Colombia: the ‘Peace’ process

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The revised Peace Deal between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas was ratified by both of Colombia’s parliamentary chambers on 1 December 2016. The first laws to carry it into practice were approved by both houses on 28 December. Six FARC appointed observers now sit in Congress to monitor the passing of legislation related to the peace process. Meanwhile, across the country, as FARC’s defensive structure disappears, rural spokespersons, social leaders and members of FARC’s political party, Marcha Patriotica, face renewed intimidation and death at the hands of landowners’ agents and drugs gangs.

Demobilisation

FARC members who are not accused of war crimes or crimes against humanity by the state will have all charges or threatened charges removed. This can also apply to people currently in gaol, and should lead to the immediate and definitive release of prisoners accused of crimes such as ‘rebellion’ or ‘financing terrorism’ – a fraudulent and common excuse used to imprison political activists. In this way Colombian agriculture union leader, Huber Ballesteros, was held for three and a half years for trying to go to London to speak at the 2013 TUC Congress. It will affect about 6,000 members of FARC of whom 4,000 are currently prisoners, and hundreds of political activists and community leaders, as well as 1,200 imprisoned soldiers and police officers.

By 31 May 2017 about 6,300 FARC guerrillas should have handed over weapons to the UN mission in Colombia, a delay from 31 December 2016 because of the government’s failure to set up field reception facilities. After seven months 23 of the 26 camps still remained incomplete by early February and FARC is having to build their own accommodation. This is the start of a fight to force the government to comply with its agreements and to sidestep false claims by reactionaries that FARC is evading its part of the agreement. Marcha Patriotica is leading the political struggle here. 120 Marcha Patriotica members have been murdered since the group was founded in 2012 and legally recognised in 2013. Aida Avella, a leader in the Union Patriotica (UP), which preceded Marcha Patriotica as the legal political organisation of FARC, has returned from exile after 17 years. In 2014 she ran for state vice-president alongside Clara Lopez of the leftist Democratic Alternative Pole. The UP is rebuilding itself as a party and ran in recent local elections in Bogota.

Continued attacks on communists, socialists and human rights workers

On 17 March 2017 the UN Commissioner for Human Rights reported that in 2016 there were 389 attacks on social movement and human rights activists, including 127 assassinations, most of which occurred in areas no longer controlled by the FARC guerrillas, so that the withdrawal of FARC has now led to a perilous situation for the workers and peasants in these areas. ‘These are not isolated incidents,’ said Luz Perly Cordoba, a lawyer and community leader who spoke at the release of the UN report. These attacks were ‘the biggest danger to the implementation of the [peace] accord’. The pattern of violence is reminiscent of the horrific right-wing paramilitaries systematic attacks on UP in the 1980s, after the previous peace agreement in 1984, that murdered 5,000 representatives from its presidential candidate downwards, and driving FARC back to armed struggle. The UN report notes that continued refusal to recognise or acknowledge violence perpetrated by the state or government-linked paramilitary groups continues to pose a challenge to the peace process.

The Agrarian Council (Cumbre Agraria), the national peasant farmer movement, has reported 30 killings this year alone. On 2 March, in separate incidents, Alicia López and Fabián Rivera were murdered. Alicia was part of the Agrarian Council which has led protest and strike action across the country over recent years. José Antonio Anzola Tejedor and Luz Ángela Anzola (brother and sister) were murdered at home by masked men in the central Colombian department of Meta on 5 March. Both were members of the Colombian Communist Party and a local peasant farmer union. Terror leaflets are turning up in small towns signed by ‘Black Eagles’ and ‘anti-communist’ and ‘self-defence’ forces, which list activists, human rights workers, community leaders, members of the landless movement and local socialists as ‘military targets’. The victims’ families believe that the landowners continue to pay police and the armed forces to remove any obstacle to their control of the land, and that prosecutors and judges, if not bought off, are too scared to pursue them. In January, Colombia's ombudsman, charged with protecting civil and human rights, warned that attacks and murders of social leaders poses an alarming threat to basic rights and the country's fragile peace. FARC's demobilisation has led to a rise in violence as right-wing paramilitaries and organised crime groups vie for control of areas left largely abandoned by the Colombian state.

With the gradual removal of FARC from the national scene, the latest United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report, states that coca crop cultivation in Colombia has increased by 40%. This fact demonstrates the fact that FARC territorial control always inhibited the drug trade, and the claims by the state and US imperialism that FARC were narco-terrorists is clearly exposed as a shameless lie.

The struggle for the truth

The Peace Deal establishes a ‘Special Jurisdiction for Peace’ with specialised courts to issue the alternative sentences agreed in the deal for crimes committed in the civil war. A truth commission will be established plus a unit to search for the more than 45,000 people deliberately ‘disappeared’ in the war. This truth commission is established separately from the Historical Commission on the Conflict and its Victims (CHCV), established in August 2014 between the parties and which had already exposed the state’s cruelties and deceit, but the CHCV will provide inputs for the truth commission.

President Santos has managed the disarming of FARC to the satisfaction of his imperialist backers, and in 2018 will end his legal term. However, the net of intrigue and cash that he enthusiastically tied himself to as president will leave him and his memoirs shackled for longer than he estimated. In the first week of February Colombia’s chief prosecutor, Nestor Martinez, said that president Santos may have taken up to $1m for his re-election campaign from Odebrecht, the Brazilian construction company which ran bribery schemes throughout Latin America and beyond. In January Santos threatened the ‘full weight of the law’ would fall on Odebrecht cash takers, and his government was the first outside Brazil to arrest former officials after the firm made a plea deal with the US justice department. Not so quick Mr Santos!

Alvaro Michaels