On 7 January 1999 the Colombian government is at last commencing peace negotiations with the Colombian guerrilla forces of FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia) and ELN (National Liberation Army). It has had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the negotiating table, but with an estimated two-thirds of the country under guerrilla control, there is no longer any choice.
History of struggle
Colombia’s guerrilla war started as far back as 1948. Right from the start it had an anti-imperialist character as it opposed the alliance made between US imperialism on the one hand and, on the other hand, the decadent Colombian land-owning class which sold Colombia to the multinationals in return for protection of their anachronistic, Chekhovian life of useless privilege.
Since 1948 the Colombian government and its US backers have made several determined and extremely vicious attempts to dislodge the growing guerrilla movement – in 1948, 1954, 1962, Operation `Marquetalia’ in 1964, and the current wave of violence which commenced at the end of 1990. Each campaign was crowned by utter failure. The
of 14 November 1998 (`War and Jaw: Colombia – Rebel redoubt’) writes of these campaigns as follows:
“Marquetalia? The name looms large in FARC mythology. Back in the early 1960s, communist `self defence’ groups had begun to emerge in response to political repression after a five-year civil bloodbath from 1948 to 1953 in which at least 100,000 insurgents died. Armed men began to concentrate in four rural municipalities, setting up so-called `independent republics’ – areas where relatively small groups of people, protected by guerrillas, organised themselves into farming co-operatives and lived under simple rural laws. The state saw them as a threat, and in 1964, with American backing, set out to smash one of them, Marquetalia.
“The operation failed. Some 20,000 soldiers, the air force’s entire fleet of helicopters and intense bombardments failed to destroy a community of just over 1,000. Many of Marquetalia’s residents fled to the jungles, to take up arms and plan revenge. One of them was Manuel Marulanda – today leader of the FARC and its 15,000 fighters.”
On November 1, 1998, FARC overwhelmed the Southern provincial capital of Mitu in an operation it code-named: Marquetalia. The
“In attacking Mitu with such force, [Marulanda]
was plainly reading today’s state a lesson: you couldn’t smash us then; today, with peace talks seemingly around the corner, don’t expect any weakening from us, it’s we who can smash you. The FARC may, as optimists hope, have been sending a grisly message that they are ready for peace, but on their terms.”
In these circumstances the government could not but admit defeat.
Not all the atrocities committed against unarmed civilians, not all the bombings, not all the massacres perpetrated by right-wing death squads armed and paid for by imperialism, not even their use of germ warfare, not even the filthy propaganda war that dubbed the freedom fighters `narco-terrorists’, none of these was able to save the Colombian government and US imperialism from defeat at the hands of the guerrilla movement, supported by the overwhelming majority of the people of Colombia.
Indeed, the more the forces of reaction sought to wipe them out, the more the movement grew. As the
of 7 November 1998 admitted:
“FARC has dominated the southern departments of Colombia for years. And [it]
is now stronger than at any time in its 34-year history. Today the rebels have 60 active fronts Its 15,000 strong army controls two-fifths of Colombia.”
[In actual fact, that is only the official estimate – the reality is that they control over half the country].
In these circumstances the Colombian government has finally been forced formally to abandon to guerrilla control, which has already been established de facto for many years, an area in southern Colombia of 42,000 square kilometres, the size of Switzerland.
Such is the strength of the liberation movement that it was able to lay down as a condition of its participation in peace negotiations that the Colombian government should withdraw all its military forces and government officials from the area. President Andres Pastrana tried to push his luck by leaving behind 92 unarmed soldiers, 7 government officials and 23 civil servants to carry out `administrative duties’ only. FARC refused to engage in the talks (originally scheduled to commence on 7 November 1998) until these people were withdrawn. Ultimately, and with great reluctance, they were withdrawn. And so the peace negotiations are to commence.
US imperialism and the `war against drugs’
The Clinton administration is reportedly champing at the bit at the insistence of President Pastrana that there is no way forward other than through dialogue. While US imperialism is not opposed to dialogue, it is wholly opposed to the terms that FARC has laid down as conditions for its participation in that dialogue, as the
of 16 November explains:
“The US likes Mr Pastrana, so far at least. His economic policy suits the interests of American business and he talks the language of the market. His trip to Washington should, therefore, have been a harmonious affair, but it was not. True, the US promised another $280 million in anti-drug and development money, but instead of staying quiet and posing for the photo opportunity in the posture of grateful supplicant, Mr Pastrana had the temerity to question the US approach to eliminating drugs in his country. It did not go down well with the Republicans in Congress, who like to round up votes by grandstanding about the `war’ on drugs. They complained that Mr Pastrana was selling out by seeking a deal with what the US right-wing likes to call the `narco-terrorists’ of the FARC.”
In other words, US imperialism is continuing to fund Colombia for war against the guerrillas with whom negotiations are now to take place. Neither side is under any illusion that the start of negotiations will coincide with an immediate cessation of hostilities – for under the pretext of waging war against drugs, hostile action against guerrilla areas will be maintained.
Although the imperialist media regularly assert that FARC is funded by its drug trade, nobody seriously believes this lie. As the
“Lumping together the guerrilla threat and the drug menace was one of George Bush’s more inspired moves,”
in the sense that it gave him carte blanche to intervene in Latin American countries, such as Peru and Colombia, where the resistance struggle was beyond containment by local forces.
It is clear, however, that in practice the US administration has never had the slightest interest in preventing the spread of drugs. For since Bush
“declared his war on drugs in the early 90s, millions of dollars has been poured into an aerial crop-spraying programme that has caused serious environmental damage in the producer countries of Latin America, without having any impact on the traffic. Despite the tough talking and the cash ($100 million a year and rising) it has been a resounding failure
“In Colombia, in the last four years of enforced spraying, the land devoted to coca cultivation doubled from 40,000 to 80,000 hectares “
The `resounding failure’ is not failure to make any dent in the drug trade, for that was never the real intention. The real `failure’ was the failure to defeat the liberation movements in Colombia and Peru, despite the campaign to ruin all crops in the liberated areas.
The fact that this is indeed the purpose of the spraying campaigns can be gleaned from facts scattered around in diverse publications. For instance, the Argentinian social-democratic newspaper,
on 28 December 1998, while claiming that FARC is dependent on the cultivation of illegal drugs (which all the bourgeois media ritually allege), admits that in the area which has now been handed over by the government to the guerrillas, there are no more than 20,000 hectares growing illegal plants, compared to between 100,00-120,000 hectares in Colombia as a whole. The
of 8 October (Adam Thompson, `Rebels ready to move in as Pastrana gambles on peace’) states that about 15% of Colombia’s coca harvest comes from this area, which covers 40% of Colombia’s land mass. But the
of 3 October really lets the cat out of the bag:
“Why, asked perplexed Colombians, is the US so determined to pursue its dead-end coca eradication policy, even at the price of peace? And why mainly in the FARC’s southern strongholds? They point out that the United States’ anti-drugs efforts in Colombia leave areas of cultivation outside the south largely untouched.
“Cordoba and Antioquia, provinces near the Panamanian boder, highlight this bias. The north-west is a traditional hub of the drugs trade; it contains smaller but important areas of coca cultivation, and its heroin trade is said to be the lifeblood of the paramilitaries that dominate the region. Most of the country’s drug exports, and its arms imports, pass through the area. Carlos Castano, the country’s most powerful paramilitary warlord, has his headquarters there. American drugs officials have fingered him as a major trafficker. And few guerrillas operate in the area, which might make a crackdown easier. Yet the Americans don’t seem to be pushing at all for a drugs clampdown in the region.” – Surprise, surprise!
The substantial business of cocaine and heroin production engaged in by the Colombian drug barons, landlords, army officers, government ministers, etc., does not bother US imperialism at all. On the contrary, it all helps finance the war against the freedom fighters at the expense, ultimately, of the world’s 180 million drug users. All US imperialism demands of its drug-peddling cronies is, as the Irangate affair showed up only too clearly, to keep a very low profile so that their masters in Washington can continue to pose as fighters against the scourge of drug peddling. US imperialism was thus `outraged’ when Ernesto Samper, the social-democratic predecessor of President Pastrana, was discovered to have links with the drugs barons, who financed his election campaign. It was further considerably embarrassed when, just as it was lauding the role of Colombia’s armed forces in the `war against drugs’,
“US customs officials discovered nearly a ton of cocaine in a Colombian air force plane that had landed at Fort Lauderdale.” (Guardian, op. cit.).
Swift action followed:
“The Colombian airforce chief resigned, but,”
Guardian, “nobody imagines this resignation makes any difference.”
In fact, if US imperialism were really interested in eliminating the production of stupefactants in Colombia, they would be encouraging FARC rather than persecuting it. As has already been seen, coca production levels are lower in the liberated areas than in the rest of the country. Why so?
The main reason is that there are more alternative ways of earning a living open to peasants in the liberated areas, and considerable FARC ideological hostility to drugs, although FARC does not prevent peasants from growing coca if that is the only way they can make enough money to keep themselves and their families. This was explained by FARC Comandante Raúl Reyes at a workshop held in San José, Costa Rica, on July 18-19, 1997:
“It is necessary to state again and again: FARC-EP does not share, negotiate, maintain relations with, drug traffickers and we denounce that trade, both on principle and as a matter of ethics. It is incompatible with democracy, with co-existence of citizens, and because it generates corruption, impunity, criminality, social fragmentation.
“We are more than ready to engage in a battle against drug traffic based on realistic proposals, which aim to benefit the majority of our people, the masses, by stressing social, economic and political aspects of the problem rather than repression directed against the masses, who are far from being drug traffickers, but only live on drug-related activity because circumstances oblige them to do so, for they have no other means at their disposal – while the real criminals – those who make millions from the trade – are left unscathed because they have used the power of their money to buy themselves a corrupt system of protection.”
Quite rightly Comandante Reyes points out that
“the real drug dealers are those who take the lion’s share of the profits generated by the drugs trade, those who send cocaine to the areas where it is consumed, especially the US. These are the real drug cartels. Their wealth is enormous and their connection to the traditional political parties – to the ruling élites of the various countries involved – has been fully proven, as has their power to corrupt, which extends into every sphere of the economy, political life, society, culture and entertainment.”
Comandante Reyes concludes by saying that
“the struggle against the drugs trade – that scourge of humanity, which benefits only imperialism – politically and economically, is an anti-imperialist struggle for the sovereignty and self-determination of the people of the world, at the same time as being a struggle against national ruling élites, a struggle for the benefit of the vast masses of those nations’ people. The fight against the drug trade is fundamental to our programme of guaranteeing to our peoples a life of social justice, dignity, peace, democracy and national sovereignty.”
Hardly the words of a drug trafficker.
FARC is quite clear that eliminating the drugs trade involves creating the conditions under which ordinary people do not have to depend on it for their livelihood. This in turn demands breaking the deadly and corrupt grip of the large landlords, foreign imperialists, on unproductive or drug-producing land, giving credits and financial support to the productive sectors of society, to enable them to get on their feet, eradicating illiteracy and disease, eradicating corruption and social parasitism, using Colombia’s oil wealth and other natural resources for the benefit of its people, rather than allowing them to be plundered by imperialist corporations.
In other words, FARC is going to the negotiating table to demand the earth – a not unreasonable demand in the circumstances. For as long as FARC demands are not met, then for so long the armed struggle will continue.