Colombia: new peace deal agreed

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colombia august 2016

‘Like a bomb, the insurgency blew in Colombia after noble people were living in humiliation, some decided to take on the guns to do something for their nation, but if you want to fight and do not have guns you have my words, and acts of love that can penetrate the minds of the people, ’cos today we are asking for the liberation of our nation, of the workers, justice is coming, we can hear justice coming.’ (Rap lyrics of Jhon Steban Pérez, FARC guerrilla)

The 2 October 2016 referendum rejected the much-heralded Peace Accord of 26 September between the Colombian government and FARC-EP. The result, 50.2% versus 49.8% of voters, rested on the thinnest margin of 54,000 votes out of almost 13 million ballots, in a turnout of fewer than 38% of the 32.8m voters listed. International backers of the agreement were shocked. Leaders from the US, Mexico, El Salvador, Uruguay, Cuba and the UN had attended the signing. Most outlying provinces voted in favour of the agreement, with those nearer the capital and inland voting against, although the capital Bogota voted ‘Yes’. The neo-fascist rancher and ex-President, Uribe, led the opposition. Appealing to ignorance and bigotry he repeatedly called Santos a ‘Castro-Chavista’ and the Marxist FARC ‘narco-terrorists’.

Renegotiation

On 4 October, Santos set the month’s end as a limit to the then current ceasefire, yet on 7 October he was awarded a Nobel Peace prize! FARC forces regrouped and took shelter. Negotiations reopened in Havana; the Colombian opposition put extra pressure on FARC. On 5 October, tens of thousands of Colombians chanting ‘no more war’ and ‘agreements now’ marched in Bogota.

At the 6 October meeting with Santos, Uribe delivered his ‘adjustments and initial proposals’ to the agreement. Personally, he aims at self-preservation, as a truth commission will be established to investigate the killings, forced displacement and human rights abuses committed in war. Uribe knows that he might well be tied to atrocious crimes that took place before and during his presidency. His brother, Santiago Uribe, was arrested in March, accused of setting up a terror group in the 1990s, linked to the disappearances of dozens of left-wing rebels, drug addicts and criminals in the Antioquia region.

On 7 November a UN Mission began monitoring the new ceasefire agreement. On 12 November the government and FARC agreed a new peace accord. US Secretary of State John Kerry said that the US would ‘continue to support full implementation’ of the deal. Santos spoke to Donald Trump on 12 November, and they ‘agreed to strengthen the strategic and special relationship between Colombia and the US’.

Fifty changes in the agreement include an inventory of rebel ‘assets’ to compensate victims and scrapping inclusion of the peace accord in the constitution. Foreign magistrates (not observers) are removed from tribunals, and the military get guarantees of ‘judicial security’ since Uribe demanded ‘relief’ for members of the armed forces responsible for atrocities. The guerrillas must provide ‘exhaustive and detailed’ information about any involvement in the illegal drugs trade. FARC does not sanction drug trafficking in the country, but it couldn’t possibly prevent it, and so imposed taxes on producers. The guerrillas have detailed information on who is in the drug trade and are now a danger to the drug dealers. Uribe and dozens of other nervous Congressional representatives want to know what FARC knows. On 24 November the new deal was signed by both sides. It now goes to Congress for approval.

Landlords versus commerce

A struggle between the big landowners and the rest of Colombian business interests underlies the conflict between Uribe and Santos, though disguised by 50 years of the most intense anti-FARC propaganda in the media. Colombia has one of the highest concentrations of land ownership in the world. Landed interests have held sway over Colombian politics since its independence, but over the last 50 years the growing significance of commerce, services, and manufacturing, and the demands of Colombia’s financial backers (Britain is its third biggest investor in recent years), required a more stable political environment to exploit Colombia’s natural riches, especially in the interior. This economic shift turns on the success of the ruling groups in clearing so much of the land of small peasantry. Ranchers created the neo-fascist AUC and other organisations that cleared peasants from the land, and the FARC and the ELN resisted. The long war saw some 7 million victims, 80% of them displaced and 300,000 killed. The large estates now control even greater swathes of the country. The landowners strongly oppose the redistribution of land agreed in principle in the accords. They have prevented any progress in implementing restitution already agreed in a 2011 statute. The landlords’ economic, social and political position depends on the monopoly of natural resources. Santos represents the flow of US and European capital into the country. Uribe represents the landed class fighting to extract huge rents from the commercial capitalists who tear profits from their own workers. Uribe objects to any attempt to solve the central question for FARC, land restitution and reform. To be successful Santos required a peace that he was not able to win by force as a former Minister of the Armed Forces. An accommodation with the FARC is necessary.

Even as the first agreement was in its final stages of preparation, attacks by landowners’ hired guns were killing indigenous rights campaigners: 63 activists were killed in 2015, up from 55 in 2014 and 19 human rights defenders or activists had been killed and over 80 threatened up to the end of March 2016.

Despite the latest agreement the struggle over the land, after the brutal clearances of the past half century, will remain central to the class struggle in Colombia.

Alvaro Michaels


Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 254 December 2016/January 2017