Colombia: No choice but to fight

Despite being replaced as President in 2010, the neo-fascist Senator Alvaro Uribe still haunts Colombian politics. Uribe is the political force guiding current President Ivan Duque in his campaign to prevent the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) tribunals from achieving justice for the victims of Colombia’s formally ended 60-year civil war. On 10 March, Duque announced a veto of six of the 159 articles in the statutory law governing the JEP. ‘This opens the door ... to put us all in jail,’ said Reinaldo Cala, a lower house deputy of the FARC (Revolutionary Alternative Common Force).* ‘The goal of these reforms is to extradite us to the United States.’ Alvaro Michaels reports.

The state has constantly resisted peaceful attempts at solutions to the acute social crises prolonged and intensified by the civil war. In exercising his veto Duque aims to cast the whole peace process, agreed in the Peace Accord of 2016, in doubt – in particular any investigation into the role of the state and its armed groups. Senator Aida Avella of the Patriotic Union party stated ‘Duque’s government is an enemy of the peace process and is working to return us to war.’ Uribe wants the JEP replaced because of its investigations into the links his own family and friends have to assassinations of rural activists. This is a reflection of his violently anti-democratic and anti-socialist politics, shaped by the rents and profits from his extensive land ownership.

Duque’s veto is the first case of its kind in the 28 years of the current constitution and is a major challenge to the Constitutional Court. Sergio Jaramillo, Colombia’s former peace commissioner, protests that it ‘challenges’ the rule of law in Colombia. FARC, now a legal political party, described the veto as ‘an incitement to war’. The UN has called for urgent approval of the JEP Statutory Law. Murderous attacks on the legal FARC party and ex-members of its armed predecessor, continue to be the key tool Duque uses to block and undermine the progressive content of the 2016 Peace Accord.

In November, Colombia’s attorney general’s office admitted it had no evidence against the FARC peace negotiator, Jesús Santrich, imprisoned since 9 April 2018 at the demand of the US. He is congressman-elect and a member of the Implementation and Verification Commission (CSIVI), responsible for monitoring the implementation of the 2016 agreement. British MPs were allowed to see him and were shocked by his poor condition following a 41-day hunger strike. In December the Administrative Tribunal of Cundinamarca, which includes Bogota, ruled that Santrich should sit in Congress in the place allocated to him in the peace agreement. He remains in prison. In the same period 19 female political prisoners were on hunger strike against conditions impeding the processing of their requests before the JEP.

Continued expulsions from the land

Those who have continued the class struggle unarmed have the most to fear. Over 462 murders of social leaders and human rights activists were committed between 2016 and February 2019. The UN reported a worsening situation with 113 such killings in 2018, of which 27% were Indigenous or Afro-Colombian people. The National Organisation of Indigenous Communities reported at the end of 2018 that since the signing of the Peace Agreement between FARC and the Colombian state (late 2016), violence had forcibly displaced 5,730 Indigenous people while 8,245 were involuntarily confined.

On March 10, Indigenous communities blocked the Pan-American Highway between Colombia and Ecuador demanding that President Duque complies with the Havana Peace Agreement with more security protection for their leaders and a debate on the National Development Plan, a request which could ‘push the state to recognise their ancestral territories,’ (Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca). Forces of the Colombian Mobile Anti-Disturbances Squadron (ESMAD) and the National Army attacked the protest on 19 March, killing one and wounding seven. The blockade was lifted three days later with the government compelled to talk with Indigenous groups. The Colombian ‘defence’ budget increased by more than 5% in 2018.

Former FARC fighters are being specifically targeted with extra-judicial killings by the armed forces. Sizeable numbers of ex-guerillas have been forced to take up arms again in self-defence and are re-establishing safe areas in the extensive rural and forest areas. The re-emergence of violence in the zones no longer protected by FARC is estimated to have sparked 55,000 forced displacements in 2017. In Chocó department alone, where 80% of the population is poor, 10,000 have moved. At least 333 people, living in the department of Cauca, in southwest Colombia, were forcibly displaced between 30 November and 6 December 2018 as Colombia’s army clashed with members of the Popular Liberation Army (EPL) – a guerrilla group that was excluded by the state from any peace agreement. The ELN, a larger revolutionary group, distrusts the government because of the changes made to the deal signed with the FARC. The group carried out a bomb attack in Bogota in January that killed 22 police cadets. 

More than two years after the peace accord was signed, few government reintegration projects to help demobilised fighters are running.  Of the roughly 22 government-approved projects, only a handful have received money. Criminal armed narco-groups have been terrorising and murdering social leaders and human rights defenders. The production of drugs has massively accelerated, increased by 17% between 2016 and 2017 to reach 171,000 hectares, the highest figure ever recorded, with a 31% surge in cocaine production on the year. This gives the lie to government’s claims that the now disbanded FARC armed movement were ‘narco-terrorists’.

Students and workers protests

Students from 32 public universities have been protesting since last October. These protests have included a 54-day strike at University of Cauca, and a recent protest on 7 March. The marches demand improved budgets for education, and have involved Colombia’s Central Workers’ Union and the teachers’ union (Fecode). The demonstrations have been attacked by police. Defence Minister Guillermo Botero, who previously associated civilian protests with illegal armed groups and called for social protests to be regulated, announced he will present a bill to Congress to increase sentences to up to 50 years for people who attack members of the state’s security forces. 

Indigenous groups joined the students’ protests, both in relation to education and demanding safety guarantees in their territories unilaterally broken by Colombian authorities. Workers’ unions and other sectors, including pensioners, have also joined national protests since November after Duque presented a tax reform that would affect working-class families by extending the VAT to staple goods while giving a 4% tax cut for national and transnational companies. A ‘budget responsibility law’ caps the planned fiscal deficit for 2019 at 2.4% of GDP, and Duque has to find a way of relieving business from this charge. In states pillaged by imperialism this means that the wealthy propertied class must either attack middle class incomes, or continue their wholesale abuse of the mass of the poor. The middle classes are thus driven either to reaction or rebellion at a much faster pace than within the imperialist states, and in such inflammable conditions state force has to be used to maintain ‘law and order’. Only a revolutionary solution can create the conditions for real peace in Colombia.

* FARC was formerly the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, but became a legal political party with the same acronym following the 2016 Peace Accord.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 269 April/May 2019


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