When on Sunday 2 October the peace accords painstakingly hammered out over four years by the Colombian government on the one hand and the FARC-EP guerrilla movement on the other was unexpectedly rejected by a very narrow margin in a popular referendum, the bourgeois media the world over went into overdrive to attribute the defeat to the deep hatred allegedly felt by the people of Colombia for the guerrilla movement. Given that turnout in the referendum was only 38%, and that the majority of those opposed to the peace accords was only some 54,000 of the approximately 13 million who voted, so that the opponents numbered under 20% of the Colombian population, it is clearly absurd to suggest that the referendum result reflected the unpopularity of the FARC. Somewhat reluctantly, various bourgeois media did have the honesty to mention, briefly, that Colombia at the time had just been hit by Hurricane Matthew which had caused major problems, especially along the Caribbean coast where, according to The Economist, “most people are pro-peace” (‘Saving Colombia’s peace agreement’, 3 October 2016).
In fact most people in Colombia are sympathetic to the guerrilla movement. Those who are not are mostly the elite. While the narrative of the elite is that the guerrilla movement has been dragged to the peace process as a result of being weakened by military defeats during the course of the Uribe presidency, and that, because of this weakness, it deserves nothing more than to be punished severely for all the ‘crimes’ it has committed, the truth is quite different. Anybody with even a passing acquaintance with Colombian history will know that the insurgency has consistently sought peace from the Colombian state and has equally consistently been rebuffed, or, worse, invited to participate in legal politics only to be subjected to mass murder at the hands of paramilitaries supported by the Colombian and US governments in the course of attempting to do so. Yet despite this, the FARC have always sought for the peace with justice that is the aim of all those who support them.
Continued threat of death squad violence
Among those who failed to support the agreement, however, there will be not only those who hate the insurgency but maybe also those who love it too much. Who can forget what happened the last time that Colombian guerrillas were incorporated into civil society and allowed to participate in elections: in May 1984 the FARC signed peace accords with the government of President Belisario Betancur, and launched a broad spectrum electoral party, the Unión Patriótica in 1985. This party was very successful the following year in local and Congressional elections, securing 24 provincial deputies, 275 municipal representatives, 4 senators and 4 Congressional representatives. Two months later, the UP’s candidate, the Communist Party member Jaime Pardo Leal, received nearly 330,000 votes in presidential elections. These electoral successes of the UP, despite it still being very much a minority party, alarmed the Colombian elite, who could foresee that, were it allowed to continue building its popularity, sooner or later a government could be elected that would impose measures designed to redistribute Colombia’s considerable resources of wealth more equitably in favour of the poor and at the expense both of themselves and of foreign investors, i.e., imperialist looters.
As James Brittain explains:
“On May 28, 1985 the UP became an official state-sanctioned political party…
“… The most important point to understand is that the UP was never a political arm of the FARC-EP, and to think otherwise is to negate the lateral support and unification of various elements of Colombian civil society.
“Programmatically, the UP formed itself around the goal of opening a democratic system in Colombia for the purpose of expanding social welfare. The UP sought ‘political reforms to end the Conservative and Liberal domination of Colombian politics, the popular election of local mayors, rural land reforms and the nationalisation of foreign business, Colombian banks and transportation’ [Stokes, p.75]… Far from armed revolution, or even direct action politics, the UP ‘advocated constitutional reform, decentralisation, grants of land to peasants, increased health and education spending’ and ‘a civilian defence minister’ [Livingstone, pp.228-229].
“Yet, during the rise of the party, policies of economic liberalisation were being introduced to Colombia that targeted organised labour and social-based public spending. This translated into the far right perceiving the UP to be a ‘liability’…
“After its inception: more than one thousand UP militants were assassinated, including Jaime Pardo, its presidential candidate in 1986, and Bernardo Jaramillo, its nominee for the election of 1990 (slain before the election took place). Even more UP candidates for mayoral and city council posts were killed…[These numbered several hundred. In 1988 the party’s candidates were victorious in 16 mayoral elections, but three of the elected UP mayors were immediately murdered].
“Over 70 percent of all presidential candidates in 1990 – and 100 percent from left-of-centre parties – were murdered”.
“The massacre of the UP is ‘evidence of the Colombian elite’s intolerance and the impossibility of achieving change through parliament” (pp.207-209).
In these circumstances, it is no wonder that FARC supporters would worry about voting in favour of peace accords that provide for FARC to disarm!
It is not as if these political murders were all ancient history dating back over 30 years. Colombia has continued to be what has been termed a ‘death squad democracy’, in which elections are regularly held, but the death squads kill off any electoral candidate or political or trade-union activist who might challenge the interests of the Colombian élite. For instance, according to the Justice for Colombia website:
“Colombia is the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade unionist. Every year numerous union leaders, union activists and union members are assassinated – simply because of their trade union activities. Over 2,500 unionists have been murdered in the past 20 years, more than in the rest of the world combined.”
The violence continues to this day:
“Last year , according to the Resource Center for Conflict Analysis (CERAC), there was a huge spike in the murder of social leaders, political party activists and union members compared to the year before. Thus, such murders jumped 35% from 78 in 2014 to 105 in 2015. Specifically, the rate of union murders more than doubled from 2 to 7; the rate of political leaders and activists killed increased 66% from 15 to 25; and the murder of public officials, teachers and journalists jumped 31% from 29 to 38. In terms of the murder of political activists/leaders, moreover, most were from opposition, left-wing parties. Indeed, 6 leftist political leaders have been killed already in 2016.
“And, of particular note, CERAC explains that the aforementioned murders are NOT the product of the armed conflict in Colombia between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas. Indeed, CERAC explains that the cease fire which the FARC has been engaged in as part of the peace process has not contributed to a decline in political violence. This is because most of this political violence is being carried out by right-wing paramilitary groups aligned with the Colombian state, though both the U.S. and Colombian governments go to great pains to deny the continued existence of such paramilitaries” (Dan Kovalic, ‘Colombia: Ethnocide and Political Violence on the Rise’, Huffington Post, 28 March 2016).
And just on 2 November 2016, Telesur reported that yet another young activist had been murdered:
“Another trade unionist and human rights defender was murdered Tuesday in the northeastern department of Cauca, one of Colombia’s regions hardest hit by over half a century of civil war between government forces and left-wing guerrilla armies.
“Jhon Jairo Rodriguez, a 34-year-old rural activist, member of labor unions and the Marcha Patriotica movement, and father of four children, was found dead Tuesday around 6:40 p.m. local time, sprawled on the ground near his motorcycle with three bullet wounds in his body near the community of Santa Rita.
“The murder comes on the heels of a wave of assassinations of left-wing political activists and human rights defenders in recent years. Marcha Patriotica, a political movement uniting some 2,000 social organizations, reports that more than 120 of its activists have been killed since it was founded four years ago. In Cauca alone, where Rodriguez was shot dead, at least 24 Marcha Patriotica members have been killed since 2012, four of them just this year. Earlier this year, the Ministry of the Interior signaled that 133 murders of Marcha Patriotica members were under investigation”.
Many people will be asking themselves, if the FARC disarm, who will be left to defend them against the right-wing death squads? Theoretically, the Colombian army should take that role, but it is well known that the army has always been in cahoots with the death squads, happy to let them take on the tasks that it would not be politic for the army to be seen to be undertaking.
Time for change
Despite all these dangers and threats, of which the FARC are only too well aware, the FARC have calculated that the best way of bringing this counter-revolutionary violence to an end in the present circumstances is by signing a peace accord. Of course there is a risk that the Colombian élite will do what they have done in the past, i.e., lure the guerrillas out of their home in the countryside to the cities where they are easy to kill, but this is a risk the FARC are prepared to take in the interests of the peace that all Colombians long for. What gives hope for change is the fact that the cost of the ongoing war is eating into the profits of the rich and of the imperialists, while experience proves that the FARC cannot be disposed of by military means.
Even with billions of dollars’ worth of US military support in the first decade of this century, fraudulently presented to the world as being spent on the war on drugs, it proved impossible to defeat the FARC-EP. “In 2004 President Uribe declared that ‘without an extension of US aid under the multibillion dollar Plan Colombia, Colombia would be defeated by the FARC-EP.
“Experts from former US ambassador to El Salvador Robert White to Colombian historian Herbert Braun, have claimed that in no way can Bogotá or Washington defeat the FARC-EP … By the close of Plan Colombia over US$7.7 billion had been poured into a counter-insurgency strategy that had not only failed to see the FARC-EP collapse but saw some of the most ferocious guerrilla campaigns launched in a decade…” (Brittain, p. 224).
So although the Colombian ruling class really hates having to compromise with the FARC, it makes economic sense for it to do so: for one thing, it has borrowed so much in order to pay for the war, that repayments are crippling the economy. In fact, it has been running a budget deficit well above the 2.5% limit set by the IMF and of late has been badly hit by the fall in the price of oil which had been accounting for a fifth of its income. There is even a remote possibility that serious contradictions are developing within the Colombian bourgeoisie, which has hitherto been virtually in its entirety a vassal of imperialism. Since imperialism is increasingly sinking its fangs into the Colombian economy at the expense of the Colombian people, one can only suppose that there is a class of Colombian capitalists who have been ruined, or are in danger of being ruined, by the increasing encroachment of the neo-liberal policies demanded by the World Bank in return for the loans needed, originally to pay for the cost of waging civil war against the insurgency, but increasingly to cover the year-on-year budget deficit brought about as a result of ‘free trade’. Garry Leech explains in his book Killing Peace:
“World Bank statistics show that between 1989 and 1993 [as a result of giving in to imperialist pressure], Colombia’s average tariff decreased from 44 percent to less than 12 percent, resulting in lower prices for imported goods. Consequently, the country’s trade surplus soon became a trade deficit. In 1989, Colombian exports totalled $7.3 billion and imports “6.4 billion – a surplus of almost one billion dollars. But only nine years later, exports of $13.6 billion were surpassed by imports totalling $17.5 billion, resulting in a deficit of close to $4 billion. It soon became apparent that the government’s policies were negatively impacting domestic producers who were unable to compete with the high-tech industries of scale in developed countries” (p.45).
This trend has only grown worse and in 2016 imports exceeded imports by over $9.2 billion.
Another consideration is that US imperialism is engulfed in economic crisis and may no longer be as willing as it has been in the past to throw good money after bad to support the futile attempts of the government to wipe out the guerrilla movement.
In other words, there is a real opportunity to work for peace, and even a good chance that the Colombian élite will make sure not to blow it.
What do the FARC stand for?
To understand why it is that the FARC cannot be militarily defeated, it is important to understand the extent that the organisation itself is deeply integrated into the needs and aspirations of the overwhelming majority of the Colombian population. To start with, the FARC, although an armed movement, armed itself not for violence but to defend peace. It grew out of peasant militias formed in the 1950s for self-defence against landowners who had since the 1920s been resorting to violence to remove the peasant population from their land by force when the landowners, backed up by Colombian government forces, sought to empty the land to make way for the modern mechanised production methods of agribusiness, without regard for the traditional rights and interests of the peasant masses. The peasant militias were supported by the Colombian Communist Party, a member party of the Third International, which imbued their movement with Marxist-Leninist understanding and organisation. The famous FARC peasant leader Marulanda was a member of the Communist Party and an ardent Marxist-Leninist from a young age until the day he died.
The result was that the peasants were able to set up extensive safe areas guarded by the militias:
“In the enclaves, the communist peasants sought to establish alternative political, social and economic structures to the capitalist model imposed on the rural population by the country’s dominant political parties. By the early 1950s … the communist revolutionaries ‘regulated the use of expropriations and the proceeds from them, subordinating individual appetites to the collective good of the resistance … In some regions of greatest control, production and distribution priorities were set for the civilian population. According to the FARC’s telling of its origins, both the PCC and the leaders of the self-defence groups encouraged the peasant communities to share the land among the residents and created mechanisms for collective work and assistance to the individual exploitation of parcels of land and applied the movement’s justice by collective decision of assemblies of the populace. These became areas with a new mentality socially and politically different from those offered by the regime. The decisive factor was the presence in power of the people themselves” (Garry Leech 2, pp.11-12).
The peasant militias came together as the FARC in 1966, still very much guided by the Colombian Communist Party. However, the FARC parted company eventually with the PCC as it fell for Khrushchevite revisionism and ultimately perestroika. There is now a different organisation, the Clandestine Communist Party of Colombia, but precisely because it is clandestine, it is not possible to assess at this time the extent of its influence.
Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that the FARC has stood with the peasantry and working class of Colombia to protect their livelihoods from encroachment either from the Colombian elite, or the imperialist multinationals, or the drug barons. More than that, it has helped the communities in the areas it controlled to become economically self-sufficient, it has provided top quality education services for free, as well as free health care; it has mobilised the people themselves to build infrastructure in the form of roads, running water and electricity, using local materials and without resort to outside loans; it has safeguarded the environment, protecting the rain forest, preventing over-fishing and other measures to ensure that the earth was able to continue to give to future generations; it dispenses justice fairly without any taint of corruption or favouritism. The effectiveness and popularity of FARC rule in the areas under its control can be judged from the following:
“During the 1998-2002 peace negotiations between the state and the FARC-EP, hundreds of thousands of peasants, small and medium producers, indigenous groups, and Afro-Colombians relocated to FARC-EP controlled zones, especially San Vicente del Caguán …
“The next few years saw rural inhabitants enter the FARC-EP-maintained demilitarized zone at a remarkable pace. Prior to the peace negotiations, the ‘zone’ had a population of less than 100,000 … By the time the army invaded the region and ended the peace negotiations in February 2002, roughly 740,000 had migrated to the guerrilla-held territory … A further demonstration of the support amongst the rural populations for the FARC-EP was witnessed after insurgent-held territories were temporarily taken by the state and paramilitary forces or abandoned as a result of devastation of the civil war …Stathis N Kalyvas found that in areas where this occurred the peasants regularly emigrated alongside the insurgents…”
“The more Bogotá and Washington increased efforts to coercively eliminate support for the guerrillas, the greater that support became” (Brittain, p.31-34).
The FARC have been categorised by their imperialist and local comprador enemies as dealing heavily in illegal drugs, cocaine in particular. This lie is repeated time and time again, including sometimes by people purporting to be sympathetic to their cause. However, the truth is that the FARC, being strongly influenced by Marxism-Leninism, is in fact opposed to drugs, and is not directly involved in the drug trade in any way. What they do, however, do is (a) impose taxes on the profits of the drug trade (as well as of all legitimate businesses) that arise in the areas they control, and (b) protect the small peasants who cultivate coca for want of any other way of making a living, ensuring that they are paid a fair price for their product. The money is not used for anybody’s personal enrichment, but in order to provide the services to the community that are normally provided by a government out of tax revenue.
The FARC would infinitely prefer that the drug trade should cease to exist. In the areas they control, they do everything possible to limit the cultivation of coca leaves, requiring peasants to devote at least part of their land to legal crops with a view to securing self-sufficiency in food production, and they have been keenly involved with UN bodies to develop viable programmes of crop substitution. However, in the absence of support from the Colombian government, nothing much came of these discussions. It is nevertheless the case that it is estimated that the FARC’s indirect involvement with the drugs industry amounts only to some 2.5% of all drug activity in Colombia. “In recent years… findings have demonstrated that the insurgency actually decreased export rates of coca from regions under its control, while sustaining (and increasing) levels of gross domestic product and employment” (Brittain, p.138).
Responsibility for the flourishing of the drug trade in Colombia ultimately rests fairly and squarely with imperialism. It is the alienated masses of the imperialist countries who provide the demand for the drugs; and it is the destruction of Colombia’s legitimate export production that has caused Colombia’s producers, both rich and poor, to turn over their lands to the coca plant. There was a time when Colombia’s main export was coffee – considered by many to be the best coffee in the world. However, imperialist imposed ‘free trade’ has destroyed the business:
“The 1970s and 1980s saw roughly 300,000 to 350,000 farmers cultivating coffee and 2 million Colombians benefiting from the industry in some form … As neoliberal policies encouraged unfettered international trade, however, tariffs were increasingly removed, and the US withdrawal from the International Coffee Agreement … in 1989 drastically altered the historic modest returns for coffee producers…
“… the international market price for coffee – Colombia’s leading export for most of the 20th century – plummeted in the post Cold War era, forcing many farmers to seek alternative means of survival. Consequently, increasing numbers of farmers began replacing their coffee plants with coca plants … The dilemma now faced by Colombia’s coffee growers began with a World Bank development project in Vietnam that, during the 1990s, encouraged Vietnamese farmers to grow coffee. The programme was so ‘successful’ that in 2001 Vietnam surpassed Colombia to become the number two coffee producing country in the world behind Brazil. However, a resulting global glut in coffee caused the market price to plummet from over $2 a pound at the end of the 1980s to 58 cents by the end of 2001. Consequently, coffee growers around the world, including those in Vietnam, are now desperately struggling to survive by growing a crop that sells for less than it costs to produce…
“Thanks to free trade, the Colombian farmer has no other options. The agricultural sector has been ruined…”
“The prices that traffickers can offer for coca leaves surpasses the price peasants can get for cocoa pods by two to eight times, for rubber by four times and for maize by more than 40 times.” (Brittain, pp.83-84).
Ironically, US imperialism’s supposed attempts under ‘Plan Colombia’ set up in 2000 to eradicate the Colombian drug trade have in fact had the effect of increasing it. This was because the fumigation of coca plantations effected under the Plan (overwhelmingly those in the FARC controlled areas, though these were far from being the areas of the greatest production) destroyed legitimate crops, making it impossible for the peasants to survive in those areas. They therefore migrated to other areas where the one crop that would provide quick and sure returns was … coca leaves.
The question nobody is addressing is that since the FARC have only 2.5% involvement in Colombia’s drug trade, a trade, incidentally, that accounts for a very significant percentage of Colombia’s exports, who is taking the lion’s share? Here it is clear that the beneficiaries are (a) the Colombian élite into whose ranks the big drug dealers have been admitted as the latter have been investing their ill-gotten gains in buying up landed estates (b) the military and para-militaries and (c) government officials. In the opinion of Brittain, US imperialism and the Colombian government are not interested in ending the drug trade – they are merely interested in ensuring it remains “under the control of those traffickers who are allies of the Colombian state security apparatus and/or the CIA” (Scott, p.39).
More than that:
“…Washington has no systemic interests of curbing the dynamics of the global drug trade because of its economic spin-offs.”
“As one commercial bank executive astonishingly revealed, considerable fiscal benefits are derived from illicit transfers:
“The 500 billion dollars from the illegal origin coming into the main American banks and circulating among them exceed the net income of all computer companies in the United States and, of course, their benefits. This annual income exceeds all net transfers made by the main oil and military companies and aircraft manufacturers. The largest banks in the United States – the Bank of America, JP Morgan, Chase Manhattan and, above all, the Citibank – receive a high percentage of their banking benefits from services provided to the accounts of criminal dirty money. The larger banks and financial institutions in the United States support the global power of the United States through their laundering operations and management of illegal funds. The Citibank, the first money laundering bank, is the largest bank in the United States, with 180,000 employees across the world … 700,000 well-known deposits and over 1 billion deposits of private individuals in secret accounts and carries out private bank operations … in more than 30 countries thus turning it into the bank with the largest global presence compared with all financial institutions in the United States [quoted in Campos pp.78-9]” (Brittain, p.140).
Human rights abuses
The FARC are also accused of abusing human rights. This generally arises out of their kidnapping and holding to ransom very rich people, which nobody can deny is an abuse of those rich people’s human rights. However, this has to be set against the human rights abuses committed by and on behalf of Colombia’s wealthy elite! It has been estimated that the combined state and paramilitary forces have been responsible for 90-95% of the very large number of human rights abuses that regularly take place in Colombia, with the insurgency only responsible for 5-10%. As Leech rightly says:
“FARC raises money for its war efforts by kidnapping wealthy individuals for which it has been much condemned. However, while kidnapped Colombians are clearly victims of the country’s violence and their plight deserves attention, their numbers pale in comparison with the number of peasants who have been forcibly displaced, mostly by the military and right-wing paramilitaries.
“In 2000, at the outset of Plan Colombia, approximately three thousand Colombians were being kidnapped annually. Meanwhile, more than a quarter of a million peasants were being forcibly displaced from their homes and land every year, mostly by paramilitaries” (See Leech 2, p.130). And then of course there are the thousands of innocent victims of the death squads!
It will be seen from the above that the FARC, as a progressive and patriotic organisation, is swimming in a sea of sharks. If US imperialism and the Colombian elite are now going to allow it to operate in bourgeois democracy as an open and legal political party, they are obviously hoping that it can be deterred from its path of opposition to imperialist plunder and to neglect of the needs of the masses as a result of a few concessions thrown in its direction. The FARC on the other hand will be hoping to be able to use their legal status to spread their message ever wider among the masses of the Colombian people in order to prepare them for the overthrow of the capitalist system which is heaping endless misery upon them.
One of the most glaring injustices of Colombian society has been the iniquitous distribution of land. It is so bad that even the Economist recognises the need for reform:
“Land distribution in Colombia is among the most unequal in the world, with 52% of farms in the hands of just 1.15% of landowners, according to a study by the United Nations Development Programme. The agriculture ministry says that only 22% of potential arable land in a vast country is cultivated. Around 6.5m hectares (16m acres) of land, including some of the most fertile, was stolen, abandoned or forcibly changed hands in other ways between 1985 and 2008 as a result of the conflict. That reversed the meagre gains of timid land-reform efforts in the past” (‘Peace, land and bread’, 24 November 2012).
Under the peace accords, the Colombian government has already promised to undertake a radical land reform that should see 3 million hectares of land redistributed to peasants and credits made available to them to ensure that they can make effective use of it. Of course such promises have been made in the past and were never kept, but with the leadership of a legal political party formed by FARC, the masses can be mobilised to ensure that this time round, it will be different.
Colombia as a country is so richly endowed that it should be able to provide a decent standard of life for all its citizens purely from its own resources:
“The nation’s productivity is enormous. Colombia has 26 million head of cattle … a chicken for every pot and abundant fish. Annually, Colombia grows 180 pounds of plantains for every man, woman and child; 130 pounds of potatoes; 110 pounds of bananas and 90 pounds of rice and 50 pounds of corn. Colombia produces 830,000 tons of the best coffee in the world and 32 million tons of sugar cane a year … It extracts close to 200 million barrels of oil a year with new fields awaiting development and 24 million tons of coal, the largest coal deposits in South America. More than 700,000 troy ounces of gold are mined annually and more than 6 million carats of emeralds are mined, half the world production” (Ramsay Clark, p.24).
And yet: “In the midst of this surplus … malnourishment is rampant throughout rural Colombia”.
The FARC have half a century of experience, through their control at times of up to half of Colombia’s territory, in combating such arrant injustice and organising economic affairs on a rational basis. We wish them every success in bringing their experience to bear in what will surely prove to be a long and hard struggle to free the entire Colombian economy of the stranglehold of bloodsuckers local and foreign, alongside the many Latin American nations who are similarly struggling to bring a decent life to all their people.
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