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Colombia: What prospects for the peace negotiations between FARC and government?

Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) fighters walk in San Isidro, Colombia, May 30.

See also "Colombia: The end for guerrilla warfare?" For more coverage of Colombia, click HERE.

By Anthony Boynton, Bogota

September 12, 2012 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- The government of Colombia on September 4 announced that it had begun peace negotiations with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarios de Colombia (FARC, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). The news was quickly confirmed by the FARC. Although FARC still leads thousands of armed fighters and has the financial resources to continue fighting, the decimation of its leadership combined with its political isolation has brought it to the point of no return. It has entered a new peace process with the government of Juan Manuel Santos with far less than it had to bargain with when it sat down at the negotiating table with the government of Andres Pastrana more than a decade ago.

This time the chances are very likely that a deal will be made, but the shape of that deal -- and the success of its implementation -- will depend not only on the two sides at the negotiating table, but also on powerful players who will not be at the table.

Of the numerous Marxist-oriented guerrilla armies fighting in various parts of the world three decades ago, the FARC and the Ejército de Liberación Nacional de Colombia (ELN) stand out because they could not take power, but were not defeated; they negotiated to end the conflicts, but failed in the attempts.

The reasons for this situation are many. They include:

  • Colombia is not a small country like Cuba, Nicaragua or El Salvador.
  • Colombia combines a large urban population with a very large, but sparsely populated, territory of mountains, tropical plains and tropical forests.
  • Colombia has not been occupied by an invading foreign army since the wars of liberation at the beginning of the 19th century. The Colombian state has legitimacy as the descendant of those revolutionary wars.
  • Divisions within the Colombian ruling class.
  • Perfidy and dishonesty of Colombian governments in past negotiations.
  • The intersection of the Colombian cocaine boom with the armed conflict.
  • The belief by the FARC that it could take power militarily without popular support in the cities.

Agenda and structure of peace process

According to the formal announcement of the peace negotiations by Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos, on September 4, negotiations will be bilateral without intermediaries. They will be held in two stages, the first stage in Oslo, Norway, beginning on October 4, and the second stage in Havana, Cuba, beginning at an unspecified date. Santos emphasised that the negotiations would be over in a matter of months, and that if an agreement is not reached the talks will be terminated. There will be no ceasefire, and there will be no demilitarised zone.

There will be a five-point agenda for the talks: rural development, guarantees for the exercise of political opposition and citizen participation, an end of the armed conflict, drug trafficking and victims’ rights.

Soon after Santos’ announcement, FARC held a press conference in Havana at which it aired a videotaped speech by Timochenko (nom de guerre of Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri), its top commander, that confirmed all of the main points made by Santos and emphasised FARC’s desire to make a permanent, long-lasting peace agreement.

In the days immediately following the original announcement FARC proposed an immediate ceasefire and proposed that Simon Trinidad (nom de guerre of Juvenal Ovidio Ricardo Palmera Pineda) be released from prison in the USA to join the FARC’s negotiating team. The Colombian government rebuffed FARC on both points. Talks are proceeding as scheduled.

This may indicate the tone for the process to come, and certainly indicates the weakness of FARC’s bargaining position. The fact that the negotiations are taking place outside Colombia rather than in a demilitarised zone within Colombia was already a major concession by FARC from their longstanding position regarding the necessary conditions for any peace negotiations.

Military and political balance of power in 2000

The military balance of power has tipped strongly against FARC since its peak around 2000. At the end of the 20th century most estimates placed FARC’s armed strength at around 25,000 fighters. They were mostly armed with AK47s and had developed an arsenal that included various types of mortars, rockets and landmines. They were able to mount coordinated offensives involving several fronts and hundreds of fighters. Their largest offensives resulted in overrunning several small towns and holding them for a few days, and destroying several small military bases. It was estimated at that time that the FARC held about 450 people captive, mostly for failure to pay “taxes”, but some for purely political reasons.

In 2000 the Colombian state’s armed forces far outnumbered the FARC with a combined strength of approximately 150,000 soldiers, sailors and police officers. It completely outgunned the FARC with an arsenal including artillery, tanks, helicopter gunships and transport, and military fighter and bomber aircraft. It also wielded thousands of paramilitary assassins and torturers (the exact number is unknown because many of the paramilitary thugs were active duty soldiers on clandestine assignments) who were not officially part of the state, but were secretly directed and coordinated by the Colombian army and by DAS (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad – Colombia’s equivalent of the FBI and CIA combined).

Nevertheless, the Colombian military was a very poor fighting force. Its intelligence had no idea where the FARC and ELN were, or where the FARC or ELN were going to attack. Its generals and colonels were notoriously corrupt and had little respect from the mass of soldiers. The soldiers and lower ranking officers were demoralised. FARC was able to win victories by gaining tactical battlefield numerical advantage and surprise.

Politically, FARC was seen by millions of people as the victim of the paramilitary and state terror that had killed thousands of militants of the Unión Patriotica (UP). Most people viewed it as a legitimate part of the much broader Colombian left that was struggling to defend itself and to win social progress, justice and even to attain a socialist society.

While FARC never enjoyed mass support in Colombian society as a whole (the best measure of its support is probably the election results of the UP, which was able to win 17 seats in Congress and the Senate), it did have a substantial popular base, especially in small towns and in certain regions of the country.

Nevertheless, FARC’s military strategy had severely weakened its popular support.

FARC financed itself in part from taxation. Every farm and business in its areas of influence were asked to pay taxes. The farmers and businesses viewed the taxes as extortion. If they did not pay, FARC arrested and held prisoner a member of their family. The families viewed this as kidnapping.

After decades of this practice, the petty bourgeoisie of the small towns, and the farmers around the small towns, had turned against the FARC. Their anger extended to their city cousins.

Militarily, FARC’s primary objectives were the easy targets. This meant unguarded petroleum pipelines, electricity transmission lines in isolated mountain or jungle areas, small isolated military outposts and police stations in small towns.

Destruction of electricity transmission lines allowed the government to blame FARC for every blackout that occurred in the country, whether or not it was involved. This was no small issue for the millions of poor people who had electricity for the first time in their lives. Attacks on small-town police stations often resulted in civilian casualties, which gave the state another public relations hammer to beat FARC with.

By 2000 FARC’s popular support was especially weak in the major cities, even among the millions of people who had been displaced from the countryside – including from the rural strongholds of FARC.

The two major traditional ruling-class political parties – the Liberals and Conservatives – were in the process of disintegration. Both parties were traditionally corrupt, and had become more corrupt with the influx of cocaine money in the 1980s. The new constitution that had resulted from the peace agreement with the M-19 guerilla army and the constituent assembly that followed ended the traditional electoral system, which allowed local one-party monopolies and replaced it with a complicated proportional representation system. New parties and coalitions flourished.

The state appeared to be in a political crisis.

Plan Colombia and the Uribe government

Plan Colombia was devised by the governments of US President Bill Clinton and Colombia’s President Andres Pastrana to radically improve the military and political balance in favour of the Colombian state and its imperialist allies.

The plan was simple: to combine major concessions to FARC to gain time, with reorganising, rearming, retraining and enlarging the armed forces. At the end of the process FARC would have either signed a peace agreement on terms acceptable to the state and to the United States, or FARC would be discredited as intransigent opponents of peace. The second alternative occurred; when it did the Colombian military launched a prolonged offensive against FARC.

A key part of Plan Colombia was a rapid acceleration in construction of basic infrastructure. Electrification of the country (already substantial) was completed, the telephone network was completed, a cell phone system was extended into almost every corner of the country and billions of dollars were invested in the transportation infrastructure.

Alongside of Plan Colombia went behind the scenes negotiations to create ruling-class unity on a one-point program: defeat the FARC. When Pastrana’s term of office ended, a grand coalition of ruling-class parties nominated Alvaro Uribe as its candidate for president. Uribe’s most important qualification for the job was his desire for revenge against the FARC for having killed his father. A secondary consideration was the fact that he represented the most corrupt sectors of the major landowners of Antioquia, who had been intimately connected with Pablo Escobar’s Medellin drugs cartel and who were the real puppet masters of the paramilitary Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC).

In his first term as president Uribe concentrated on making the army fight. He appointed Martha Lucia Ramirez as his minister of defence with the mission of purging the general staff. Her message to them was simple: you can steal if you fight, if you don’t you’re out. She fired 16 generals and dozens of colonels.

In truth, most of the army did not have to fight: the offensive was almost entirely carried out by a few small units called the airborne rapid deployment force (Fuerza de Despliegue Rápido, FUDRA) that had been established by the Pastrana government and was expanded to five brigades during the Uribe administration. It was used to retake the demilitarised zone and for almost all subsequent offensive actions against FARC including the attacks that have killed many of FARC's main commanders.

Also in his first term Uribe revealed that he had a much larger vision than the simple program of his ruling coalition. He planned to make himself president for life and to impose a new constitution that would greatly strengthen the powers of the president and eliminate the social-democratic and democratic reforms in the current constitution. These efforts received strong backing from the Catholic Church, the drug dealers and sectors of the military. They rang alarm bells in other powerful sectors of Colombia’s ruling class, who began to defect from the Uribe coalition.

Uribe launched the most bizarre peace negotiations ever conducted on the planet when his government negotiated with the paramilitary organisations surreptitiously controlled by the same government. The Punch and Judy show, riddled with fraud and deception, officially demobilised the paramilitary organisations, but in reality resulted in the formation of powerful new criminal organisations, such as the Aguilas Negras, which overshadow the official state apparatus in areas they control such as the north-western corner of Colombia known as Uraba.

In Uribe’s second term, the offensive against FARC continued. Uribe and his new minister of defence Juan Manuel Santos brought the country to the brink of war with neighbouring Venezuela and Ecuador following the attack in Ecuadoran national territory which killed FARC commander Raul Reyes.

Uribe turned much of the offensive over to Santos and the military, and turned his own eyes to enriching himself, his family and friends. This further fractured the ruling-class coalition and led to more defections.

A long string of judicial prosecutions has sent key Uribe friends and allies to jail to the point that his cousin and right hand in the Senate is in jail, his sons are under investigation for corrupt practices and the general who was his security chief has been extradited and jailed in the United States for working with drug dealers. Uribe himself is rumoured to be a target of prosecutors in the United States.

Left crisis

The left in Colombia has been unable to take advantage of the crisis of Uribismo, in large part due to its own crisis. During the two decades following the peace agreement between M-19 and the government, and the new constitution that followed from that deal, a legal reformist, electoralist, social-democratic political movement grew in Colombia’s cities. Centred in the country’s capital Bogota in the Polo Democratico Alternativo, this movement elected three successive mayors: Eduardo “Lucho” Garzon, Samuel Moreno and Gustavo Petro.

It suffered a major crisis with the corruption scandal that erupted during the term ofMoreno. The crisis has not yet been resolved. Gustavo Petro led a split of the Polo, which formed a new party called the Progresistas. This was followed more recently by the formation of Marcha Patriotica (Patriotic March) at the initiative of the Communist Party and the subsequent expulsion of the Communist Party from the Polo.

One key ruling-class ally that did not desert Uribe was the Santos family. Francisco Santos was Uribe’s vice-president and his cousin Juan Manuel Santos was his minister of defence. The Santos family is the most important bastion of the oligarchic section of the traditional Liberal Party and, until recently, owners of the El Tiempo media empire (newspapers, television, radio, cable TV and internet). In addition to his hat as minister of defence, Juan Manuel Santos was also the head of the Partido Social de Unidad Nacional, a splinter from the Liberal Party that became bigger than its parent party and was the main party of the Uribe coalition. From his positions in politics and the government Juan Manuel Santos quietly prepared his own campaign for president to succeed Uribe.

Uribe’s coalition changed the constitution in his first term to allow presidents a second term, but in his second term, Uribe failed to win his proposal to allow him to run for a third term. Uribe was already on his way down, but he thought he could maintain his power by placing a loyal puppet in power: Juan Manuel Santos.

Balance of power in 2012

While no one knows exactly how many armed fighters the FARC has today, the Colombian government has estimated that there are about 8000– and the FARC has not disputed this number. FARC has rescinded its “Law 2” and the taxation and arrests related to it. It has released all of the hostages it held for economic and political reasons.

The combined forces of the military and police have expanded to about 400,000 – close to 1% of the entire population of the country. (The militarisation of the country has had enormous economic, social and political consequences that go beyond the scope of this article.)

Besides the sheer increase in numbers, the military has retooled itself. Of particular importance has been the reorganisation of military intelligence, much of which has in fact been turned over to the United States in one way or another. Electronic surveillance of all forms of FARC communications using satellites, electronically loaded spy planes, wire taps and internet surveillance have compromised all FARC communications. Human intelligence based on long-term surveillance, infiltration and large rewards for information has added to the government’s capacities.

These changes have nearly eliminated the FARC’s ability to gain tactical battlefield advantage and surprise in its offensive operations, and have also given the government the ability to pinpoint the encampments of FARC even when they are well hidden in isolated locations.

Although FARC’s recent offensive has shown that it can still attack infrastructure in the eastern tropical plains, and in the southern areas of the country, FARC admits that it has suffered major losses.

Juan Manuel Santos was elected president in August 2010 with Uribe’s support, but without the sectors of the Uribista coalition that have been publicly identified with the paramilitary organisations. Santos broadened his coalition to include the Green Party, one of whose leaders is Eduardo Garzon, a former leader of the left and former mayor of Bogota, and to include the Liberal Party.

Santos almost immediately moved to restore relations with Venezuela and Ecuador and simultaneously initiated secret contacts with FARC. Those contacts developed into the current peace process. Santos did not stop the military offensive however.

Alvaro Uribe and the elements of his coalition most closely identified with paramilitarism and drug dealing have become the only important vocal opposition to the current peace process. Their opposition is undoubtedly due to more than simply rabid right wing ideology and thirst for revenge. If the armed conflict between the state and FARC ends, but the war on drugs does not, they will become central targets of the war machine they only recently thought they controlled.

The new peace process has received the public support of all of the rest of Colombia’s political spectrum, plus the governments of the world.

Three countries played key roles in facilitating and guaranteeing the secret negotiations that led to this public process: Cuba, Venezuela and Norway. Norway will be the site of the first phase of public negotiations; Cuba will host the final phase.

What the future holds

My crystal ball fell off my table years ago, and has never worked properly since. Still, a few guesses about where this process may be going are in order.

First, it is very likely that FARC and Santos will sign an agreement by the end of this year, or at the latest in the first quarter of next year.

In addition to everything mentioned above, my guess takes into account an appreciation of Juan Manuel Santos. Santos is a ruthless but intelligent and cautious politician. He has no compunction to order the military or paramilitaries into action as his record has shown, but he and his family’s business interests have never been identified with the illegal drug business. Instead they have always been identified as modernisers who have invested and made money from communications, real estate, foreign trade and the development of Colombia’s mineral resources.

Santos would like to win reelection. He would not have made the negotiations with FARC public if he had thought they would fail.

Second, the formation of the Marcha Patriotica, and the subsequent expulsion of the Communist Party from the Polo Democratico Alternativo, seemed slightly irrational when they occurred. Why would the Communist Party, a key founding component of the Polo, set up a competing organisation like Marcha Patriotica? This question is especially irksome when you consider that the Communist Party’s position within the Polo had been strengthened by the departure of the mostly former M-19 militants led by Gustavo Petro to form the Progresistas. This move makes sense, however, if it were motivated by knowledge of the private peace negotiations and preparations to make a place for FARC within the legal left.

The fact that the Marcha Patriotica has been singled out for attacks by the Uribistas, and for death threats by the supposedly non-existent paramilitaries, adds weight to this possibility.

Although the negotiations between the government and FARC only became public in early September, rumours had been flying for months. Alvaro Uribe fueled many of these rumours, but there were many other sources within government ministries.

What will happen after an agreement is signed is another question. Colombia has a long history of peace agreements to end violent internal conflicts. And they have never ended the violent internal conflict in this country. After each agreement the violence has flared again in a new form. Scepticism about the possibility of a new agreement runs high here.

The paramilitaries and drug dealers will be the biggest losers if an agreement is signed, not only for the reasons already mentioned, but because any agreement is likely to involve some restitution of lands stolen from displaced people and some compensation for the victims of the long conflict.

Certainly the paramilitaries and their allies within the military and police will target demobilised FARC leaders and fighters for assassination. Protection against this danger will be one of the key points of the negotiations, but no agreement can guarantee protection. Political people in this country remember that M-19 leader Carlos Pizarro was assassinated by the DAS while under its protection.

If that happens, it will play into the hands of Santos and his coalition, who are looking to completely realign Colombian politics into what they believe will finally be a stable three-party political system mirroring the system in the United Kingdom. In their dream of the future, the reborn Liberals and Conservatives will be joined by a stable social-democratic force.

What will happen to the legal left is perhaps the hardest element to predict. FARC will join the three major competitors that now exist: Marcha Patriotica, Polo Democratico Alternativo and the Progresistas. FARC’s prestige and political support are at an all-time low now and even entry into the arena of legal politics may not revive its fortunes.

Another imponderable factor for the left is the potential for the rebirth of a mass movement in the streets. Last year saw the momentary rise of a new mass student movement and renewed militancy by workers, which could be repeated again. Can a new mass movement be channelled into the old left framework?

Comments

Cuban comment on potential of the Colombian peace talks

In the previous round of discussions, LINKS would not permit comments
which explicitly disagreed with Boynton, so it's quite possible I'm
not going to post much on your discussion since your moderation ideas
don't seem to permit political disagreement. The possibility, however
limited, of a successful peace negotiation in Colombia constitutes,
in my opinion, perhaps the most momentous development in the entire
continent of Latin America since the victory of the Cuban Revolution.

It's unfortunate that LINKS has twice chosen to present the views of
an author who is sharply hostile toward the Revolutionary Armed Forces
of Colombia, an essential element in the process which could bring an
end to that country's armed struggle, one which has been going on even
since before the assault on the Moncada Barracks in 1953.

In any event, here's a Cuban comment on the meaning of and the potential
of the Colombian negotiations.

(The author is an attorney and former Cuban diplomat
who continues active as a political analyst and as
an educator at the Higher Institute for Foreign
Relations, the school maintained here in Havana for
diplomats by the Cuban Foreign Ministry. This is an
exceptionally timely and significant contribution to
a story which has been largely ignored in the US and
even much of the international political left media.)
========================================================

Dialogue in Colombia welcomed
By Manuel E. Yepe

A CubaNews translation. Edited by Walter Lippmann.

An old saying tells us that “it is always darker before dawn.”

This is what’s happened in Colombia where, to the surprise of many and the confusion of others, it was revealed that an agreement has been reached to hold exploratory peace talks aimed at a peace dialogue between the revolutionary anti-imperialist guerrillas and the government of the nation that has enjoyed the most privileged relationship with the superpower in the North,.

Most certainly, Colombia’s internal war –basically of a class origin- became more and more complicated each day along the half century of its existence, bringing along with it the corrupting and criminal behavior of drug trafficking and the terrorist actions of paramilitary bands.

Because of drug trafficking, Colombia has received many millions of US dollars through Plan Colombia, thus becoming the third highest recipient of foreign aid in the world, just after Israel and Egypt (not including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan).

It is known that the CIA has links with the Colombian army and with security forces that cooperate with paramilitary groups well involved in drug trafficking.

Last year, with the proposition of putting an end to drug trafficking, Washington and Bogota signed an agreement to establish seven military bases in Colombian territory. They constitute a threat to stability and sovereignty in the region. These military bases have as their center the Palenquero air base, in the heart of Colombia.

Due to the alarming complicity of political, police, military and higher business sectors in this South American nation with organized crime and the very US agencies that should verify the proper use of aid given to combat drug trafficking, Colombia has been considered a narco-state with many of its government structures having been penetrated by powerful organized crime groups.

Sponsored by public officials, great landowners, businesspeople and corrupt military officers, a number of paramilitary groups were formed and terrorized farmers to guarantee impunity for drug dealing operations with the justification of holding a campaign against the Colombian revolutionary guerrilla.

In recent days, from Casa de Nariño, President Juan Manuel Santos offered details about the exploratory talks to promote a peace dialogue between his government and FARC, and announced the Acuerdo General para la Terminación del Conflicto en Colombia [General Agreement to End the Conflict in Colombia]

“This agreement is not yet peace, neither is it a final agreement. It is a road map that defines with precision the terms for a discussion to reach a final agreement,” said the President.

For his part, FARC’s supreme leader, Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri,
known as Timochenko, declared that he “came to sit at the negotiation table with no grudges or arrogance”

A FARC representative said nothing will be easy in the process, but “there is nothing that could not be discussed or have a solution at the negotiation table to reach an agreement.”

The Diálogos de Paz [Peace Talks] will start on October 8, in Oslo, Norway, and will later continue in Havana, Cuba. The rebels declared that the FARC “has never been a military machine and from its origins “has been a guerrilla force with broad popular support.”

Expressions of satisfaction for this promising Acuerdo General para la Terminación del Conflicto immediately came from every corner in the world, with the marked –but expected- exceptions of Colombian ex-President Álvaro Uribe and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the US House of Representatives, who is the usual voice of the Miami Cuban extreme-right in the USA Congress.

President Santos expressed thanks to the governments of Cuba and Norway for their support in the preparations for these negotiations, and announced that these two countries will continue acting as hosts and guarantors in the second phase.

He also acknowledged the open offer from the Venezuelan government to grant its support for the development of the previous work and thanked the Chilean government for having accepted to support the following phase when Venezuela and Chile will act as accompanying countries.

Certainly this is a clear example of the strength irradiating from the budding Bolivarian unity for Latin American countries which is beginning to promise the realization of the dreams of their peoples.

September, 2012.

Walter Lippmann's untrue charges

Note from the editor of Links International Journal of socialist Renewal:

I am mystified by Walter Lippmann's bizarre charge that previously "LINKS would not permit comments which explicitly disagreed with Boynton". That is totally untrue, as readers can see for themselves if they visit Anthony's first article at http://links.org.au/node/2796.

I don't find it "unfortunate" that Anthony Boynton submitted his very useful articles to Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal and hope he will submit more in the future. We are of course willing to consider submissions that disagree with Anthony's analysis, but so far we have received none. Certainly, Walter has not submitted one for publication. He is welcome to do so.

WORKERS WORLD: Colombia revolutionaries announce peace talks

[Posted on behalf of Cheryl and Walter Lippmann]

Thought you might want to post this view as a contribution to the discussion of these important developments we are all watching. Thanks, Cheryl

http://www.workers.org/2012/09/17/colombia-revolutionaries-announce-peace-talks/

Colombia revolutionaries announce peace talks

By Berta Joubert-Ceci

September 17, 2012 -- The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-Peoples’ Army (FARC-EP), held a press conference in La Havana, Cuba, on Sept. 6 to announce the beginning of peace negotiations with the Colombian government.

Broadcast live almost entirely by CNNE (CNN in Spanish), the conference offered a unique opportunity to see and hear representatives of the FARC being treated for what they are — a belligerent force that represents the oppressed masses of Colombia in their search for peace with social justice.

There was no mention of words like “terrorists” or “narcoguerrilla” so pervasive in the commercial media. These are labels coined by the Pentagon to describe people’s armed movements. This concession on its own was a victory for the Colombian insurgency.

Surely the verbal change was not because CNNE suddenly became progressive and altered its position, becoming respectful of the guerrilla army. What the coverage of the conference did was show the tireless work the insurgency has accomplished for decades, trying to bring peace to the country.

The FARC, a Marxist-Leninist organization, was forced to open a guerrilla war in 1964 when the Colombian military, equipped by the United States, bombed Marquetalia, a liberated zone in the south where the communist group had taken refuge from the anticommunist attacks unleashed by the state.

Commander Mauricio Jaramillo, the FARC delegation’s leader, was accompanied by Ricardo Téllez, Andrés París, Hermes Aguilar, Sandra Ramírez and Marco León Calarcá. They all had been in Cuba for six months in conversation with Colombian government representatives.

Jaramillo started the press conference showing a video of Timoleón Jiménez, also known as Timochenko, the highest commanding officer of the FARC. In his statement, Jiménez thanked the governments of Cuba, Norway, Venezuela and Chile for their support of the negotiations. He stressed the commitment of the FARC to the peace process, which he put in the context of continued persecution by the Colombian state.

“It is clear to us,” Jiménez said, “that despite the official statements of peace, the insurgency arrived at this new attempt at reconciliation besieged, not only by the same military onslaught unleashed a decade ago, but openly compelled by their effort to take our desire for political and social change [and exchange it for] a miserable surrender. Despite these signals, the FARC-EP keeps the sincere aspiration that the regime will not try to repeat the same pattern of the past.”

President Santos had stated that his government will continue military operations against the insurgency and no cease fire will be declared. He said that only with the completion of the negotiations will the confrontation end.

After six months of initial intense “Exploratory” discussions, both parties signed the “General Agreement for the termination of the conflict and the construction of a stable and lasting peace.” The second phase will open fully in Oslo, Norway, on Oct. 8 and will continue in Cuba.

Agenda for the talks

The five points of discussion reached by both parties are: 1) comprehensive agricultural development policy, 2) political participation, 3) end of the conflict, 4) solution to the problem of illicit drugs and 5) the victims (human rights and search for the truth).

These basic yet fundamental issues are at the roots of the conflict. The FARC-EP has clearly stated that they have always tried to work toward peace, but one which will deal effectively with the problems that gave birth to the conflict.

For example, in the first point, “Agricultural Development” raises possible agrarian reform, something crucial for the attainment of justice for the people of Colombia. There are many wealthy national and particularly transnational landowning interests that oppose serious agrarian reform that would help peasants and farm workers.

In spite of all the verbal guarantees given by the Colombian government for the success of these negotiations, the talks are between enemies that are still in active war with each other. How much will does Santos’ government have to carry on the talks in a serious manner? How will foreign interests and imperialism respond? There are many enemies of this attempt at peace, including the neofascist former President of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe.

An important point made by the FARC was that these negotiations do not simply concern the interests of the government and the insurgency, but a much broader effort that must involve all the people and movements in Colombia.

In fact, a task of the progressive movements all over the world should be to support this process, a debt that is owed to the people of Colombia. And the best first step to show support is to expose the real enemies of peace and to reestablish the proper name of the Colombian insurgency: The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-Peoples’ Army, FARC-EP and the National Liberation Army, ELN.

No deadline in Bogotá-FARC peace process, rebel leader says

While Boynton scoffs at the negotiations which hopefully can lead to an end to the armed conflict in Colombia, the FARC takes the process quite seriously. It's doing all it can to use the discussions, and the expanded political space for discussion within Colombia to presents its side of the issues to the domestic and international public.

Every serious person who wants to see an end to the war in Colombia and the social progress which would be needed to bring it about should expand discussion of Colombia in General and the need to support their successful outcome.

LA JORNADA is a mass circulation independent Mexican daily newspaper. I'm told it reaches a circulation of 100,000 by a knowledgeble activist living in Mexico City. LA JORNADA supports the Cuban Revolution, but it provides a much wider range of political discussion within its pages than you'd find, for example, in the Cuban media. Trotskyist voices, for example, which are quite critical of the Cuban government, are regularly posted there.

Walter Lippmann La Habana, Cuba
=======================================================

LA JORNADA Colombia: No deadline in Bogotá-FARC peace process, rebel leader says

Timochenko accuses Santos of creating false hope

[Translation of an article from La Jornada of Mexico City for September 20. See original here.]

http://lo-de-alla.org/2012/09/colombia-no-deadline-in-bogota-farc-peace-...

Bogotá, September 19 – The top commander of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), Rodrigo Londoño, known as Timochenko, says no deadline for reaching an agreement in the near future should be placed on the peace process with the government that is to begin next month, according to statements released today.

Timochenko told the weekly Voz, organ of the communist party, that President Juan Manual Santos has made a point of saying that the process should last “months and not years,” which could create false expectations.

The guerrilla chief stated that in the secret meetings held by the two sides in Cuba between February and August there was never talk of how long the negotiations, which are to begin in Oslo, Norway, on October 18, might last.

“These are expectations that he is creating on his own, contrary in spirit and letter to what was agreed to at the exploratory meeting. It was agreed there not to fix dates, not even the word ‘months,’ so what has been expressed by the president shows us how difficult the path we are taking will be,” the head of FARC told journalist Carlos Lozano.

“It took two years to get to Havana to hold the exploratory meeting, when it was thought initially that it would be a matter of weeks. And it was not precisely because of the insurgency, a topic on which I don’t wish to give details out of respect for the commitment to withhold details for the present, although to judge by the accounts that have come out in the media our counterpart seems to have forgotten this,” he declared.

He admitted nevertheless that FARC will attend the negotiations “with great expectations” after the “positive steps” favoring dialogue taken by the government.

“(Santos) decided to take on the risks of dialogue and took positive steps in that direction. Any Colombian would say that the real risk is war and not dialogue, so we do not hesitate to accept the talks in order to seek peace. As for how we are approaching the new process, I would say that we are doing it with great expectations of reaching the end of the conflict,” he declared.

The FARC commander reiterated that his group is determined to renounce the armed struggle that began in 1964 if the peace process ends successfully.

“It would make no sense to initiate a process intended to achieve the definitive end of the conflict without considering a laying down of arms as an end point. Giving up arms amounts to abolishing the use of force, the call for any kind of violence for achieving economic or political ends. It is a farewell to arms,” he stated.

“If we managed to make that a reality in Colombia, our country would take an enormous leap forward. We are again confident that the Santos administration, and all sectors given to violence as a means to economic and political ends, will agree with us on that criterion,” he added.

On the other hand, Timochenko told Voz that the government is attempting to have the negotiations be carried out exclusively between delegates of the two sides, while FARC is in favor of including various other sectors.

“That is, [the government advocates] that the Colombian people be ignored once again, that a pact be made behind their backs on what in reality is of interest only to the transnationals, the bankers, the businessmen and the landowners. That can no longer happen in this country. The great majority should be heard and paid attention to. Our proposal aims at that,” he said.

Reply to Walter Lippmann on FARC

[Posted on behalf of Anthony Boynton]

Walter Lippman thinks that I am deeply hostile to the FARC because I presented a factual and accurate assessment of the dead end situation they are trapped in.

I think that the strategy of guerrilla warfare in Colombia was doomed from the start, even though it was not chosen willingly by most of the participants: the violence of the ruling class and its state drove tens of thousands of young men and women to fight a battle in which the deck was stacked against them.

The strategic problem for their leaders was to find a path to win the leadership of the working class and the oppressed masses in the countryside. The FARC's leadership failed, as have most other would be revolutionary leaderships in most places and most times. The results here in Colombia have been to continue a tragedy.

I think that the only viable option  for the  FARC is to make a deal which will allow them to come in from the cold. I think that this was the best option during every earlier peace proceess, too -- even though the FARC surely would have had to pay a high price. In the end, the FARC has paid a far higher price by losing the prestige and popular support it once enjoyed in Colombia.

The cold war generation of the left failed -- and here is not the place for a complete analysis of the why's and  hows -- but our gneeration's most important task is to make that analysis and pass it on to the rising new 21st centruy left so that they can stand on our shoulders and  so that they can avoid, rather than repeat, our mistakes. To do this we have to be clear eyed and stop living in the fog of past romanticism like Walter.

FARC-EP/ELN - Joint political statement

Here we can see how the two leading armed groups on the
revolutionary left in Colombia are trying to use this
significant conjuncture to raise political consciousness
and generate public discussion of unresolved social and
political contradictions within Colombian society.

Quite the opposite of the drug-dealing terrorists which
the FARC and ELN are portrayed by the capitalist media in
most of the world, and by some on the political left, we
see in the FARC-ELN statement an serious effort to open
political discussion where it has been heretofore closed.

Time will tell how successful this effort is, but it is
one which those who want to see peace in Colombia should
welcome with enthusiasm. War is the continuatin of politics
by other means. And politics is, of course, the continuation
of war by other means. Politics is better, to the extent it
is possible, as this Joint Statement attempts to do.

This is shown by the publicity in the Colombian media to
statements by the FARC, such as Timochenko's recent note
about Uribe's efforts to undermine the negotiations.
<http://www.colombiareports.com/colombia-news/peace-talks/26403-uribe-boycotting-peace-process-farc.html>

Fidel Castro wrote a book quite critical of the FARC not
long ago (2008) He disagreed with them on the taking and
holding of hostages, and they've stopped taking hostages.

Cuba has participated actively as an honest broker in the
negotiation process which has been going on within Colombia.
That's why the Santos administration and the FARC will hold
their negotiations here in Havana, which Santos visited
earlier this year, 2012.

The massive victory of Hugo Chavez in Sunday's election in
in Venezuela strengthens the forces seeking a resolution
of the country's profound social contradictions. Also, Juan
Manuel Santos, Colombia's President, congratulated Chavez
on his victory. Election monitors in Venezuela included
Colombian politician and peace leader Piedad Cordoba as
well as Danny Glover, Rigoberta Menchu, James Early and
former US President Jimmy Carter among many others.

<http://www.colombiareports.com/colombia-

<http://www.colombiareports.com/colombia-news/peace-talks/26430-chavez-win-helps-peace-process-farc.html>

Please post this to the LINKS page by Anthony Boynton as
a contribution to the discussion. Thanks.


Walter Lippmann
Havana, Cuba
October 9, 2012
==============================
=======================================
From: Cheryl <clabash@pipeline.com>
To: CubaNews@yahoogroups.com
Subject: [CubaNews] Colombia: FARC-EP/ELN - Joint political statement
Date: Oct 6, 2012 8:34 PM

Colombia: Joint political statement

Translated by John Catalinotto

The National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of
Colombia, People's Army (FARC-EP), inspired by the deepest feelings of
brotherhood, solidarity and comradeship, with optimism and high morale
of combat, tightly bound together in hope of revolutionary change, have
met to discuss the national and international political situation, the
problems of war and peace in Colombia and to promote the process of
unity that we have been forging step by step since 2009, with the goal
of bringing ideas and actions that will permit us to come together with
the people to confront the oligarchy and imperialism, who impose
exploitation and misery on our country.

We are unyielding in our determination to continue the search for peace
in Colombia and the continent, which means the establishment of true
democracy, popular sovereignty, social justice and freedom.

We carried out this meeting while the deepest crisis is developing
within the world capitalist system, characterized by an unbounded race
to wars of invasion, plunder and overexploitation of the resources of
nature, and more precarious working conditions that condemn millions of
human beings to hunger and death on a planet subjected to the greed of
imperialism and headed into chaos and destruction.

In our country the calamities generated by this system of inhuman
super-exploitation and exclusion of the poorest people has exacerbated
social inequalities and deepened class confrontation to a dimension
never seen before, This arises directly from the massive and sustained
implementation of neoliberal policies favoring large financial groups
and transnational corporations, to the detriment of the national majority.

Within the international panorama of a systemic crisis of capital, which
shows its multiple faces of a financial, economic, environmental, urban,
energy, military, political, institutional, moral and cultural meltdown,
Colombia is configured as a country whose economy is pushed to its
lowest level and dominated by finance capital.

Those holding power have brought about this condition to allow the
looting, which means unbounded extraction, financial speculation and the
theft of natural resources. Millions of our compatriots have been hurled
into misery and war, imposed by elites to quiet the discontent of the
masses against this iniquity.

The government of Juan Manuel Santos was established to ensure the
continuity of plans for the dispossession by plunder that imperialism
imposes on the Colombian people. A new variety of Capital, accompanied
by new legal provisions and militarist dispositions on security and
defense arising from the old National Security Doctrine and state
terrorism, has been strengthened in our country so as to shield the
"rights" of capital and the welfare of the rich at the expense of the
workers and the poorest people. Taking shape within this perspective is
the new phase of dispossession of lands, which now masquerades under the
false name of restitution. In practice, new legions of peasants,
indigenous people, and ordinary people in general have now joined the
millions of displaced persons and victims of the successive stages of
plunder sponsored by the State; these people, who have had their land
taken from them or have been denied land through misleading legal
procedures, are further increasing the total living in poverty and
destitution that place Colombia in third place of the most unequal
countries in the world.

This is the cruel result of investor security and prosperity that
President Juan Manuel Santos Is bragging about, while still imprisoning,
killing and repressing opponents.

Faced with this reality there can be no other road for revolutionaries
except unity and struggle, mass action in the streets, popular uprising
in the countryside and cities, challenging the criminalization of
protest and demanding from the government real actions to make peace,
which can be nothing else than solutions to social and political
problems faced by the majority, problems brought on by the state
terrorism of the ruling caste, whose most warlike tendencies have
determined the destiny of the country during the last decade.

It is not with demagoguery and threats of repression and more war that
they will end the conflict. No more buying of military equipment or
handing over the country to the Pentagon will bring peace, no
warmongering and scorched earth plans, such as the "Patriotic Plan" or
"Sword of Honor" will bring about the reconciliation of Colombians. Even
less will giving an ultimatum to the insurgency, starting from the vain
idea that peace would be the product of a chimerical military victory by
the regime that brings the insurgency to its knees, exhausted and
demobilized, before that absurdly named legal framework for peace.

Our desire for peace lies in the conviction that the fate of Colombia
cannot be dependent on the loathsome interests of the oligarchy. The
political and social participation and full decision of the people are a
necessity and an inevitable requirement. Thus the unity and mobilization
of the people in favor of structural changes to build peace based on
justice are the real key to his conquest.

With firm steps of unity in thought and action, fraternally,

Central Command of the National Liberation Army (ELN)
Secretariat of the Central Joint Chiefs of the Revolutionary Armed
Forces of Colombia-People's Army.

Mountains of Colombia, September 2012

Courtesy of Tlaxcala
Source: http://tlaxcala-int.org/article.asp?reference=8294
Publication date of original article: 25/09/2012
URL of this page: http://www.tlaxcala-int.org/article.asp?reference=8321

Colombia marches for 'week of indignation'

COLOMBIA REPORTS, from which this is taken, is not a leftist or revolutionary news source.

A TV report here in Cuba announces that the march in Bogota was attacked by the police. I'll provide more details as they arrive.

An rise in the politicalization of Colombian society as a whole appears to be unfolding, a prospect which must terrify all of those forces invested in maintaining the militarization of Colombian society. Active support for the peace process is vital at this time.

To imagine there's nothing more than the all- but-defeated FARC-EP versus the administration of Juan Manuel Santos is to miss the point of what's unfolding right now in Colombia today.

Thank you,

Walter Lippmann Havana, Cuba October 12, 2012
=============================================
COLOMBIA REPORTS Colombia marches for 'week of indignation' Friday, 12 October 2012 08:26 Joey O'Gorman

Marches take place throughout Colombia over the next days as part of the "week of indignation," organized by social sectors to raise government awareness of how the armed conflict has affected them and to demand an active role in the upcoming peace talks.

Peasant associations from all over Colombia declared that they backed the peace process between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrilla group which will formally start in Norway's capital Oslo next week, however the marchers are seeking to participate in the peace process, as they say the political and economic nature of the dialogues affects them directly.

On Saturday marches organized by left-wing movement the Patriotic March and other social sectors will take place simultaneously around the country in support of the peace process as part of the "week of indignation," which started on Monday and has affected 25 of Colombia's 32 departments with protests and marches.

In Bogota 116 popular organizations will congregate in different parts of the city and intend to converge in the capital city's central Plaza Bolivar.

"The government has not heard the cry of social organizations ... the government has refused these social and popular organizations a presence at the round table ... where will civil society be represented?" said Carlos Lozano, spokesperson for the left-wing Patriotic March movement.

Piedad Cordoba

Boynton never mentions Piedad Cordoba, who is also
a very prominent national Colombian political figure
actively involved in helping to free hostages from
the FARC and campaigning for peace in the country.
She was excluded from her elected position as a
Senator in Colombia because of her anti-war stand.

It seemed un-necessary to post James Petras long
commentary since he's basically saying there is
no chance whatsoever for peace in Colombia.

Give Peace a Chance, including in Colombia.

Thanks,

Walter Lippmann
Havana, Cuba
================================

In Colombia the Winds of Peace Are Blowing: Interview with Piedad Córdoba
Alex Sierra R. Americas Program. October 10, 2012

Following President Juan Manual Santos’s August 27 announcement that exploratory talks were underway with the FARC to put an end to Colombia’s armed conflict, the organization “Colombians for Peace” issued a proposal for achieving peace from the perspective of civil society. The Americas Program was present and interviewed one of the spokeswomen, social and political leader Piedad Córdoba, about this new and, hopefully, definitive peace process.

In recent months, there have been rumors about possible talks between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Finally President Juan Manual Santos put an end to speculation with a brief communique in which he acknowledged the existence of “exploratory talks with the FARC” and the possibility that guerrillas from the National Liberation Army (ELN) would also be interested in participating in negotiations to end the violence.

President Santos stated that the government’s participation in a peace process must be based on three guiding principles: 1) it must learn from past mistakes to avoid repeating them; 2) any peace process must lead to the end of conflict, not prolong it; and 3) military presence and operations would continue “in every centimeter of national territory.”

That last principle was clearly an allusion to the unsuccessful peace process carried out in 1998 during the administration of Andrés Pastrana. At that time, the government conceded a “zona de distensión” [demilitarized zone] to facilitate negotiations, but the practical result was that the FARC built up its military strength.

Meanwhile, the newspaper El Espectador revealed that the government and the FARC have been planning talks for some time. A meeting took place in Havana, which was attended by a representative of the FARC, a high-level presidential advisor and the president’s brother. It was reported that Venezuela and Chile would be the first guarantors of the peace process and that talks would take place in Cuba and Norway.

The president’s announcement of an eventual peace process is significant. It addresses a demand from many sectors of the country, especially those suffering the cruelties of war, for a politically negotiated, peaceful end to Colombia’s many years of armed conflict. The citizens’ organization Colombians for Peace (CCP) has taken up the call for peace. CCP has persistently tried to bring about peace, in opposition to a strategy of military defeat and annihilation. CCP has also been recognized for mediating the release of politicians, police, members of the armed forces, and, most recently, a French journalist held hostage by the FARC; some of the hostages had been held for many years. This fact alone makes the group indispensable in any upcoming talks between the government and the guerrillas.

A serious risk to a process that is still in the early stages is the threat of retaliation from the enemies of peace. Such retaliation is likely to take the form of the typical dirty war, attacks on social leaders, disappearances, and acts designed to undermine citizen hopes of a peaceful solution. As this article went to press, just days after the exploratory conversations were confirmed, two violent explosions took place in the cities of Calí and Popayán; there is no clear indication as to who was responsible.

Civil Society’s Peace Proposal

In the wake of the president’s announcement, Colombians for Peace presented a proposal called “Peace Held Hostage: The Need for Urgent Change” at a press conference on August 29. The document reflects the concerns of many civil society organizations throughout the country: campesinos, students, indigenous, workers, organizations of victims of violence, academics and other social sectors who seek to be part of a broad-based negotiating table.

It emphasizes that the conflict has roots in longstanding, unresolved structural problems, and says it is time to look at “the reality of the country without omissions and without falsehoods” and recognize that the conflict is a consequence of a complex social situation. Evidence of that complexity can be found in an economic model that has made Colombia one of the most unequal societies on the planet, in high levels of corruption, a crisis in the administration of justice, impunity in serious human rights cases involving public security forces; and connections between paramilitaries and political leaders, among other factors.

The document proposes beginning with the recognition that “the country is at a crossroads that throws into question the whole political process and whether the construction of true democracy is possible.” The proposal acknowledges the efforts of President Santos in seeking negotiations with the guerrillas and agrees with the president that one of the guiding principles of the process must be to learn from errors that caused previous attempts at negotiating a peace agreement to fail.

The last peace process with the FARC came under severe questioning from the right, and was used to justify the hardline military strategy pursued by the government of Alvaro Uribe. From 2002 to 2011 that strategy cost at least 75,000 lives as a direct result of armed conflict, of the 186,524 violent deaths registered in Colombia during the period, according to official figures from the Colombian Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Science. The obvious question is whether all this bloodshed doesn’t make crystal clear the need for a new hope for peace.

CCP says that one of the first steps in these preliminary negotiations must be a change in language: This means recognizing the political existence of the adversary and extending bridges between opposing positions that allow for the vindication of politics over violent actions and the threat of arms from both sides. Moreover, there is a serious threat that starting negotiations without a bilateral ceasefire could lead to violations of international law from both sides.

One aspect of the proposal, which no doubt will be among the most contentious, is the need for a legal framework for transitional justice that is more ambitious than the legislation recently approved by the Senate known as the “Legal Framework for Peace”. According to Colombians for Peace, the recent law was not designed as the product of consensus or negotiations between the two parties. In addition, it supposedly does not recognize political crimes and related offense, which is essential for those who want to disarm but do not want to be treated as “terrorists”. No doubt this is a subject for broad debate, not only in Colombia, but in all armed conflicts, and implies sacrifices and balancing peace in exchange for commitments, truth, and pardon.

In summary, Colombians for Peace considers it crucial to support the exploratory talks, to rigorously respect international humanitarian law in the process of “humanizing the war”, “to make sure that the rights of political prisoners are respected by applying national and international standards, to pave the way for an efficient transitional justice system that accepts and protects the idea of political struggles. Alliances must be made to counteract the powerful diatribe of the enemies of peace; a new political and legal framework must be advanced, one that is based on social consensus and transformation with the participation of multiple voices.”

Colombians for Peace also called for a bilateral ceasefire to prevent further militarization; avoid a humanitarian crisis, and put a stop to paramilitarism as a response to negotiations, particularly on the part of those with economic interests in seizing land.

Piedad Córdoba Speaks

Social and political leader Piedad Cordoba responded to questions from the Americas Program about peace talks between FARC and ELN guerrillas and the Colombian government. The following is excerpted from her remarks during the press conference as well as our interview with her after the release of the document “Peace Held Hostage: The Need for Urgent Change.”

Americas Program (AP): As a representative of civil society, what guarantees are you asking from the government and those involved in the conflict on behalf of regional leaders, who are speaking out and mobilizing around this proposal?

Piedad Córdoba: I think you have to ask the Colombian government for guarantees, and that starts with language. Because if the government proposes something as important as peace talks and later uses the language of war, it puts at risk everything that those who have been working for peace have accomplished so far. We can’t just ask the rebels for guarantees; the Colombian State is the one that has to give the guarantee, and, obviously, request and demand of the rebels that they don’t involve civil society and the community in general [in the conflict].

For example, I am taking advantage of this opportunity to tell the president of the republic to withdraw military bases from La Julia, in La Uribe [Department of Mena], where one of the [army] bunkers is located exactly 20 meters from primary and secondary school. This has been a source of lot of conflict for the community in the region.

You have to be very clear and respectful about all this. There is a first phase that has to do with the exploratory talks, that has to do with discussion, in which the government has already agreed with the rebels as to how they are going to go forward [negotiations], where they are going to proceed and the government will announce the agreements that it has made with the rebels. What we want is for society and people in general to also be able to contribute, to be part of the discussion about the negotiations.

The decision about who accompanies [the talks] will be made by the FARC, the ELN, and the government in due time, and I think that … it’s not about whether I am or am not there. I think we already are and we have been since we began to work on freeing those held captive, the whole struggle for humanitarian exchanges, women for peace in the world, the various declarations we made, writing letters, prison visits; we even reached an agreement with the government to start that in the coming days.

Now some members of Colombians for Peace are involved in this, but I don’t think it’s a form of pressure nor a correct way to begin to influence government decisions. We have earned a space, an enormously strong working position. We have been doing this, traveling throughout the country. You remember the uproar that took place in Cauca for what I said about the withdrawal of military bases. I imagine that there will also be reactions to what I said two days ago in La Julia that go beyond la Uribe [Department of Meta]. But this has to do with [your question about] about protecting civilians from the conflict. That’s our job. Moreover, we are doing it with full responsibility, contributing, being bold, proposing alternatives, and I think we are satisfied with that.

We are satisfied if the government has decided to name—I don’t know if it’s true or not– Luís Eduardo (Lucho) Garzón [the former mayor of Bogotá], to propose that people are going to accompanying the talks in Havana or wherever. For us that’s good, because what we want is peace, not the limelight or to create our own agendas. But as organizations, yes, we are going to insist on the possibility of having our proposals on the negotiating table.

AP: How do you make this peace process successful? You state that if the structural causes of the conflict are not resolved, surely this will end up as just one more peace process.

Piedad Córdoba: Well, I think the way to make it successful is to do what we are doing right now, constantly working, and meeting. Besides, there’s something else that’s important: I don’t think you create peace by sitting back comfortably in an easy chair, offering opinions and criticizing. When you travel throughout the country, that’s where your agenda comes from.

We all start from that basis–and the document says it—that you can’t go back and repeat past errors. One of those errors, the most important, was not having agreed to a bilateral ceasefire at the time and then creating a double agenda: One wing building up for war and the other sending a message about the possibility of peace. But at the same time there’s a third mistake that can’t be repeated again, which is that people, the nation, civil society, which we are all part of, cannot be excluded. And we’re going to work to earn our space and, however, difficult it may be, not allow the talks to stop.

AP: In recent months several human rights organizations have reported an increase in so-called emerging paramilitary gangs in several regions of the country. How can we ensure that not having a repeat of the infamous Unión Patriótica phenomenon [leftist political movement violently annihilated after the peace process began during the administration of conservative Belisario Betancourt in 1985] be one of the tenets of the negotiations?

Piedad Córdoba: I think that the country and the world in general do not want to see it happen again, not only the exclusion, but also the intimidation of those of us who are working for peace. We had a chance to ask for an appointment with UNASUR …to bring up our concerns not only as “Marcha Patriótica” [recently created Colombian political and social movement], but also as organizations in search of a political solution.

I don’t think it can be repeated [the genocide of the Unión Patriótica]. In the first place because we aren’t going to let ourselves get killed so easily. It’s not that we are going to buy rifles or bulletproof vests, but that we have a moral and ethical force in this country to rise above those who think that we should disappear.

In the second place, because our itinerary for the country, our way of “walking the talk,” means we rely on the work of the communities to denounce what’s wrong and support the work, but at the same time appealing to the international community. We are no different from those who today can talk about having peace; we are the same. The difference is that, despite the difficulties, we have continuously been searching for peace negotiations.

AP: Piedad, is there hope for peace in this country at this moment?

Piedad Córdoba: I think so, but it’s a hope that has to be filled with content, hope in the work that has yet to be done, in concrete possibilities of building agendas. Above all because it gives breathing room to the popular movement that has been organizing itself in this country for some time.

AP: Several years ago you were kidnapped by Carlos Castaño, the top paramilitary leader in Colombia. Recalling that terrible episode that almost cost you your life, what arguments for peace in the country helped save your life, and remain valid at this time?

Piedad Córdoba: I think that the most important thing in life is the common thread that connects your actions: coherence, the commitment that is constant. What brings us to search for peace, for a political solution, is precisely the desire to put an end to such a shameful war. It is incredible that a country said to be thriving is not capable of resolving the differences that we have as a country, as a society, as a political entity.

AP: What do you think about the fact that the same Inspector General who barred you from holding office as senator, as Magistrate of the Council of State reversed the disciplinary sanction against General Mauricio Santoy. [Santoy was chief of security for President Uribe from 2002 to 2006. In August he pleaded guilty in a Virginia federal court to charges of aiding a drug-trafficking paramilitary organization classified by the U.S. as a terrorist organization. In 2010 Córdoba was removed from her senate seat and barred from holding office for 18 years for alleged ties to the FARC]

Piedad Córdoba: What the inspector general did with me was all a show, it’s a show he’s putting on because everyone knows that he was friends with all those people on the right, that from his position in the legal system he protected them, all their felonies, and now he wants to clean up his act to stay in the Office of the Inspector General. Hopefully Congress is aware that the worst thing they could do is re-elect him because he is going to be a total enemy of peace.

AP: What should the role of the inspector general be in an eventual peace process?

Piedad Córdoba: The role it has to play according to the constitution. [The Procuraduría or Office of the Inspector General is the highest office of the Ministerio Público, which, according to Article 118 of the Colombian Constitution, is responsible for “the safeguarding and promotion of human rights, the protection of the public interest and monitoring the official conduct of those who hold public office”].

AP: What message would you send to those who have persecuted and stigmatized you if you were sitting with them at a negotiating table?

Piedad Córdoba: I think the fundamental message is that there is space for discussion and debate in a civilized manner, and that what we are trying to do is resurrect politics, not consolidate the war that the policies of the right have forced on us for the past 15 years.

Alex Sierra R. is an anthropologist who has also worked as an independent investigator and consultant on issues such as human rights and international cooperation efforts for development and public policy in Colombia. He has worked in active conflict zones and with vulnerable communities in his country for the last 12 years. He is a monthly columnist with the Americas Program www.cipamericas.org.

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