Colombia: FARC ceasefire under threat

On 20 February, the US government appointed Bernard Aronson, George Bush’s former Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, as a special envoy to the two-and-a-half year long Colombian peace talks in Havana. This is an ominous step. While negotiators have so far reached partial deals on land reform, ending the illegal drug trade, removal of land mines, and participation by former rebels in politics, US requests to extradite at least 60 FARC guerrilla members are a critical barrier to any final agreement.

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Colombia: negotiating progress

FARC-EP

In a further attempt to halt the bloodshed in Colombia the communist-inspired Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) declared an indefinite cessation of hostilities with the Colombian state on 18 December 2014.

'We have resolved to declare a unilateral cessation of fire and of hostilities for an indefinite period, which should transform itself into an armistice. ... This unilateral ceasefire, which we hope to prolong over time, would end only if it is proven that our guerrilla structures have been the object of attacks from the security forces.'

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Colombia: FARC peace talks stall in Havana

Colombians want peace

On 16 November the Colombian government suspended peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Havana following the capture of Army Brigadier General Ruben Dario Alzate on the same day. FARC captured Alzate in civilian clothes along with a corporal and a lawyer, deep in their own territory at Las Mercedes near the city of Quibdo, Choco. He was captured in response to continued state attacks on FARC supporters. Alzate is the highest ranking military officer ever made a prisoner of war in Colombia. In sharp contrast to the Colombian government's continued practice of killing FARC members whenever possible, the release of the prisoners was negotiated soon afterwards. Alzate and his escorts were released on 30 November.

The remaining two of the six areas of discussion in Havana on which there has yet to be an agreement are the disarmament process and the implementation of the peace deal. The demobilisation of the M-19 guerrilla group, then the second largest revolutionary guerrilla organisation in Colombia, in March 1990 did not prevent the assassination of its presidential candidate a month later. Luciano Marín heading the FARC negotiating team is well aware of the long and bloody history of assassinations directed at the working class leadership by the Colombian ruling class, in particular the land owners and drug cartels. Between 1986 and 1990 over 5,000 civilians of the Patriotic Union campaigning in elections and reflecting the political platform of FARC were assassinated, despite state promises to allow free elections. FARC cannot allow the same butchery to be used against any political parties again as a result of the present talks.

On 18 November FARC said that it could not continue with the talks while there was no truce. Despite constant FARC offers, Santos has refused to a truce until an agreement is reached in Havana. A FARC spokesperson explained: ‘Every day, in different locations throughout the country or abroad, President Santos reiterates the order to attack FARC with all the power of the state… and this is in spite of the peace talks which are taking place in Havana… Without a bilateral ceasefire, that which the president terms 'rules of the game' cannot apply only to the state forces.’ Consequently FARC attacks against infrastructure as well as military targets have intensified in the last months.

A massive rescue operation in Choco's dense jungle terrain was launched after Alzate was captured. The army had offered a 100m peso (£29,307) reward for information leading to a rescue. On 22 November Santos tweeted that the FARC had provided the coordinates to the pick-up zone to collect the prisoners. The International Red Cross is involved and Santos agreed a localised 48-hour ceasefire from 29-30 November to allow the release. FARC released two other soldiers taken as prisoners of war in eastern Arauca department two weeks before on 25 November. Talks are likely to restart in December, but whether Santos will stop the attacks on FARC and Colombian peasants remains to be seen.

Alvaro Michaels

Colombian elections: a vote for the peace negotiations

In the 14 June presidential run-off election, Juan Manuel Santos (leader of the Social Party of National Unity or ‘Party of the U’), who stood as the candidate for the three party National Unity Coalition, won Colombia's presidential contest. He took nearly 51% of the votes against the Democratic Centre party candidate Oscar Zuluaga’s who polled 45%. Zuluaga was the narrow winner of the first round in May by 29.3% to 25.7% of the vote. The final outcome depended on the swing votes of those who had voted for the other three main parties, the Colombian Conservative Party (Partido Conservador Colombiano), the Alternative Democratic Pole (Polo Democrático Alternativo) and the Colombian Green Party. The mass of the workers and peasants had no candidate to represent their interests and did not vote. Santos will be inaugurated as President in August for another four years.

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Colombia the changing form of class war

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 237 February/March 2014

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.