. District Court in Washington issued a “resolution of accusation.” A week afterwards, the U.S. Embassy requested her extradition.

In a 2004 interview, Sonia described transfers from prison to prison, solitary confinement, and encounters with U.S. officials, who offered to move family members to the United States in return for cooperation. The Colombian government that year sentenced her to 56 months in prison for the crime of rebellion.

According to Sonia, Colombia’s Supreme Court of Justice had approved the extradition of someone named Omaira Rojas Cabrera, “born October 17, 1970 in la Union, Caqueta” – not June 16, 1967 in Huila, as is the case with Sonia. The other was carrying an identification card with Sonia’s image and fingerprints. Prior to and during her trial, Sonia remained in solitary confinement.

Sonia’s attorney was unable to present material evidence or witnesses to counter the prosecution’s allegations, among them that she had traveled to Panama to complete drug deals. Commentator Paul Wolf, a lawyer, critiqued the prosecution for relying on “informants of different kinds and former guerrillas.” They testified under pressure of “threats and bribes.”

No Peace in Colombia

The peace agreement signed by the FARC and Colombian government in late 2016 promised that in return for laying down arms, the FARC would return to civilian life and take part in regular politics.  The government would undertake agrarian reform and encourage the substitution of legal crops to replace the growing of coca. A Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) would demand truth-telling on both sides as a prerequisite for pardoning or punishing former combatants. In theory, the JEP would be judging Sonia, Simon Trinidad, and Iván Vargas on their return to Colombia.

Sonia’s homeland remains on a war footing. Narcotics production is unabated. Agrarian reform is a distant dream. Killings of “defenders of human rights” and local political leaders have mounted, especially in rural areas. Perpetrators, said to be paramilitaries, aren’t punished.  There have been 311 such murders over the past two years, 123 between January 1 and July 5, 2018, and 26 since June 17, whenIván Duque was elected as Colombia’s new president. Between the signing of the peace agreement and May, 2018, 19 former FARC combatantswere killed.

Paramilitaries have occupied territories once controlled by the FARC. In those areas in particular, assailants have killed dozens of people engaged in voluntarily destroying coca crops.

In Colombia Sonia may be facing court action and possible prison time stemming from her rebellion against the state. The JEP exists to provide her with relief on that score. But the possibility is great that the JEP will be weakened and even abolished. Colombia’s soon-to-be president, Iván Duque, campaigned against the peace agreement. He is a protégée of former President Alvaro Uribe who, while negotiations were taking place and since, has spearheaded opposition to the peace agreement.

Additionally, it’s likely that Uribe, who is now a senator and whose connections to drug trafficking and paramilitaries are well documented, will be selected as the president of Colombia’s Senate when it convenes on July 20.

The recent arrest and threatened extradition of former guerrilla leader Jesús Santrich are sure indicators that war makers in Colombia and the United States are in cahoots.

On August 7, people in Colombia, the United Statesand throughout the world will be demonstrating for the peace agreement and against attempts to dismantle it. The mobilizations have been called by political organizations and social movements in Colombia, and in particular by Gustavo Petro, candidate for the Humane Colombia coalition who secured 42 percent of the vote in the recent second-round presidential balloting.

Sonia, interviewed in late 2004, could have been speaking about the Colombia she’ll be returning to: “[T]he big drug traffickers are walking around in the streets, are seated in the Congress of the Republic, occupy high positions of power.” She added that, “My only crime was to have rebelled against the state, which is violent, anti-democratic, and inhuman.”

This article originally appeared on mltoday.com

More articles by:

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a retired pediatrician and political journalist living in Maine.

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