Colombia: Historic Pact under pressure

7 August marks one year of Colombia’s Historic Pact government led by President Gustavo Petro and Vice President Francia Marquez. Their victory in last year’s elections secured Colombia’s first progressive government in history. Petro is a former militant of the M19 urban guerilla group who disarmed in the late 1990s to pursue a career in parliamentary politics. Lawyer Francia Marquez is a long-standing activist for land, environmental and indigenous rights. Offering a social democratic platform for class collaboration, Historic Pact argued ‘the business community today should be aware that their businesses only prosper in a fairer social coexistence…the basis of a new social pact’. One year later, shaken by assassination attempts, ‘law-fare’ and stalemate in Congress, this new social pact has been decisively rejected by Colombia’s ruling class. SAM McGILL reports.

 

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Colombia: The ‘social pact’ has ended, what next for the working class?

Supporters of Gustavo Petro and Francia Marquez rally in Bogota, 7 June 2023 (photo: Gustavo Petro/Twitter)

President Gustavo Petro came to power in August 2022 on the promise of introducing a vast swathe of reforms to education, workers’ rights, pensions, land, health and tax. He also said he would reach out to the armed rebel groups who had rejected the ‘Peace Deal’ of 2016. The election of Colombia’s first-ever progressive president, himself a former guerrilla, was a product of the mass mobilisations that took place across the country against the repression and huge inequality that existed under previous right-wing leaders. But even modest reforms have been constantly thwarted by Colombia’s right-wing Congress and now the ruling class is stepping up its attacks on the Petro government with attempts to foment a ‘legal coup’ – as in so many other countries in Latin America – through a vicious series of smears and investigations. Petro has been forced to call on the masses to mobilise in defence of his government and take to the streets. Colombian activist YONATAN MOSQUERA says clear lines of class struggle are being drawn.

 

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Colombia: left-wing president elected

Gustavo Petro and Francia Marquez celebrate election victory (photo: Nicolas Maduro/Twitter)

On 19 June, to the acclaim of progressive governments in Latin America, Gustavo Petro won in the second round of Colombia’s presidential election with 50.44 % of the vote. He beat the millionaire right-wing front man Rodolfo Hernández, who now faces a corruption trial on 21 July. Hernández received 47.31%. Running for the ‘Historic Pact’ coalition, Petro will be the first left-wing president of Colombia, and the vice president Francia Marquez Mina is the first Afro-Colombian, and second woman in this role. Petro describes himself as a democratic socialist. Of the 58% of the 39 million electorate who voted, the largest turnout in history, the Historic Pact leaders received 11.3 million votes and won by some 700,000. Once in office on 7 August, an immense challenge faces Petro as he sets out to fulfil his election promises. Alvaro Michaels reports.

 

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Colombia: unabated atmosphere of pre-electoral violence

Gustavo Metro addresses a rally

On 29 May the Colombian Presidential and Vice Presidential elections take place. The four-year term limit to the office means that the widely detested incumbent President Iván Duque (of the former Democratic Centre Party) is ineligible to stand. As we go to press, Gustavo Petro, candidate for ‘Historic Pact’, composed of 20 progressive organisations, leads the race to replace Duque. Polls give Petro some 41% of intended votes. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the first-round votes there will be a runoff on 19 June. Facing the threat of the first president from the political left in Colombia’s history, the ruling class has unleashed a campaign of violent intimidation of voters.

 

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Colombia at the crossroads

Rally in support of Historic Pact coalition, 2022

On 13 March 18 million Colombians voted in presidential primaries, selecting candidates for the 29 May presidential election. In a voter turnout of 46%, Gustavo Petro, a former guerrilla in the M-19 rebel group, secured the nomination of the centre-left-wing ‘Historic Pact’ coalition. He is predicted to replace current right-wing president Iván Duque. This is a turning point towards the rejection of a string of right-wing presidents who have for years openly and violently repressed the working classes. If Petro becomes president, US imperialism’s grip on the continent will face a sharp jolt. In a move to ensure the Colombian military’s loyalty, on 10 March US President Biden announced his intention to designate Colombia as a major extra-NATO ally.

 

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Colombia: protests are forcing change

Protest in Medellin, 1 May 2021 (photo: Oxi.ap | CC BY 2.0)

The huge protests that tore through Colombia from 28 April to 15 June 2021 reignited on 20 July, Independence Day. In the main cities, demands for justice for the 56 youths killed, the 49 alleged rapes, and some 2,000 injuries, including loss of eyes, through police brutality, and for social leaders murdered by the ruling class were prominent. Colombia ranks second in the world in terms of violent deaths per day of protest. With astonishing hypocrisy, the Colombian government condemned the jailing of anti-government protesters in Cuba. 

 

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Colombia - Duque out!

As anti-government demonstrations continued throughout May, the Colombian state persisted in murdering and maiming demonstrators. The Mobile Anti-Riot Squadron (ESMAD) continued to clear protest barricades across the country. By 24 May, at least 44 people had been killed and 1,700 injured by the security forces. A furious people demand the removal of President Duque and fundamental change. ALVARO MICHAELS reports.

 

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Colombia 2020: another year of state violence

'Expression of silence' protest on 29 November 2021

2021 sees the continued bloody assault on all and any representatives of the poor, both rural and urban, by the hired assassins of the Colombian ruling class. The removal of the FARC military resistance to imperialism in Colombia in 2016 has given further rein to the fearful and vicious instincts of the exploiting class. Alvaro Michael reports.

 

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Colombia: mass demonstrations call for peace and progress

21 November saw a national day of action in Colombia, with up to one million protestors taking to the streets across the country, and protests continuing for three days. 170,000 security forces were mobilised against them. Three protesters were killed and 122 injured. Demonstrators called for an end to planned austerity measures, proper enforcement of the peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) guerrilla group and an end to attacks on workers’ representatives. Since the 2016 Peace Accords, at least 777 social leaders and 137 former guerrilla fighters have been murdered in Colombia. In 2019, 226 social, peasant and indigenous leaders were assassinated.

 

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Colombia: FARC-EP guerillas forced to take up arms again

On 28 August, Ivan Marquez, lead negotiator for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (FARC-EP) at the Havana peace negotiations from 2012, announced a return to arms against the government. In a two-hour video he explained that President Ivan Duque was responsible for the failure to achieve peace, with the continued assassinations of social movement leaders and ex-FARC-EP combatants who had surrendered their arms. The government responded with a bombardment of militant camps and the announcement of a $100,000 reward for information about the rebels. Alvaro Michaels reports.

Marquez’s declaration came only two weeks after ex-president Juan Santos launched a broadside in the press against Duque for obstructing peace, accusing him of trying to change the peace agreement, and failing to prevent the assassinations. Duque’s public response smugly stated that he would continue to use state violence: ‘We have chased the chief dissidents, this year many have fallen.’ FARC-EP, a communist guerrilla army, agreed to lay down its weapons in the 2016 Peace Accord. Instead its leaders formed a legal communist political party in – the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force (also FARC). Following continued state violence and the widespread breaching of the conditions of the Peace Accord by the government, FARC is splitting between those who want to continue this strategy and those who see the need to return to armed struggle.

 

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Colombia: Destruction of the Peace Agreement

Álvaro Uribe and Iván Duque

The Colombian government under its latest president Iván Duque, expressing all the reactionary ambitions of his backer ex-president Álvaro Uribe, is determined to reduce the 2016 Peace Agreement with FARC to a shell, weakening by all and any means this communist party and its political activity throughout the country. Alvaro Michaels Reports. 

 

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Colombia constant legal and physical assaults on FARC

Jesus Santrich, a former com-man-der in the now-demobilised Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), was arrested on 9 April after the US Drug Enforcement Administration demanded his extradition on unsup-ported charges of drug trafficking. Santrich is accused by the US of running a $15m drug operation in Colombia after the peace agreement was signed in 2016, which he and his FARC party deny.

 

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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.

 

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Colombia: FARC military members regroup in the face of state duplicity

Mothers of Soacha (MAFAPO) demonstration demanding justice for victims of 'false positive' killings

Thousands of FARC fighters who demobilised after the 2016 peace agreement have been forced to take up arms again. The aggressive and vindictive assaults on the FARC during the long and difficult negotiations, the constant attempts to demoralise and corner the revolutionary organisation, the subsequent bad faith shown by the government in the implementation of the peace agreement, and the continuous assassination campaign against ex-FARC members, created this situation. ALVARO MICHAELS reports.

 

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Colombian elections: servants of imperialism strengthened

ELN fighters

In the final vote for the presidential elections on 17 June, Senator Ivan Duque (Democratic Centre Party) standing for the Grand Alliance for Colombia coalition was elected President of Colombia. He defeated Gustavo Petro, a prominent leftist, ex- member of the disbanded M-19 guerrilla group and former mayor of Bogota, representing the List of Decency coalition. Petro took 41.81% of the electoral votes while ex-banker Duque won with 53.98%, in a turnout of 53.04%, the highest in 20 years. The FARC’s (Common Alternative Revolutionary Force) presidential candidate Rodrigo Londoňo, known as Timochenko, suffered a heart attack and was forced to withdraw from the campaign on 8 March.  FARC then declined to field another presidential candidate. FARC’s legal political activities were obstructed from the day peace negotiations finished, and the new president will intensify the attack against it, an attack that undermines all socialists in Colombia.

 

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Colombian government impedes peace process

colombia farc party

30 November 2017 saw the end of a year-long ‘fast track’ period for Colombia’s Congress to pass urgently needed measures to consolidate the Havana Peace Accords. These measures represent about a tenth of the overall agreement between the FARC and the government, yet after a year only about a fifth of this tenth have been acted upon. The government of Juan Santos has lost its majority in the Congress as his opportunistic coalition members hunt around for deals with other parties in anticipation of the March Congressional and 1 May Presidential elections in 2018. Santos can now plead that his hands are tied. In November 2017 the Constitutional Court and Senate changed the Justice Model agreed at Havana, creating serious difficulties for the reintegration of FARC (military) members into civil society.

A year after the agreement, supervised by 700 UN observers, FARC has now completely disarmed. Some 7,000 members and 7-8,000 militia were ‘reincorporated’ into civilian life, and 9,000 weapons surrendered. More than half of the demobilised FARC members had left the camps by mid-November, but disillusionment is extensive as, according to the Head of the UN mission, they are ‘still being detained by the National Police, having difficulty accessing the banking system or signing contracts with the State’. There are shortcomings in the medical care provided for ex-guerrillas, some of whom are disabled and chronically ill.

 

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Colombia: continued murderous assaults on rural workers

desplazados conflicto 600 afp.jpg 1718483346

On 5 October 2017 at least ten rural workers were killed and over 50 injured during an assault by the police in Tandil, Tumaco. 1,500 demonstrators from the villages of Sonadora, Restrepo, Vallenato, El Divorcio Playon and El Tandil, as well as Awa Indigenous people, had gathered to protest against the forced eradication of coca crops and the federal government's non-compliance with the National Program for the Substitution of Crops for Illicit Use, as agreed in the Peace Agreement with FARC. They were violently attacked.

 

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Colombia: the ‘Peace’ process

Colombia peace

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.

 

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Colombia: new peace deal agreed

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’.

 

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Colombia: Peace Accords rejected

Colombia peace talk

On 26 September 2016 the Colombian government and the leadership of FARC–EP signed the agreements that they have negotiated over the last four years. During these years, FARC declared unilateral ceasefires to undermine excuses made by the government not to negotiate, while the Colombian state continued to target and kill key FARC leaders. The two sides were joined at the signing by leaders from the US, Mexico, El Salvador, Uruguay, Cuba and the United Nations. Days later, the referendum on acceptance of the Accords was rejected by a small majority.

The agreement, signed in Cartagena, Colombia, was preceded by a special, tenth, Congress of FARC delegates from throughout the country. Held in Yari in the Selva of south west Col­ombia, over 200 delegates discussed the Havana Accords for a week and agreed on the steps to follow the Accords. Invited guests included Imelda Daza, leader of the Patriotic Union, which would have again played a vital part in the struggle for socialism in the towns and cities. They would have had five seats guaranteed in the two chambers of the 2018 Con­gress, the 102-seat Senate and the 161-seat House of Representatives. These are based on the votes cast for the Patriotic Union before thousands of its members, leaders and cadres, were butchered in the 1990s by establishment assassins. This evolving poli­tical party will have little time to consolidate its influence before the July 2018 Congressional election.

 

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Colombia the continued struggle for peace and justice

On 23 June, after three and a half years of negotiations, the US-backed Colombian state and its armed communist opponents, the FARC, finally signed ‘a bilateral and definitive ceasefire, cessation of hostilities, and laying aside of weapons’, to end the armed class struggle waged since 1964. In the last year the FARC held to a unilateral ceasefire despite continued attacks, killings and provocations by the Colombian military. Cuban President Raul Castro declared the peace agreement a ‘victory for the people of Colombia’.

The governments of Chile, Cuba, Norway, and Venezuela were hosts, mediators or observers in the process. However, the peace accords have yet to be fully finalised and will be subject to a binding referendum, perhaps in September. Disarmament should take place immediately after the final peace accord is signed. In January 2016, the UN Security Council agreed to send a mission of 350 unarmed representatives, mainly from the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), which excludes the US and Canada, to oversee redeployment by FARC troops to 23 ‘temporary hamlet zones for normalisation’. Once the FARC lists the combatants in each hamlet zone, the government will suspend all outstanding arrest warrants for them. Weapons will be surrendered to the UN over a 180-day period.

 

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Colombia peace talks: make or break

The Santos government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) set 23 March 2016 as the deadline to sign a final peace agreement, but negotiations in Cuba have stalled in past months over the last question on their agenda – decommissioning FARC’s armoury and demobilisation. On 10 March both sides announced that they aim to reach a deal by the end of the year. Since November 2012 – in long negotiations punctuated by government killings of FARC leaders – agreement has been reached on approaches to land reform, political participation, the illegal drugs trade and transitional justice. Alvaro Michaels reports.

On 21 March in Havana, US Secretary of State John Kerry again urged the Colombian government and FARC to reach a peace accord. Obama will ask the US Congress for $450m (£312m) as a sweetener after completion. To back Santos’s final shift against opponents from the large landowning class and sections of the military, Kerry defended the Santos-FARC talks by pointing out that it is not the FARC, but ‘right-wing militias’ that are currently ‘increasing the violence’. FARC quickly pushed for the State Department to remove the guerrilla army from its list of ‘foreign terrorist organisations’. When a peace agreement is reached, a referendum will be held for its approval.

President Santos has now discarded ex-President Alvaro Uribe as a useful bargaining tool in his negotiations with FARC, finally approving the arrest of Uribe’s brother Santiago on 29 February. He is accused of involvement in murders and forced disappearances in the 1990s. The family’s dealings with the drug trade (father, cousins, in-laws), known to US intelligence, made President Uribe pliable to US pressure when in office.

 

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Colombia: negotiating the future

President Santos (left) and FARC’s chief, Rodrigo Londoño (Timochenko) shook hands after a meeting facilitated by Raul Castro (centre)

On 23 September a further step in the class struggle in Colombia was reached when the FARC and the Colombian President Santos, accompanied by President Raul Castro, announced in Havana that they expected to conclude a peace agreement by March 2016. They have agreed on a formula for transitional justice for those accused of crimes committed in the conflict such as kidnapping, murder, forced displacement, disappearance and torture.

FARC leaders had hoped the Pope would agree to meet the negotiating teams on his visit to Cuba, but the Vatican rejected the notion. However while there Pope Francis’s warned that failure was not an option, a message already made on several occasions, including directly to President Santos at the Vatican. This deal on justice, along with previous agreements made since November 2012 on rural development, political participation for demobilised guerrillas and drug trafficking, now means agreement on four of the six points of negotiations. It remains to agree how FARC will demobilise and decommission their weapons, and how to implement the final accords.

 

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Colombia’s Killing Fields: Peace is War - James Petras article

FRFI is publishing this analysis by James Petras of the war in Colombia as it provides useful information and analysis of the current situation.
 
Colombia has received more US military aid - over $6 billion dollars in the past decade - than any country in the Western Hemisphere.  For its part, Colombia allowed the Pentagon to build seven military bases, more than all the other countries in the region combined. There are over 2,000 US military officers and private US ‘mercenary’ contractors engaged in military activities in Colombia - more than any other country in Latin America.

 

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Colombia: Army provokes an end to FARC’s ceasefire

On 22 May FARC suspended its current ceasefire after yet another attack by Colombian state forces the previous day that killed 27 revolutionaries at a cost of at least 10 government forces. This included Jairo Martinez, a negotiator at the Havana talks, who had returned to report the state of the peace discussions with his comrades. President Santos called this a ‘legitimate action’. The 36th round of discussions in Havana between FARC and the Colombian state representatives had only just been completed in mid-May. FARC persisted with the next round starting 25 May, despite the killing of another FARC commander, Roma Ruiz, that day. FARC representative Pablo Catatumbo stated that ‘We’ll proceed with cool heads and ardent hearts, we cannot throw away our determined efforts in more than three years of talks.’

 

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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.

 

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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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