Colombia the changing form of class war

On 6 November 2013, FARC representatives in Havana agreed ‘in principle’ to end the military campaign in defence of the people if the state agrees to essential democratic changes. This challenges the capacity and willingness of the Colombian bourgeoisie to give way to the most basic demands of the masses. Even if it does, conflict between the two main social classes will inevitably continue, and with a ruling class long habituated to the use of systematic cruelty to retain its wealth and power, this will be by no means peaceful. Alvaro Michaels reports.

No Colombian government has gone so far in its promises to deal with the causes of the dreadful misery that the state has inflicted on millions of Colombians who have been driven systematically from their lands into external or internal exile for over 50 years. With an impasse on the battlefield, and with US and EU capital waiting in the wings to invest, the ruling class is changing its strategy while President Santos controls 90% of the Congress.

The powerful but narrowly-based landlord class is being pushed to one side by a growing commercial and agro-industrial bourgeoisie which has been stealing or purchasing at knock-down prices the resources of the country. In FRFI 229 we indicated the material basis for the shift in strategy by the political leaders of both the main social classes.1 On one side: ‘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 [bourgeois] state political authority and military power’; on the other ‘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’.

The armed struggle

Following the failure of a ceasefire in 2012, FARC declared another on 15 December 2013, yet for a second time Santos refused to reciprocate. The FARC ceasefire statement said: ‘Soldiers and police are unnecessarily spilling their blood, while national opinion observes this strange cocktail of death and dialogue, which is how the national government perceives reconciliation.’ On 24 January 2014 in Davos, Santos reiterated his policy of constant warfare against FARC until a ‘comprehensive peace’ is agreed: ‘It’s counterproductive but it’s less costly than prolonging the conflict many years more, and I think the best way to end it is by applying military pressure, in other words the carrot and the stick at the same time.’

The Second Joint Report

There are six points on the peace agenda: land reform, political participation, disarmament, the response to the production of illicit drugs, the question of the rights (compensation) of civil war victims, and finally the peace deal implementation programme. Land reform was settled in principle in May 2013, yet small peasant owners are still debarred from their lands by a mix of legal procedure, cost and murderous landlords’ gangs. There has been progress on political participation, but no agreement on the last four points.

The Second Joint Report on the Progress…on ‘Political Participation’, published on 8 December 2013, commits the state to ‘strengthen, focus and deploy its maximum institutional capacity to prevent, break up and neutralise…any possible source of violence against those who exercise politics.’ FARC negotiator Ivan Marquez has labelled this as ‘perhaps one of the most important achievements so far’ because of the state’s past record of violence against the Patriotic Union in the 1980s and its murderous campaign against Bolivarian Movement for a New Colombia (MBNC), an underground civil and political movement associated with FARC founded in 2000.

The agreement foresees ‘the emergence of new forces into the political scenario’. A statute of guarantees for political opposition will be passed including a new ‘Comprehensive security system for the exercise of politics’. A national campaign to issue citizen IDs to encourage electoral participation, and reform the funding system for political parties is promised. Importantly, temporary Special Transitory Peace Constituencies will be created in the zones now effectively under FARC’s control where only local residents or those returning after displacement can be candidates, and where parties with Congress members may not register candidates. They will also have special campaign funding and access to regional media. A closed, institutional TV channel will be created for registered political parties and movements to spread their political views and aid the work of social organisations.

The 9 March election

Santos has been stalling any final Havana agreements to exclude the MBNC from elections on 9 March for all 102 seats in the Senate Chamber and the 166 Deputies seats. On 9 December, the right-wing Inspector General Alejandro Ordonez banned the mayor of Bogota, Gustavo Petro, from office for 15 years, after the latter nationalised Bogota’s waste collection. The courts have temporarily suspended Ordonez’s ruling. Petro won the Mayoral elections in 2011 for his Movimiento Progresista with 32% of the vote. Bogota, with a population of eight million, generates a third of Colombia’s GDP, and the party that runs Bogota can run the country. On 9 January 2014, Gerson Martinez, a well-known rapper and graffiti artist known as ‘Totti Beat’, and a supporter of Petro, was assassinated. Petro has warned he will mobilise his supporters and occupy public squares indefinitely if his controversial ‘sacking’ is confirmed.

Winners of the election will take office on 20 July. Colombia’s senators and representatives can serve an unlimited number of four-year terms. The campaign is in full flow and on 24 January Radio Caracol revealed computer files leaked from the presidential palace showing widespread bribery. $1.5bn is being spent by the Santos administration on paying off parliamentarians for their support and votes. Unsurprisingly, Santos dismisses the list as an invention.

FARC’s future

FARC is not going to trade its revolutionary standpoint for legalisation or to subordinate itself to the ruling class. Since August 2013, nationwide protests at the economic ruin of rural Colombia have developed, strengthening FARC’s position. Santos has been forced to ‘militarise’ (in his words) Bogota to stop the demonstrations, and his popularity levels have fallen below 20%. Negotiations are still continuing between the government and peasant farmer leaders following these strikes and protests alongside state persecution of those involved. The attitude of the Colombian state towards any defence of workers rights and conditions is murderous. Twenty trade unionists were killed in 2013 and many political opponents of the government were imprisoned – including strike leader Huber Ballesteros,2 currently still held in La Picota prison in Bogota. His arrest came in the midst of mass industrial action which was taking place around the country in the agricultural, health, transport and energy sectors as 2013 ended. He was one of the 10-person MIA committee set up for any eventual negotiations with the government.

The Patriotic March is a social and political movement which groups over 2,000 organisations from across the political spectrum, and is the most representative voice of Colombian civil society. Founded in 2012, it brings together trade unions, peasant organisations, indigenous activists, women’s rights groups, Afro-Colombians, victims’ groups, political parties, and student organisations. The Patriotic March wants to achieve peace with social justice in Colombia. The paramilitary group R-15 is targeting the Patriotic March organisers: 25 members were assassinated in 2013.

In a violent start to 2014, Ever Luis Marin Rolong, a member of the SINALTRACEBA trade union was murdered on 4 January. Giovany Leiton, a peasant farmers’ leader from the Department of Choco and a member of Huber Ballesteros’s negotiating team, the MIA, was murdered along with his partner the same day. Also on 4 January, Francisco Toloza, a university professor and Patriotic March leader, was arrested on trumped up charges and put behind bars. Death threats were made against the president of SINALTRACEBA, Rafael Maldonado Gamboa, the following day. Members of the trade union FENSUAGRO – CUT, and leaders of the Patriotic March were targeted in January in the Cauca region of Colombia. Just days later the regional officer of the Colombian TUC, Oscar Orozco, who is also member of the National Movement for the Victims of State Crimes, was brutally beaten while at a protest. The Colombian ruling class is not going to give up its wealth and power without vicious resistance.     

1. ‘Colombia – the struggle for peace’, FRFI 229, October/November 2012.

2.Colombia: war and negotiation’, FRFI 235 October/November 2013.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 237 February/March 2014