Colombia War and negotiation

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Since November 2012, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP) and the government have grappled fiercely with each other in negotiations taking place in Cuba. Colombian President Santos, backed by US imperialism, is attempting to force FARC to comply with a well-prepared scenario aimed at breaking its political influence and dispersing its members. FARC, however, is holding firm and making demands as socialists, in the interests of the masses, through its ‘Bolivarian Programme for a New Colombia’. Alvaro Michaels reports.

FARC began negotiations by offering to suspend military hostilities on the ground. Santos bluntly refused, cynically continuing his military campaign, attempting to weaken the FARC armed forces and their bargaining position. Meanwhile, as FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño said on 25 August 2013, every negotiating manoeuvre that is possible is being made by the Santos team to ‘trap us into a corner.’

Discussions are now focused on item two of the agenda: the revolutionaries’ and their allies’ political integration in a ‘post-conflict Colombia’. In the mid-1980s the government and FARC negotiated peaceful and open electoral campaigns to include the Patriotic Union, founded by the FARC and the Colombian Communist Party. The bourgeoisie then systematically assassinated some 5,000 members and supporters of the Patriotic Union, without the slightest protest from the imperialist powers. This horrific memory underlines the seriousness with which FARC now approaches the renewed question of political participation. FARC wants a constituent assembly to enshrine the final agreements in the nation’s current constitution. The government has responded demanding a vague referendum on ‘peace’.

The battle over land

The first agreement from the talks, announced in April 2013, on land restitution – a rural development bill – fits a framework approved by the Colombian Congress of millionaires before talks started. The rich are anxious to see the interior of the country, much of it out of state control, brought back into commercial use. Despite the new legal process of ‘restitution’, if the government has its way, virtually all the land stolen through the violent expulsion of peasants over the last 40 years would remain with the corporate and large farming thieves who seized it. The government formally recognises four million displaced peasants, involving 6.5m hectares. The National Movement of Victims against State Crime put the figure at around 10m hectares. Five million Colombians have been forcibly cleared from the countryside to the towns or into exile since 1996 alone – the worst figures of any country in the world – and the imperialist powers have never criticised any Colombian government for this appalling crime, since their corporations benefit from it. Under President Uribe (2002-2010) 7,204,000 hectares were handed out as mining concessions, mostly to international corporations.

At least 45 leaders of land restitution organisations have been killed since 2008 fighting for the return of stolen land. So far, under the rural development law of 2012, nearly 27,000 displaced Colombian peasants have filed claims for the return of their stolen land. However, since the new law dozens have been forced to retreat from their plots again despite legally regaining their land. Landowners terrorise these peasants under the banner of a so called ‘Anti-Restitution Army’. In addition, the agricultural minister says the government will introduce a measure to ‘regulate’ but not restrict foreign investment in farmland. Some $6bn of such foreign investment is currently on offer if the law is changed to allow peasants who receive land to sell up. The aim remains the same, clear the land for large scale capitalist agriculture. To complete its cynical aims, the government is now obliged to also talk to the National Liberation Army (ELN), a second longstanding armed revolutionary force. It spelt out conditions for this in August. Santos also said he will ‘consider’ meeting FARC’s Rodrigo Londoño (known as Timochenko) who is leading the struggle from within Colombia, to accelerate talks. The June 2012 law for amnesty and pardons (‘The Legal Framework for Peace’) was prepared to remove the label of ‘criminal’ from the FARC and ELN members if the government considers negotiations to be successful.

The economic struggle is a political struggle

The ruling class’s strategy is threatened by its own economic and political actions. On 15 May 2012, the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (CFTA) came into force. To protect themselves, small farmers now demand that the negotiations on Colombia’s future include their own representatives opposed to the destructive effect of free trade on their livelihoods. Only 13.8% of national income is consumed by the poorest 50% of the population, while the wealthiest 10% benefits from 46.5%. The CFTA will worsen this injustice.

On 23 August 5,000 workers at Drummond, Colombia’s second largest coal mining company, struck for better pay, health provisions and other guarantees. Such coal mining companies usually receive more in tax deductions than they pay. Article 37 of Colombia’s Mining Code prevents municipal authorities from prohibiting mining. Article 34 allows the removal of environmental protection from forestry reserves in order to promote mining. BP is the biggest foreign investor in Colombia followed by other British companies Anglo American and BHP Billiton.

Current strikes – from agricultural workers and small-scale miners to transport workers – have affected capitalist production. The pressure from the working class in the towns for basic political freedoms is met with repression because such freedom only hinders the ruthless exploitation of the country by domestic and international capital. The workers’ moral sentiments reinforce the FARC’s demands at the negotiating table, including calls for citizen involvement in economic decision-making. For example, FARC wants one of the seven members of the Central Bank Board to be elected by popular vote.

In this context of struggle 37 human rights defenders have been killed in the first six months of 2013, the highest figure for ten years. There are over 7,500 political prisoners in Colombia. Trade union leader Huber Ballesteros was made an example of by being arrested by Colombian police on charges of ‘rebellion’ – for leading strikes – days before he was due to address the 2013 British TUC conference in Bournemouth. Police violence against these strikes left 12 dead and more than 800 injured in 20 days during August and September.

The truth is revolutionary

In July, a 400-page ‘General Report from the Historical Memory Group’, said that some 220,000 people have lost their lives since 1958 in Latin America’s oldest armed class struggle. Over 80% were civilians. Other estimates put the number of victims at 600,000. It notes that between 1980 and 2012 the landowners’ terror organisation AUC was responsible for the bulk of the massacres.

On 18 September, FARC delegate Laura Villa reiterated a call to the government to establish an international truth commission, asking it to speed up its response. It would review and complete the Historical Memory Group report, and expose the reality of Colombia’s violent class war that dates back to before the 1960s. To complete this, files from intelligence agencies, the police and the army and other secret entities must be opened, including documents from the Council of Ministers, a collection of arrest orders issued without warrants by the government. FARC has already said it is fully prepared to speak the truth from its side. This sort of detailed exposure would further crystallise opposition to the ruling class.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 235 October/November 2013