Interview with Rafael Correa, President of Ecuador
Gorka Castillo - Público
In an interview with Público, the Ecuadoran head of state accuses the Colombian government of lying, and its president, Álvaro Uribe, of links with paramilitaries.
Ecuador’s president doesn’t mince words. Over an hour’s interview he analyzed the Latin American political situation and didn’t hide the wound opened by Colombia that will take some time to heal.
The British writer Richard Gott considers Colombia to be the main element in the region’s instability. Do you share his view?
This is nothing new, rather something that goes way back. Colombia is the only country that has paramilitaries, guerrillas, drug traffickers, extensive coca cultivation and extensive zones of the country uncontrolled by the state. Paramilitarism and narco-politics doesn’t exist in Ecuador. Nor do we cultivate coca. Those are exclusively Colombian terms. I say this regretfully because [the Colombians] are our brothers, but Colombia today is the focus of the greatest instability that exists in Latin America and this hurts all of us.
Do you wish to say that the Colombian government’s image in Latin America is not a good one?
Uribe’s government is completely discredited. We’ve already pointed out his lies; now no-one believes him.
In Europe it’s not seen that way.
It’s true that in the European Union as much as the United States, the backing of his lies by some powerful media has harmed us and for that reason, very soon, I will undertake a tour of Europe to let people know about Ecuador and show that we are a decent government and a peaceful land. What’s problematic is on the other side of the border. We’re victims of the Colombian conflict. We’re not perpetrators nor are we accomplices.
You give the impression that a media war has been launched.
It’s not that I’m giving that impression, it’s that it’s a fact. We know with whom we are dealing; with a militaristic country, with a president who has an imperfect past, with enormous support from foreign intelligence agencies and with an impressive propaganda machine. We have faith that the truth and justice will prevail. We’ve already achieved that in Latin America, where Colombia has been soundly defeated politically, diplomatically and informationally.
What drives Colombia to accuse its neighboring countries of collaboration with the FARC?
Uribe’s militaristic policies began when he became president. First in contradicting the strategy of his predecessor, Andrés Pastrana, who came to embrace Manuel Marulanda. But in came Uribe with the hard line and he wanted us all to do the same. He’s like the little emperor who follows his boss’s dictates. It’s obvious that his political and economic power is based on the struggle against the FARC. Peace is not convenient for Uribe because fighting guerrillas gives the Colombian electorate a secure feeling. What is troubling is that this conflict is spilling over the borders.
But before the bombing on March 1, relations between the two countries was ruled by respect.
Uribe has always shown a lack of respect toward Ecuador. So much so that our territory continues to be fumigated with glyphosate and to the point of frequently violating our airspace with their planes. Anyway, as to the March 1 bombing, there’s a question that still remains unanswered.
They had Raúl Reyes’ group under their control when they could still be found on Colombian soil. Why did they wait until they passed over to Ecuador to kill them?
Was it by any chance done in order to involve Ecuador in a conflict that is not theirs? Was it not a matter of intimidation? Could it have been to force us to participate in Plan Colombia? What Uribe didn’t count on was our response, nor the condemnation he received from the countries in the OAS. The plan failed because we didn’t fall for it.
During the meeting of the Rio Group in Santo Domingo, you showed your hands to Uribe and told him to take a good look at them because they are clean and without blood. What were you referring to?
Uribe has tried to involve us, not only my government, but also the Armed Forces, as supporters of the FARC. Later he alleged that my presidential campaign had been financed by the guerrillas. It’s disgraceful. Where does this gentleman get off, after having violating every international law, accusing us of support for guerrilla groups whose actions we’ve said a thousand times we reject; it’s insulting. That’s why I told him to look at my hands. Just to highlight the contradiction with Uribe’s position, which has been so scandalously related to drug trafficking. His warmongering policy is not going to end the conflict, instead it will exacerbate it and he’s going to leave thousands dead as a result. My hands are clean and bloodless. That’s something Uribe cannot say.
However they continue to claim that you were aware of the FARC’s activities in your territory. They say that you were warned as many as 16 times of guerrilla bases in your territory, and were ignored. Is it true?
This is an unbelievable infamy. All my orders are on record. It’s all so coarse and ridiculous that we’ve decided it’s not worth answering. It’s just that we don’t know why he does it. Just when relations improve with him, something strange happens and you get stabbed in the back. Something in his head’s not working right.
How is it possible that this climate of tension has been reached if at the end of the Rio Group meeting, you managed to shake hands?
That’s Álvaro Uribe Vélez. Something’s wrong. His behavior is terribly psychotic.
Is it true that Reyes had contacted the French in order to negotiate the liberation of Ingrid Betancourt, when he was bombed?
Uribe doesn’t want peace, nor does he want hostages released, because Betancourt is a potential presidential candidate. It’s true that we’d known that contact would be made in a neutral third country in order to liberate them later on Ecuadoran soil. President Chávez also asked me if we could receive hostages in our territory because a transfer over the Colombian-Venezuelan border had become very dangerous. We were in the middle of that process. Those movements toward liberation of the hostages that the guerrillas entrusted to Reyes were precisely the reason Reyes was destroyed.
Ecuador has just denounced Colombia before the Hague Tribunal for illegal spraying on its territory.
The verdict will still take many years but we hope that a stiff sentence will be handed down to force Bogotá to suspend the aerial glyphosate spraying they’ve been doing since 2006. These fumigations have caused Ecuadoran farmers on the border to leave their homes, lose their crops, their income, and have caused serious illnesses, even death. However, do you know what the Colombian government’s reaction has been up until today? It’s to say that our demand that the spraying cease coincides with the FARC’s pleas. It’s shameful.
The crisis has revealed huge cracks in the Ecuadoran intelligence system that have caused military leadership to be relieved of its duties. What reforms should it undertake?
Something serious is going on with our intelligence services. We still don’t have all the firm data but we can say that we have been infiltrated by the CIA and this agency works for Colombia.
There are some who criticize you for being naive in having waited so long to change the military leadership, with its loyalties to the prior regime.
They’re probably right. And also for having trusted Bogotá. You might say that we underestimated the threat of external attack once things had been resolved with Perú and we had good relations with Colombia. But we underestimated the fact that Uribe was there.
Is it true that Ecuador draws its line with the FARC and not with Colombia?
We have a jungle border with 13 posts. Colombia only has two, when the guerrilla conflict is theirs. Why? Because it hopes that we will put them to death. Despite this, we have 11,000 men deployed which costs the state coffers around $100 million annually. Last year 13 soldiers died in a war that is not ours and on top of that we have to swallow the insolence of Álvaro Uribe Vélez. Bogotá has around 170,000 square kilometers where its army cannot go. Against this situation, I repeat that we don’t limit ourselves with Colombia, we limit ourselves with the FARC.
What has been the response of the Socialist government to the political crisis?
It’s been a little ambiguous. I am very appreciative of the Socialist government and of President Zapatero, but his statement was extremely vague, trying to please both sides when we were the ones attacked. The explanation that we were given was that he was in the final stretch of his electoral campaign. We understand that but we expect something more of the Spanish government. God willing, the hundred odd transnational businesses operating in Colombia are not being pressured, because in this kind of affair the principles and convictions that we share with President Zapatero are more important. We agree that international law should always prevail.
Are you willing to be a mediator with the FARC to achieve a humanitarian exchange?
I’ve said this a thousand times to President Álvaro Uribe: the Colombian people can count on Ecuador to resolve this civil war that’s been bleeding it dry for so many decades. That’s what we were trying to do before the attack. However, they don’t want to resolve it. The campaign against Ecuador from Bogotá shows that. We don’t reject the theory that they want to destabilize us for not following Washington’s policies. Neither do we rule out that it may be a strategy to put a puppet government in Quito that would accept Plan Colombia and permit the Manta airbase to continue operating beyond 2009, when the contract expires.
Are you thinking of eliminating the concessions for resource extraction by large companies?
The new Constitution that is now being debated in the Constituent Assembly is part of a new legal framework for this issue. We will change the law made by those indescribable bureaucrats at the World Bank, that was such a disaster. It managed to grant more than 4,000 concessions, of which 70% never even managed to start any operation whatsoever. The contracts will be renegotiated. A very short time ago we met with Repsol. The interest is mutual. As long as the workers and the environment are respected and the state is paid the taxes it is owed, there will not be problems and the projects will be profitable. The oil belongs to the state, and we want the contracts to be signed for services rendered.
What measures are being directed toward immigrants so that they do not feel so uprooted?
On reaching the presidency, our government created an immigration ministry. We are in the process of strengthening our embassies and consulates, especially in Spain, because we believe that Ecuadoran migration is already the country’s fifth region. We have just adopted a provision of $9 million for Plan Return (a program of tax exemption so that those who return to the country may do so with their goods and housing subsidies). We are also creating a Migrant’s Bank. At the political level I will say that there are six immigrant representatives in the Constituent Assembly for the first time in its history.
The Guerrilla in Colombia: An Interview with Rodrigo Granda, Member of the FARC-EP International Commission
Rogrigo Granda interviewed by Jean Batou
Rodrigo Granda is a member of and the leading international spokesperson for the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejército del Pueblo, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC–EP). His name gained global prominence in December 2004 when he was kidnapped in Venezuela and handed over to Colombian authorities by a number of Venezuelan National Guard soldiers seeking a reward placed on his head by the Colombian government. At the time of his capture Granda was attending a meeting of the Bolivarian Peoples Movements in Caracas. Granda’s kidnapping in Venezuela at the instigation of the Colombian government created an international dispute between Venezuela and Colombia. He was released in 2007 in response to pressures exerted on the Colombian government by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
The FARC–EP describes itself as a Marxist revolutionary people’s movement and has been in an armed conflict with the Colombian regime since 1964. It is the largest revolutionary force in the country (the other guerilla group is the smaller ELN or National Liberation Army). At any given time it controls much of the country, although the mainly rural regions under its control vary. In 1984 the FARC–EP agreed to a truce and formed an organized political wing called the Patriotic Union (UP), which was to engage in electoral politics. The UP received such widespread support that the Colombian ruling class panicked and unleashed its death squads, assassinating thousands of UP members and drowning the truce in blood.
Today Columbia is ruled by what has been called a “genocidal democracy” (see Javier Giraldo, Columbia: The Genocidal Democracy, Common Courage, 1996). “The richest 1 percent of the population controls 45 percent of the wealth, while half of the farmland is held by thirty-seven large landholders.” The majority of the population subsists on less than 3 percent of the arable land, while 3 percent owns more than 70 percent of that land (James J. Brittain, “The FARC–EP in Colombia,” Monthly Review, September 2005). Columbia is the dominant source of cocaine in the world. Large parts of the country are dominated by drug lords with their paramilitary armies with which the government is closely associated. Columbian President Álvaro Uribe is himself linked to drug traffickers, including members of his own family.
In the 1990s under the Clinton administration “Plan Colombia” was introduced whereby the United States provided massive military aid and direct “special operations” support to Colombia aimed at the FARC–EP, under the cover of an anti-narcotics operation. During the Bush administration, Washington replaced this with “Plan Patriota,” carried out in cooperation with Uribe’s government, under the rubric of which the United States has intensified its war on the FARC–EP as part of the so-called War on Terrorism. In 2001–02 the United States, followed by its allies in the European Union, officially designated the FARC–EP as a “terrorist” organization. However, the dominant reality in Colombia is state/paramilitary terrorism. As part of the stepped-up repressive campaign in the Bush/Uribe period the paramilitaries in league with the Columbian military forces committed atrocities such as burning children alive and using chainsaws on others while still alive (see James J. Brittain, “Run, Fight or Die in Colombia: The Paramilitaries Burned Wayuu Children Alive and Killed Others with Chainsaws,” Counterpunch, March 12–13, 2005, http://www.counterpunch.org/brittain03122005.html). Meanwhile, Bogotá and Washington continue to use chemical fumigants on large parts of the country, ostensibly aimed at coca eradication, but also as a form of chemical warfare.
An issue of growing international concern has been the humanitarian exchange of prisoners/hostages taken by the two sides in the war. In June 2007, during negotiations on the release of twelve Colombian lawmakers held by the FARC–EP, a counterinsurgency attack on the FARC–EP encampment where these prisoners were being held was carried out and eleven of the lawmakers were killed in the crossfire. The FARC–EP was accused by Bogotá and Washington of having “murdered” the captives although evidence on the ground seemed to confirm the FARC–EP’s story that the death of the prisoners was unintended (see Inter Press Service News Agency, “Columbia: Pawns of War—The Hostage Crisis,” November 2, 2007, http://ipsnews.net/news.asp
In fall 2007 Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez became increasingly active in negotiations for the release of FARC–EP captives, bringing in a number of important international figures to support the effort, such as U.S. filmmaker Oliver Stone. This led eventually to the release in January 2008 of two high-level prisoners held by FARC–EP. Chávez followed up his success in this regard with a demand that the FARC–EP (and also the smaller ELN) be designated as a “real army” with political objectives and not a “terrorist” organization; that it be accorded “belligerent status” in international law. This would then facilitate further releases of prisoners on both sides. His call was supported by the Venezuelan Assembly and Ecuador but rejected by the United States, the Colombian government, and the European Union. The according of belligerent status to the FARC–EP would mean that both the Colombian military and the FARC–EP would have to conform to the Geneva Conventions on warfare and the treatment of prisoners. It would also result in increased pressure for peace negotiations on both sides. Both Washington and Bogotá are therefore adamantly opposed to any such change in the international designation of the FARC–EP as a “terrorist” organization.—Ed.
Jean Batou: The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia–Ejército del Pueblo, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia–People’s Army (FARC–EP) looks upon itself as a politico-military movement waging a social/insurrectional war against the Colombian state. As such, the FARC–EP takes prisoner police officers, soldiers, officials, and mercenaries. The FARC–EP has also decided to kidnap civilians representing the Colombian state apparatus. In short, it also kidnaps civilians, the release of whom depends upon payment of a ransom. While no one can argue with an army taking its armed adversaries prisoner, how can the FARC–EP justify taking civilians captive? Does the FARC–EP not realize that such practices tend to isolate it from broad swathes of antigovernment public opinion in Colombia?
Rodrigo Granda: The FARC–EP is indeed a politico-military movement making use of the inalienable right to rebel against a state that practices paper democracy. What we are doing is responding to a war imposed on us from the highest echelons of power in Colombia. State terrorism has been wielded against us and our people as a method of extermination for decades.
Of course, it is common knowledge, that war of this kind needs funding. This war was forced on us by Colombia’s rich, so they are the ones that have to finance the war they unleashed. That’s why the FARC–EP holds people for whom a monetary payment is collected, which is really a tax. This money is set aside to maintain the apparatus of the people’s war.
As you may know, we talk about constructing a new power, a new state. If in Switzerland, France, or the United States someone ducks out of their duty of paying taxes, then that person has to go to jail. The new state we are shaping has fixed the payment of a peace tax. That means that any individual or corporate body, and any foreign companies operating in Colombia and making profits of over a million dollars a year, have to pay a peace tax equivalent to 10 percent of these profits. Debtors are told they have to enter into dialogue with those who manage the FARC–EP’s finances to pay this sum. If they fail to do so, of course, these people will be arrested and taken to prison until they pay and fulfill their obligations toward those of us who are shouldering the responsibility of the new state, constructed and led by the FARC–EP, acting as the People’s Army.
Now, within the context of military operations some officers, noncommissioned officers, policemen, and soldiers do fall into the hands of the FARC–EP and some are currently being held as prisoners of war. Likewise, during our confrontations with the Colombian state some prisoners from our side have fallen into enemy hands and, following summary rigged trials, they are now serving extremely long sentences in different jails across the country. Unfortunately, this is par for the course during a war. At any rate, amid the extremely acute conflict taking place in Colombia it is possible that some detentions might not, on the whole, be looked upon by the population in a favorable light. But we believe that, by making Law 002 public, according to which certain economically powerful individuals and entities have to pay a peace tax, we have already given them warning and they also have the option to discuss and resolve their situation and to settle up within the time period set. If we can ensure this is complied with then the number of detentions will certainly tail off as a result.
As for whether this divides us from the civil population...it may have some effect on that, but it probably is not crucial, because large sectors of the Colombian population are fully aware that, in general, the FARC–EP only arrests people whose economic situation is pretty comfortable. There is no way this is about arresting people for the sake of arresting them.
Prisoners of war are kept for the purposes of humanitarian trade-offs, which we are hoping to carry out very soon. Let’s not forget that in Colombia the public prosecutor’s office and the specialist judges impose heavy sentences on many guerrilla fighters (who are lucky enough not to have been killed during their capture), sentences that will keep them in prison practically for life, because justice in Colombia is class justice and is applied as such. And, obviously, those of us who make use of the inalienable right of rebellion are labeled “terrorists” or “kidnappers.” You should know that the sentences dished out to revolutionaries range between forty and eighty years.
So you can see that this matter of the tax is a need determined by the current war situation affecting Colombia. We would like it if we did not have to detain anyone, no civilians or oligarchs, not to mention the military....But the confrontation, the daily reality in Colombia, means that this is how things happen—not the way we’d like them to.
JB: The armed struggle is largely funded by the collection of the revolutionary tax on coca leaf cultivation and cocaine base production—and also, to some extent, on ransom payments from kidnappings. If a peace process is initiated, could the guerrilla movement stop using these sources of funding without jeopardizing its politico-organizational autonomy? In other words, are there not certain forces within your movement that are attempting to defend the status quo for fear that demobilization might deprive the FARC–EP of these decisive sources of funding and that this might lead to its isolation?
RG: The first thing that has to be said is that the FARC–EP has always been an autarkic movement, that is to say, it has always operated using its own means and has never depended, either in the past or at present, and will never depend, on any funding of a foreign nature. As the FARC–EP, we were able to develop a subsistence economy initially and then factors of production that have enabled us to keep the movement going.
The FARC–EP existed long before either drug trafficking in Colombia developed or a logistical policy for the systematic detention of persons was implemented. These were by-products of the general situation in the country.
Over the years the FARC–EP has diversified its financing through all kinds of investments: in high finance at home and abroad, and in agricultural production, cattle raising, mining, transport, construction, and many other productive investments.
Now, there is no doubt that the face of Colombia was transformed by the neoliberal policies imposed through terror that ruined the countryside forcing thousands of poor peasant families to survive by producing for this economy so as not to starve to death as a result of the devastation caused to their traditional crops of coffee, corn, banana, sorghum, cotton, and so on.
The FARC–EP is chiefly a rural movement and we are in direct contact with that reality, but we have no authority to force people to abandon so-called illicit crops without giving them an alternative.
At the talks in the Cagúan region (1999–2002) during the government of President Pastrana, the First International Public Audience on the replacement of so-called illicit crops and protection of the environment was held under the initiative of our guerrilla organization. The meeting was attended by the EU, Japan, Canada, the UN, and the International Group of Friends of the Peace Process in Colombia. The United States was invited but did not take part.
At these talks, the FARC–EP presented a viable project for eradicating coca leaf plantations in the municipality of Cartagena del Chairá in the Caquetá Department, of which there were around 8,000 hectares at that time.
We wanted the international community to commit to an alternative to repression and to promote social investment in the area so as to create an “experimental laboratory” there, in the search for ways to eradicate those crops, and then extend the experiment to other regions of Colombia and possibly the continent: Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. This proposal is still valid.
At the same time, we believe that legalization of the drug will help to solve the problem. Economists such as [Milton] Friedman and reputable journals like the Economist acknowledge that this is the case. There is a reason for this: as it is a clandestine business, profitability due to capital turnover is staggering. It is currently estimated that there are $680 billion circulating in the world as a result of drug trafficking and there is no crime people would not commit to get their hands on such an enormous sum of money.
First and foremost it is an economic problem, then a political, and of course, an ethical and moral one, but if the huge profits are eliminated, then the fundamental incentive, which is the return on investment, will be cancelled out and the states will be able to control the market. This would be something like what happened, allowing for differences, with the legalization of whisky...in the United States.
What must be made clear, and we have demonstrated this to the national and international community, is that there is no way the FARC–EP is a drug trafficker, not by any stretch of the imagination. We are not involved in the production, transport, commercialization, or exportation of narcotics. On the contrary, the FARC–EP is willing to work with the international community and with the U.S. government itself to solve this serious problem plaguing the world.
Our organization has implemented the collection of a tax on coca paste buyers who have to enter the areas where these crops are grown and we operate. This payment is collected as a way of controlling the abuses committed against the peasant growers. Of course, we act as policemen. It is the Colombian state that must control this area, but, up until now, it has been incapable of doing so, in spite of the billions of dollars poured in by the U.S. government to put an end to this business.
It is also important to bear in mind that the money provided by this tax is a tiny quantity in relation to the costs of the FARC–EP military apparatus. As for the arrests, it has to be said that this income also helps with the economic maintenance of the FARC–EP, but it is not the most crucial part.
The FARC–EP’s ultimate aim is not to “line the pockets” of its directive personnel, its hierarchy, or its combatants. For us money is a means, something that can help us attain the strategic political end of the FARC–EP, which is to take power in order to bring about political, economic, social, and ecological changes of all kinds that Colombia needs and is demanding. So, the financing is just a means to achieve these ends. Nobody in the FARC–EP aspires to become a millionaire. This is the big difference between us and the drug barons and paramilitaries who are seeking personal gain and want to live “the high life.”
With respect to what you say about a possible demobilization, that is not in the FARC–EP’s immediate plans. I mean, there is not even any contact with Uribe’s government. In the hypothetical case that the war was stopped and other action embarked upon, the FARC–EP has its “plan B.” But we’re talking about hypotheses; the reality is quite different.
However, the FARC–EP is not at war just for the sake of it. We have said that if the political environment changes and the conditions exist for engaging in open, legal politics without fear of reprisals or of being killed; if the door to real democracy is opened, then we could think about changing the form of military confrontation in response to whatever situation was instituted. It has fallen to the FARC–EP throughout the period of Uribe, and before, to act as the political opposition and the armed opposition to the regime because there has been no other way we could express our thinking. The Colombian bourgeoisie is a bloodthirsty, reactionary bourgeoisie that only understands the language of arms. If we had not responded to the aggression, they would already have branded us with red hot iron, and chained us up, like in the age of slavery.
JB: The recent mass mobilizations against the violence and kidnappings have pointed the finger of blame at both the government and the insurgents. Don’t these mobilizations represent a setback for the left in that Álvaro Uribe has been able to use them to his advantage to divert public attention from his involvement in parapolitical scandals?
RG: The mobilizations, as you yourself say, express a repudiation of violence and particularly official and paramilitary violence. The Colombian people are certainly showing signs of fatigue over the military-type confrontation, but what people wouldn’t after forty years of war imposed by the regime?
Álvaro Uribe tried to capitalize on a movement that incorporated popular sectors very close to the FARC–EP, and even members of our guerrilla organization. There, at these mobilizations, you could see the banners demanding a humanitarian exchange, in the search for dialogue toward a political solution to the social and armed conflict in Colombia. If you analyze the press releases, and radio and television reports, you will find that Colombia’s most prestigious commentators criticized the government’s political opportunism. You have to remember that there was even a public confrontation between the interior minister and one of the relatives of the eleven congressional representatives killed in the failed military rescue attempt ordered by the government on June 18 this year. And then the claim that President Uribe has capitalized on the mobilizations is untrue. On the contrary, in the latest opinion polls following those events Uribe’s image is shown to have been tarnished and his popularity is in “free fall” for the first time since he took office.
As for the problem of parapolitics, this is something that has been denounced for over twenty years by the newspaper Voz, the organ of the Communist Party of Colombia, by the FARC–EP, and by democratic friends throughout the country. However the Colombian state has always ignored these denunciations.
A year and a half ago I had the opportunity to talk to the peace commissioner of Uribe’s government, Dr. Luis Carlos Restrepo, at the Cómbita high-security prison, where I was being held hostage. During our conversation, we touched on various topics and I was able to demonstrate to him that the policy of “democratic security” imposed by the president and the “Plan Colombia” had failed. He said to me, “Look, Señor Granda, the Colombian state has certainly used unorthodox methods to fight you....” Those methods Restrepo was referring to are none other than parapolitics and paramilitarism: that was a project that was cold-bloodedly calculated for Colombia. It is an expression of fascism, through which mainly the financial monopolies, the industrial sector, and the landowners have benefited from all the economic restructuring resulting from globalization and privatizations in Colombia. The deals and profits these sectors have made are phenomenal. At the same time, what there is left to privatize in the country is at present minimal, which tells us that the most acute period of pushing forward the neoliberal project in Colombia is over to an extent, as there are no state companies of any size left to sell to the transnationals.
That is why the state is now trying to dismantle all the killing mechanisms they created as a military support for their fascist project to impose neoliberalism and, in this sense, we could draw a comparison with General Pinochet’s Chile. Remember that it was right when the military coup took place in Chile in 1973 that they started to implement neoliberal policies for the continent. The military coup practically wiped out the popular resistance, the working class, the middle classes of the population, the peasantry, and imposed the social discipline of the monopolies: fascism in the service of neoliberalism that used terror in our America as a basis for implementing its economic project and its ideological politics.
Now in Colombia the establishment has egg on its face: it is the institutions, along with the men that constitute them, that are implicated in the crisis they have led the nation into. Colombia is a country with one of the highest corruption rates in the world. It was said that Colombian institutions were created as a protection from all forms of corruption. That is why, in order to implement its neoliberal policies, the establishment threw overboard any sense of ethics in politics and now it is paying the price for its “unholy alliance” with narcoparamilitarism created with the intention of eliminating the revolutionary left whatever the cost. That model and that fascist project for Colombia have failed them. When the tidal wave of denouncements comes, the president tries, obviously, to avoid any kind of public debate, and creates smokescreens: the reelection, the referendum, the Soccer World Cup, etc., aiming to distract Colombian public opinion. The scandals and the corruption prevailing in Colombia are of such magnitude that none of these publicity “shows” can manage to distract attention away from one fundamental aspect: the corruption imposed by the “mafia,” paramilitarism, and narcotrafficking (which are the same thing) for a government that is a government of “mafiosi” exercising narcodemocracy.
JB: The ELN (National Liberation Army) recently decided to lay down its arms. To what extent does this weaken the armed struggle of the FARC–EP, given that from now on the Colombian state, the paramilitaries, and the United States will be able to concentrate all their efforts to fight it?
RG: The question of whether at present the whole counterinsurgent struggle orchestrated by the Colombian government and the United States can be focused against the FARC–EP is relative. Practically from the outset of Plan Colombia, the FARC–EP has withstood these operations [of the Colombian military and the United States] alone. There is no doubt that the Colombian state has never fought paramilitarism militarily. While military operations in areas where ELN comrades are active have been minimal, so, to some extent, the responsibility of combatting the bulk of operations by the Colombian army and the “gringos” have fallen on our armed organization. You must remember that at present Colombia is the third largest recipient of U.S. military aid, after Israel and Egypt. During the first stage of Plan Colombia, the United States provided $7.5 billion and the Colombian state imposed a war tax of 12 percent, which was increased this year by a further 8 percent. Even so, Plan Colombia and all subsequent operations have failed against the FARC–EP resistance and counteroffensive.
So it’s highly debatable whether the enemy can defeat us even if it trains its entire arsenal on us. Our history has shown this ever since our birth in Marquetalia (1964). Remember that sixteen thousand troops were moved into the region against the founding group of the FARC–EP made up of forty-eight peasants, two of them women. Besides, at that time, there was no other insurgent movement in the country either. The bulk of that offensive against the rural self-defense zones, known as “Operation LASO [Latin American Security Operation],” naturally hit the FARC–EP.
We believe, in this new period, that as far as military action by “gringo” troops, mercenaries, and the Colombian army are concerned, the limit has already been reached. What we’re talking about now is a decline. It must be said that in high circles of the Colombian government and the corridors of the Pentagon there is talk of the complete failure of “Plan Colombia,” “Plan Patriot,” “Plan Colombia Consolidation,” and “Plan Victory” (2002–07).
In other words, a military victory by the “gringos” and the Colombian state is impossible over an armed movement like ours that has been fighting for forty-three years and has extensive experience at the level of both its leadership and its combatants. It has to be said that this experience is almost unique in Latin America and the world. Just look at the fact that there’s currently no other great “plan” or “military operation” in the western hemisphere that has the scope and detail of the one being performed in central and southern Colombia, and throughout most of Colombia’s national territory.
We have truly had to fight a war alone. In the past there was the socialist camp, there was international solidarity, we had to “dance with the ugliest girl at the party,” as we say in Colombia. But we’ve shown we can confront and beat the enemy alone. For us, this is an obligation and it is our contribution of solidarity with the oppressed peoples of the world. The combination of all the forms of mass struggle is going to assure us victory in the near future.
The Colombian state has no alternative other than to accept that it has been incapable of defeating the insurgency and that its fascist project, which uses state terror and the chainsaw as an offensive weapon, has failed. The only thing left for this state to do is to seek a rapprochement with the insurgency so that we can sit down and talk to find a negotiated political solution to this long social and armed conflict affecting Colombia.
What you say about the ELN, well, that is the first I have heard about it....As far as I know the ELN has not laid down its arms. I cannot give an opinion on the ELN’s decisions. They are a sovereign organization, a guerrilla organization that has been fighting for years and, to my knowledge, have not so far handed over a single weapon.
JB: The FARC–EP was born from a peasant movement which continues to be its main social base. To what extent has the FARC–EP been able since then to implement a strategic reorientation in the light of extremely rapid urbanization in Colombia? In other words, how does the FARC–EP address the pauperized urban masses suffering constant attacks from the paramilitaries and the repression exercised by the Colombian state?
RG: I have been telling you that the FARC–EP is a politico-military organization, the struggle of the FARC–EP is not one of confrontation between apparatuses, i.e., between the military apparatus of the Colombian state and the FARC–EP’s military apparatus proper.
In general, if we analyze the behavior of bourgeois states over time, we observe that they have various ways of applying what they call “representative democracy” and that they combine practically all forms of struggle to exploit the people. The “gringos” call it the “carrot and stick approach,” which they practice in the following way: if they consider that the masses are meek, they can let them develop certain forms of restricted democracy for a time; if they consider that those masses are becoming radicalized, then they take troops into the streets and impose repression. But if they notice that those mass movements have already become radicalized, then they employ state terrorism, and wage genocide against their opponents and the extermination of the mass organizations. It is this terror at its most horrifying that was experienced by nearly all countries here in our America in the recent past and still persists in Colombia.
From this viewpoint, it is legitimate for the revolutionary movements of Colombia and the world to employ every form of mass struggle to achieve the revolutionary changes that society needs at a given moment in its development.
We have not declared armed struggle by decree, nor can it be declared by decree, or by the will of person or party X or Y. Armed struggle is born of the overriding need to defend class interests at a particular moment in time, when the bourgeoisie close every door of democracy and expression the masses may have.
Unfortunately, Colombia’s history has shown what I’ve just said to be true: seeking national reconciliation in 1982, the FARC–EP entered into dialogue with then-president Belisario Bétancourt and the Uribe Accords were signed. As a corollary of these accords the broad movement called the Patriotic Union (UP) was founded.
This movement erupted into national political life with enormous support among the inhabitants of town and country, the middle classes, students, etc. In other words, it was a movement that brought together very wide-ranging sectors. When the UP began to develop, the bourgeoisie panicked and commenced the planned systematic extermination—first of its leaders, then they massacred its members. This all ended in the most abhorrent political genocide ever seen in Latin America. The FARC–EP learned from this experiment, which was curtailed by state terrorism, and will not let history repeat itself.
We have been making an enormous effort with the creation and development of popular and political movements and organizations at the national level.
We are making an enormous effort with the formation of the Clandestine Colombian Communist Party, which has to be clandestine because we have already had over five thousand members of the UP killed.
We are also working on the formation of the Bolivarian Movement for the New Colombia, in which anyone can take part. This movement has no statutes, people can get together in small groups to avoid enemy strikes, nobody must allude to their political militancy, and its forms of expression are clandestine.
Through such forms of organization, we participate in the student movement, the workers’ movement, the peasant movement, the popular movement...but the FARC–EP is also setting up the Bolivarian Militias, which operate in the countryside, on the outskirts of big cities and within them.
The FARC–EP believe that the revolution in Colombia must, in part, lead to urban insurrectional expressions, perhaps very much like those that took place in Nicaragua at the time (let’s remind ourselves of the battles in Managua, Masaya, Estelí, and León, to name a few), which were guerrilla-type actions combined with popular insurrection, and which together brought down the Somoza dictatorship.
We are making a really big effort with regard to the union movement, the student movement, the urban middle classes, informal workers, the cooperative, and communal movement of family heads. In other words, we are trying to direct everything through simple forms of organization so as steadily to create from the inside-out a politico-practical consciousness of the need for change in Colombia, all the more so when the disastrous consequences of neoliberal policies not only radicalize the urban and rural masses but also, paradoxically, bring them together and ally them in their struggle.
In Colombia, the FARC–EP wishes to build a new government of national reconciliation and reconstruction, one that is broad and democratic, not exclusive in the slightest, in which all sectors of national political life can participate that are concerned about dragging Colombia out of the abyss it finds itself in and establishing it as a country that can face up to the challenges of the twenty-first century with a good deal of hope and optimism, putting us at the vanguard of the democratic and revolutionary nations of the world.
JB: Which social urban movements does the FARC–EP believe require strategic development in this process?
RG: In the cities we work fundamentally with the industrial workers sector. We are also active in the cooperative movement, with neighborhood communal action committees, with associations from the informal economy, which have grown in number in recent years due to neoliberal policies. In addition, we pay a lot of attention to the problems of women and young people in general. So we are represented in all those sectors. We are working conscientiously to give them an organizational character and steer them toward the political struggle.
At the same time, this political work, with the experiences it provides of ways of fighting repression, nourishes our own political action. Although the FARC–EP was born essentially as a peasant movement, and this base is maintained in its current make-up, it is also true that there are other sectors of Colombian society that are accompanying us in the struggle. There are middle classes and professional, technical, and upper-class sectors, as well as liberal professionals, clergy, and people from the world of popular culture and art in all its forms linked to the FARC–EP. This has been changing over recent years. We must emphasize the participation of women in our ranks, who now represent 43 percent of the guerrilla force.
JB: It is claimed that, in the regions under its control, the FARC–EP has not always shown itself to be capable of fully allowing the development of a civil society organized autonomously around the different interests it is made up of (cooperatives, unions, various associations, indigenous minorities, etc.). Doesn’t this situation reveal a rather authoritarian project for society based exclusively on the capabilities and competencies of a kind of party-state?
RG: [laughing] I don’t know where you’re going with that question or where we have had control over any part of the national territory. That has not happened yet. We are not waging a war of positions in Colombia. We are a nomadic guerrilla force. When we are in certain areas for a time, we develop direct democracy as it has never been seen in any other type of organization promoted by the state or the oligarchic parties.
As a matter of fact, I think that internally the FARC–EP is far more democratic than certain states and democracies; our maximum organ of leadership in the FARC–EP is the National Conference of Guerrilla Fighters, which meets every four years (or more, depending on the war situation). The leaders, without exception, are elected by the votes of all the guerrilla fighters. In other words, there are no appointments. It is by popular vote, by the votes of FARC–EP members, that democracy (and the question of hierarchies) is managed within the guerrilla movement.
In conjunction with the communities. The most significant case was that of San Vicente del Caguán, in south central Colombia during the period of clarity and dialogue from 1999 to 2002. We were there for three years and worked with the communities on civic-military activities. Between them, the civilian population and the “guerrillerada” built bridges, roads, schools, hospitals, local footpaths, and reclaimed certain rivers, creeks, and streams that were heavily polluted. In addition to this, the FARC–EP laid down regulations regarding ecology issues (hunting, fishing, tree felling, and forestry, and protection for native trees), all with the participation of the community.
For example, for the construction of a highway, 100 or 200 community action committees from the entire region were brought together and there, by popular vote, it was decided who was going to work, in what way, and how much they would contribute economically and logistically. Then the sums were done and these were handed over to the masses so they could work out for themselves how each of the contributions had been invested. This is open, participative democracy and true mass democracy such as Colombia has never seen before. That is our experience.
There is no place for authoritarianism in the principles of the FARC–EP. The thing is we defend principles. And when it comes to principles we are unwavering. We have our own vision of what democracy should be. Democracy should be open and as direct as possible. In other words, mass democracy as a way of defining and discussing major problems. It’s very simple, if there are a hundred people in a community, why should ten of them decide for everyone? For us those hundred people have the power to make decisions. In Colombia they talk to us about representative democracy because there are elections, but in reality these crooks, all these bums who go to the Senate or the Chamber of Representatives, are not real representatives of the communities.
They are mostly individuals who get there with the help of their wealth, through clientelism and by means of the threats they subject our people to. So, my dear journalist, it’s essential to be clear about what kind of democracy we’re talking about, what we the FARC–EP understand by democracy and what you in Europe understand by democracy. I consider the FARC–EP to be a democratic organization practicing democracy in the areas where it works.
Our option is a direct democracy that is as broad and participative as possible. Democracy exercised by and for majorities. Not paper democracy. Not democracy for a privileged few. We do not like that type of “democracy” and we are not going to practice it. I was saying that in the FARC–EP we like to organize the masses into all kinds of collectives so that they can defend their own interests. That is the secret of the FARC–EP’s existence in the midst of so complicated a conflict as Colombia’s.
JB: The FARC–EP is often criticized, even by leftist forces, for its internal use of “expedient” methods: as in the cases of deserters being executed, “demoralized” militants being sent on suicide missions, pregnant militants being forced to have abortions, and so on. There is no doubt that the FARC–EP is involved in an extremely tough armed struggle, but don’t such methods or practices strike at the individual rights of combatants or freedom of discussion at the heart of the guerrilla movement, thereby revealing an extremely vertical form of political organization in the purest Stalinist tradition?
RG: Your question shows how little is known about the FARC–EP and how, perhaps subconsciously, you are echoing all the enemy propaganda (the oligarchic Colombian regime and its ally the United States). It is the enemy who has claimed we are vertical, that we solve all problems in the expedient way you refer to in your question.
We use political methods to solve any type of problem within the FARC–EP. Initially new combatants attend a six-month training school where the materials studied are fundamentally the statutes, rules of command, and disciplinary regime. If applicants realize they cannot, for physical or moral reasons, obey those rules, they can return home no problem, because until that point they know nothing and nobody other than the people with whom, clandestinely, they have taken the initial training course. Once that level has been passed, the person makes a commitment and joins the FARC–EP for life, in other words, until the triumph of the revolution and in the subsequent construction of the new society.
We do not have obligatory military service or voluntary military service either. Admittance to the FARC–EP involves thorough development in political and military training, in terms of conscious training....Let’s not forget that anyone can use a weapon, but handling politics, the class struggle and social changes, in a society like ours, is much more complicated. This, which is what we are concerned with, calls for permanent long-term training.
It is not true then that we use firing squads or executions without trial, for instance. We have no need to because our statutes contain many ways of penalizing any violation of the organization’s discipline.
Execution by firing squad is only envisaged for traitors or infiltrators who are consciously working for the enemy. That is the most serious measure taken in the FARC–EP. Other than that, any situation can be dealt with using criticism and self-criticism based on Marxist-Leninist principles, which are an integral part of our revolutionary concept.
The other issue, reflected in your question’s content, is a defamatory campaign seeking to reduce the FARC–EP to an undisciplined movement, without a hierarchy and without recognized leaders. A military organization simply cannot survive in those conditions. There is a saying that goes “the discipline is complied with or the militia is washed up.”
It would be absurd to think we could send people on missions who are demoralized, have psychological problems, or lack the sufficient politico-military qualifications. (In a war situation, who could possibly make such a miscalculation?) Quite the contrary, within the FARC–EP participation in missions constitutes a recognition of good work, and is an incentive and an honor for combatants. The FARC–EP employs conscious participation, which is why, prior to action, the leaders make a detailed study of the qualities of the combatants who are to participate in each of the war activities or on special missions determined by the FARC–EP.
As for the conditions of women in the guerrilla force, they are free. In other words, for the first time a left-wing organization and revolutionary movement has defined women as people who are absolutely free and enjoy full equality with men, taking on the same responsibilities and the same jobs, and having the same rights. Ever since the matriarchal era, it’s perhaps only now, in the guerrilla struggle, that women are beginning to play the part they lost in the past, which was the greatest defeat the female gender has suffered in the history of humanity.
As for the issue of pregnancy in the FARC–EP, the female fighters know from the outset that in the war situation they have to go through they cannot get pregnant. Within our organization, we do a lot of educational work on diffusion of information and prevention so that women are well informed about this matter and about how to avoid pregnancy and/or sexually transmitted diseases.
Sometimes, by mistake or by accident, there are cases of involuntary pregnancy. Taking into consideration the objective rules and living conditions in the midst of combat, they are generally interrupted at the request of the combatants themselves. In these cases the interruption is carried out in hygienic, sterile conditions, by qualified doctors with all the necessary measures taken to prevent any risk to their lives.
The interruption of pregnancy has been legalized in many countries and is part of certain constitutions around the world, but we have always been accused of arbitrariness on this matter and we have been demonized. What is going on here? Double standards, that’s what.
We want you to know that, for the FARC–EP, family values and the family unit are the basis for the conception of the new society we want to build. But we’re at a stage that doesn’t facilitate the development of this important aspect of life in any way.
It is telling that, in spite of all the propaganda waged against our organization, the female presence in the ranks of the FARC–EP accounts for 40 percent of combatants at present. The FARC–EP’s women fighters are real Amazons on the battlefield, or as Simon Bolivar said, in reference to those brave Roman women warriors, they are real “Bellonas.” When they are away from the war situation, the behavior of our female comrades is very feminine. In combat, they are every bit as tough as the men. They teach us about honesty, dedication, sacrifice, fraternity, and heroism...we could hardly mistreat our female comrades, they are a fundamental part of the struggle for the triumph of our revolution.
JB: Señor Granda, who was responsible for the deaths of the eleven congressional representatives detained by the FARC–EP? How is it possible that those eleven hostages were all together in the same place? Do you think it was a deliberate operation by the Colombian state to launch a vast political campaign against the FARC–EP guerrilla movement?
RG: The FARC–EP had been warning public opinion at home and abroad that operations to rescue prisoners by force posed an exaggerated threat to the lives of the hostages it was holding.
This is why the FARC–EP has pointed out that responsibility for the deaths of the eleven representatives from the Valle del Cauca on June 18, 2007, lies mainly with those who gave the order and aided the rescue attempt by force—Uribe, first and foremost.
To explain why they were together would be to indulge in speculation because on that date you remember I had just left prison in La Dorada.
What has to be said about the deaths of the eleven congressmen is that it was undoubtedly a meticulously prepared plan, both politically and militarily, and also in terms of propaganda.
Uribe’s government began its plan by talking about the possibility of releasing a number of FARC–EP prisoners for whom no one had made any request, because we had sought a bilateral humanitarian exchange of prisoners between the FARC–EP and the government. But then, Uribe took the completely unilateral decision to free some of the FARC–EP combatants. This, in my view, had to do with the preparations for action on a larger scale in the Colombian mountains.
That covertly planned action was none other than the rescue of the twelve congressional representatives by a special force of CIA agents, British and Israeli mercenaries, and Colombian army commandos.
The intended blow was that, if this special force appeared to have successfully freed the twelve congressional representatives, Uribe would have kept in prison those he was supposedly attempting to free and embarked on a political campaign at home and abroad claiming that ransoms would henceforth be the most appropriate way to secure the release of those being held by the FARC–EP, thereby ruling out the feasibility of humanitarian exchange or any possibility of dialogue.
The result of this and other similar events have led us to believe that Lima- or Entebbe-style rescue operations cannot be repeated in the Colombian rainforests. What is unequivocally required in Colombia is a humanitarian exchange between the government and the FARC–EP as a preamble to dialogue that might open the way to peace with social justice. Let us hope that many of your readers, the international community, and social, religious, humanist, and left-wing states, governments, peoples, parties, and organizations can contribute toward this search for a solution to the social and armed conflict taking place in Colombia.
[Jean Batou directs the Institute of Economic and Social History at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland and teaches international history there. He has published numerous books and articles on uneven development and is most recently coeditor with S. Prezioso and A. J. Rapin of Tant pis si la lutte cruelle. Volontaires internationaux contre Franco (Paris: Syllepse, 2008). This interview was conducted on July 24, 2007, in Havana, Cuba and was originally published in French by the Swiss biweekly Solidarités, September 5, 2007, http://www.solidarites.ch It was translated from the original Spanish by Ian Barnett of Parole Translations & Literary Agency.]