Colombia – the struggle for peace

On 27 August, President Santos of Colombia announced that his government had agreed to engage in formal discussions with leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP) with the aim of ending the 48-year civil war. These talks will begin on 8 October in Oslo and will then move to Havana. The agreement follows six months of exploratory talks in Cuba and will be the fourth attempt in 30 years to end the war.

Santos was Minister of Defence (internal repression) in the preceding government of millionaire rancher Alvaro Uribe. Despite his continued assaults and bellicose statements, Santos recognises that the FARC will not be defeated by armed force. The systematic attempt to liquidate the FARC leadership, rather than negotiate peacefully, has not succeeded. From 2010 Santos started to put out feelers, but continued the war, killing FARC leaders Mono Jojoy and Alfonso Cano. Rodrigo Londono, Cano’s successor, took up these contacts. Between 23 February and 27 August this year there were ten exploratory meetings out of which emerged the agenda for the forthcoming talks, with its five main points.* Central to these are democratic guarantees for the FARC and ‘in particular for the new movements that arise after the signing of the Final Agreement’, including access to the media. Colombia’s congress passed a law in June creating a framework for amnesties and ‘pardons’ for rebel leaders.

Resistance can be expected from wealthy rural ranchers of the ‘old economy’ and plantation owners allied with Uribe, who as president from 2002-2010 waged a relentless war against the FARC while making peace with far-right militias who did most of the killing during the dirty war. A further intention of the new agreement is to discuss compensation for the victims of the conflict.

Of course Santos’s aim remains to dismantle both FARC and the other guerrilla forces in the country – the Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional (ELN) and the Ejercito Popular de Liberacion (EPL). Jorge Mora Rangel, chief of the armed forces during negotiations with the FARC ten years ago, is part of Santos’s team. If the talks succeed, Santos will trust the rest of the ruling class in Colombia to control any subsequent forms of struggle, electoral or otherwise. Formal diplomacy and ‘peaceful’ struggle may once again become the continuation of the armed class struggle in Colombia.

A strengthened state and economy

The renewal of discussions about peace ultimately results from the development of the forces of production in Colombia and the simultaneous and necessary centralisation of state political authority and military power. Since US President Clinton’s wholesale funding of the Colombian ruling class from 1999 to create a united front against the peasants and workers, there has been a reduction in the squabbling between bourgeois political cliques, and since 2003 more central control of the the far-right paramilitaries. A massive expansion of the state’s forces has been funded with over 100,000 professional soldiers, 80 Black Hawk helicopters, plus another 350,000 armed men in various state militias.

At the same time foreign investment has been embraced in all areas of natural resources, with everything up for sale to foreign capital. Colombian delegates to trade talks with the US baulked only at the sale of the genetic rights to the Colombian forests found in drafts of the trade agreement the US put before them.

European and Chinese interests in Colombia have expanded and extended urban centres. The destruction of so much of the peasantry and the growth of the urban working class has created a new context for the anti- imperialist struggle. In July 2008 Fidel Castro suggested that the FARC should unilaterally free its remaining political and military prisoners. It did this. He advised them however, not to lay down their weapons, warning that, as a rule, fighters who have done so over the preceding half-century ‘did not survive to see the peace.’ In any case FARC will never forget that following the peace talks of 1984, it promoted the Patriotic Union, an open and broad political movement in 1985 to conduct a successful electoral campaign. But between 1986 and 1998, during 12 years of ‘liberal’ governments, the Colombian butcher rulers, guided by the CIA, assassinated 4,000 leaders of the Communist Party and thousands of peasants and workers who had been drawn into open democratic and electoral work.

Since 2007 President Chavez had shown his willingness to support peace negotiations, but Uribe tried to use the offer to discredit the Venezuelan president. Now the Venezuelan government is formally facilitating the new talks, and Cuba is the centre of the process. FARC will propose a bilateral ceasefire as soon as peace talks with the Colombian government start on 8 October.

FARC has long demanded a National Agreement for Peace, and now finds its anti-imperialist position supported by the majority of the electorate in Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia and Ecuador, as well as by students and masses elsewhere in Latin America. The change in the political climate throughout Latin America in the last decade has brought about this latest step. Sections of the Latin American bourgeoisie have allied with peasants and workers to assert degrees of national independence from US imperialism, and have sought closer relations between themselves. Ultimately this is a response to the demands of the masses who have suffered so greatly from the neo-liberal assault of the 1990s, itself built upon the US-backed bloody dictatorships of the previous period.

FARC’s ‘Bolivarian Programme for a New Colombia’, a democratic, independent path to socialism, is central to its negotiation position. Their agenda for the talks thus includes agricultural development policy to boost the integration of the regions and to develop social and economic equality, eradicate poverty and secure food supplies, build infrastructure and improve the land. It is to be seen how imperialism responds to this shift in strategy by the most militant representatives of the poor peasants and workers.

Alvaro Michaels

* sheets/25784-agreement-colombia-government-and-rebel-group-farc.html

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 229 October/November 2012


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