Return to Recent Articles menu

Colombia: Havana, the peace of the victors or the vanquished? (Part II)

Gearoid O Loingsigh

14 April 2014

The start of the peace process with the FARC was announced with great fanfare and the press, governments, NGOs and the UN etc. were all convened to an event in Oslo which would begin the process.  It was a glorified press conference where each one tried to come out better than the other.

As with all peace processes there was an attempt made to set down the basis of public discourse around the process itself.  The FARC commander, Iván Márquez, gave a speech which got it right on many points about the reality of Colombia.  The government would have great difficulty denying reality.  Márquez stated that: 

“In Colombia there is no national economy.  Those who export oil, coal, iron nickel and gold and benefit from them are the multinationals.  The prosperity belongs to them and the turncoats in government and not the country.”  

But anyone can describe the reality and the government doesn’t get upset about it. Trying to imply that the FARC were going to negotiate those points is another matter entirely.  

The head of the governmental delegation Humberto de la Calle was emphatic, the model was not up for discussion.  The Colombian State is made up of liars, criminals and the corrupt.  When one reads the reports it presents to international bodies such as the UN, one can clearly see that a lie falls from the lips of a representative of the State with greater ease than the truth.  But it is not about their lack of honesty.  We can believe De la Calle for one simple reason:  the State has not been defeated and there is nothing which indicates that the bourgeoisie feel the need to make major concessions as would be the case with the mining-energy policy.  If they wanted, they could make such changes without any need to negotiate with the guerrillas, but they have done the exact opposite, deepening the state policies in the area of mining, agriculture, human rights etc.  We saw just such a spectacle in Ireland where the IRA and Sinn Féin made hardline declarations, practically declaring victory and we now know that the undefeated British state was right; they weren’t going to leave.

Márquez also stated that the “mining-energy motor of the economy is like a social-environmental demon that, if the people do not stop it, will in less than a decade turn Colombia into an unviable country”.  This is true, but the question arises as to why in exchange for money, do various FARC fronts allow mining machinery to enter the peasant communities and the territories of the afro and indigenous communities?  If they trying to build a new Colombia they must be coherent and consistent.  Although the ELN is not currently in negotiations with the State, the same question can be put to them, as several of their fronts do exactly the same as the FARC in relation to the mining.

In reality Márquez’s speech was an exercise in public relations.  He was telling his base that they were going to negotiate a new Colombia and, as the negotiations are secret, nobody would contradict him until the end of the process when we will almost certainly have forgotten the hardline or revolutionary declarations made during the process.  However, despite the cloak of secrecy in which the process has been surrounded we are obliged to try and look at where it is going and the nature of the “agreements” with the government.  The first point on the agenda was the agrarian issue, which is logical given the inequality in land tenure in Colombia and the origins of the FARC as a peasant organization.

The first agreement signed was on the agrarian question.  It was welcomed with great joy and like the evangelical faithful, the intellectuals, journalists and NGO raised their arms and shouted with joy “praised be the Lord, I am saved” and the tears ran down their cheeks as can only happen to those who have faith.  The rest of us had to look on and ask, how do they know they have been saved?  What have they seen that we cannot make out?

Fernanda Espinosa states:

The agreement between the FARC and the government that was made public on the 26th of May 2013 is of historic proportions.  What was signed in Havana is unprecedented, it is a gain made by social forces that want a political solution...(1)
Historic? Unprecedented? A gain made by social forces?  A question arises; How does Espinosa know that the agreement is historic and unprecedented?  The agreement is secret, officially nobody outside the negotiating teams have read it.  Yes, they issued some communiqué or other and later they would publish a report on the agreement, but the details of the agreement as such are not in the public domain.  None of this prevents the fans of the process from saying whatever they want, regardless of how little basis there is to it, because what is important is to support the process and like the evangelical preacher, whip the crowd into a frenzy in support of the process where they all shout in unison, “praised be the Lord”.

Alfredo Molano, for once in his life, was a little more realistic in his opinions, recognising the limits of the agreement but at the same time stating that this was a very good thing.

The agreement on land signed in Havana by the government and the FARC is still a generic framework, which not only sets down the limits within which each party can move in relation to the other points, but also the points which must be mulled over before they become concrete articles of the agreement that the negotiation seeks.
The people – to use the language of the communiqué – hoped for a more specific text that spoke of hectares, money and dates for example.  Prudently the delegates did not fall into this trap which the paramilitaries and the Uribistas have prepared for them.  Something has been learned from previous negotiations, which is why the terms used by each party are different.
Lastly one has to point out that this agreement is the first to be signed by the FARC and the establishment on the agrarian issue.  The finer points have to be threshed out, but if this step is followed by the remaining five, there will be a clear pathway to a “peace without victory”.(2)

Molano’s text is a little more honest in terms of what is known about the content of the agreement, but it is equally dishonest.  The agreement is imprecise in its use of a generic language, not out of any sense of prudence or the skill of the negotiators but because the FARC have agreed to very little with the State, i.e. they expect very little in relation to the agrarian question.  It was precisely the generic language which allowed the Salvadoran State to not meet their commitments agreed to with the FMLN.  Molano praises the fact that the parties use different terminology, but if they use different terms it not due to some great strategy but rather it is because they are saying different things.  Some want to reassure their base and the newly acquired fans of their cause.  The State which holds power, is saying: “know this, we won”!  Once again we see that the habits of the Irish model are repeated and we already know that this ends in tears.  The FARC returned to the issue six months later and said:

... it is unthinkable that in a process like the one that we are in one could forget that we need to give property back its social function.  It follows that the sixth myth is to hope that one could obtain a stable lasting peace without ending the latifundia and putting a stop to the foreign takeover of land.(3)
There is a certain confusion in the text.  In capitalist societies, property has no social function, unless one understands capitalist accumulation as social and we know that the FARC do not consider this to be a social function.  The term reveals a naivety regarding the possibilities and reach of the process.  They are correct to say that the latifundia and the foreign takeover of land must be done away with, but this cannot be seen in the Joint Report.  The exact opposite is to be seen.  One must remember that after signing the agreement the government came out to reassure the large landlords saying that they would respect private property.  There can be no agrarian reform that respects private property.
The Joint Report on the agrarian agreement gives a few clues as to the content of it despite the vague generic language in it.  The Report itself repeats this generic language and there is very little specific detail in the document.  According to the text “The Agreement recognises that the Peasant Reserves are a tool that the State has to promote the peasant economy the production of food and putting an end to the expansion of the agricultural frontier.”(4)
Of course it recognises the legal figure of Peasant Reserve Zones (ZRC) as this exists in the Colombian legislation.  It would be very difficult for them to do otherwise.  This is not progress and in fact neither is recognising the ZRC that have already been established or whose formal recognition is underway.  This is something which has already been achieved.  The ZRC do not mean more land for the peasants, but rather some legal protection on the use and sale of land.  Such protection can be revoked.  We should remember that the 1994 Zapatista uprising in Mexico was precisely over the derogation of article 27 of the Constitution, one of the gains of the Mexican Revolution.  What’s more, we can be sure that it is unlikely that there will be more ZRC.  Last year, a month and a half after signing the agreement the peasants in the Catatumbo region came out to protest and demand that their ZRC be recognised.  Santos could have come out and said the Catatumbo ZRC had already been agreed upon and they would have to wait until the talks in Havana were finalised, or he could have given in to their demands as sign of good faith that the government wants to change the Colombian countryside.  He didn’t, he sent the repressive forces of the State to fight the unarmed peasants with everything he had to hand.

Besides the ZRC, the report also talks of many practical or conjunctural things which are very similar to the demands made by the peasant organisations in their protests.  They do not amount to an agrarian reform, they are far removed from that and leave in the hands of the government the power to define and decide many things as they see fit.  We should remember that the Colombian State has, for decades, reneged on deals signed with peasant organisations and there is no reason to believe that they have changed their mind.

Last year we also had the agrarian strike which resulted in 12 deaths, four disappearances and almost 500 injured.  The government came to an agreement with various peasant organisations to end the strike.  Many of the demands were practical things like those that the FARC demanded, such as subsides for materials etc.  However, at the Agrarian Summit held in Bogotá last March, these same organisations complained that the government did not live up to its commitments and warned that if they didn’t come through they would call another strike.  They had better begin preparing the strike, as the State is not going to give in.  The last thirty years of Colombian history is full of hundreds of agreements signed but never implemented.  The significance this time is that the strike took place shortly after the FARC signed the agreement and the government brazenly reneges on what they had agreed with the peasants. Yet there are those who want us to believe how historic the agreement signed in Havana is.

The Joint Report talks of a Land Bank, just like they did in El Salvador: 

The Bank will be nurtured mainly from lands that have been unduly or illegally acquired and to this end the asset forfeiture legislation will be strengthened and applied.  State lands appropriated and occupied in contravention of the legislation in force will be recovered.(5)
It is time that the FARC and the NGOs got serious.  Asset Forfeiture legislation has existed for a long time in Colombia and has been of no use at all.  What is more the INCODER (Colombian Institute for Rural Development) has spent its time sharing the land out amongst the rich and not the poor.  What makes them think this time it will be different?  There is nothing in Santos’ record which shows us his good will on the issue.  In fact, it goes against his political trajectory.  The lands which have been illegally acquired have owners, they are not lands that can be distributed amongst displaced persons different from the former occupiers.  In other words, more land is not being added to a bank in order to increase the peasantry’s participation in agricultural production, but rather they propose to take land belonging to one displaced peasant and give that same land to some other peasant.  These same proposals already exist in Law 1448 of 2011, better known as the Victims and Land Restitution Law and we all know of its failings.  Many NGOs have criticised this law.  In practice the law doesn’t give the land back to the peasant as is clear from the following quote.

There is a lengthy legal process to go through, where the burden of proof is placed on the peasant reclaiming the land.  Having proved their case the peasants, in order to access the land, have to agree to plant cash crops, such as African Palm, sugar cane, rubber, cocoa, and even certain vegetables for the European market such as asparagus, which do not form part of the Colombian diet.  In order to grow these cash crops the peasants must take out a loan from a state body such as FINAGRO.  So, the land is not given to them, it is handed over subject to a series of conditions which include assuming a debt in order to meet the government’s agro-exporting plans.

However, this is not the only difficulty.  Article 99 of Law 1448 of 2011 (the Land Restitution Law) is very clear about the circumstances under which the land can be handed back.  It states in no uncertain terms that where the new occupier acted in “good faith” and has implemented an agroindustrial project (palm or rubber for example) then the occupier may continue to exploit the land upon signing an agreement with the peasant.  The peasant will receive economic compensation and will continue to be recognised as the lawful owner but not the legal usufructuary.  It must be remembered that it is up to the peasant to prove that the occupier acted in bad faith.

In cases where there is an agroindustrial project on the land and the peasant has proved the occupier's bad faith, this still does not mean that land is automatically returned.  The same Article 99 states that the magistrate who is dealing with the case may hand the land over to the Special Administrative Unit for the Management and Restitution of Stolen Lands in order that it “exploit the land through a third party and set aside the produce of the project for collective reparations programs for victims in the neighbourhood of the plot of land.”  So peasants do not get their land back even when bad faith on the part of the occupier is proven. In the next line of Article 99, the law states that the magistrate will “ensure the protection of the rights of the parties and that they obtain an adequate economic retribution.”  To be clear about this, the parties in this context are the thief and the victim.  They will both receive adequate economic compensation.  Why would a thief be compensated through a law that seeks to hand back land to the victims?  Because, as is always the case in Colombia, it is the economic model that counts, not the individual citizen, and no uppity peasant will be allowed to get in the way of the agro-exporting model...(6)
Well done gentlemen of the FARC, with such an own-goal, there is no need for the agricultural  business associations to get involved.  It should be pointed out that there are many experiences in Colombia of the implementation of supposedly transforming policies.  I hope I am wrong, but I doubt it and there are other parts of the text which give us more cause for concern.  The Joint Report refers to the unproductive latifundia, a term which is also used in the 100 Minimum Proposals of the FARC.  What they are saying is that part of the land for the bank will come not only from the thousand times failed policy of assets forfeiture but also from land from the unproductive latifundia.  Very well, gentlemen, how many latifundia in Colombia are unproductive?  Very few, in the 100 Proposals reference is also made to the farms that inadequately use the land etc. but it is the same thing.

So, how will this work?  Simple, a low productivity latifundio , which is not to say unproductive, will ask the State to give them subsidies in order to increase the productivity or change the use the land is put to.  Which subsidies?  Well, the same ones that the FARC are asking be given to the peasants that will receive the land in order to work it.  After all the Joint Report correctly states:

It is not about just giving access to the land but of ensuring a holistic access: i.e. that along with the land, means and capabilities have to be provided to make use of the land (such as seed capital, irrigation, where necessary, technical aid, housing and credit), as well creating an environment that contributes to productivity and well being through the provision of goods and public services such as roads, health, education, drinking water...(7)
You, the FARC have been in the mountains for half a century fighting against the Colombian State, your web page and your statements on the peace process, show an indolent bourgeoisie, tolerant of corruption and above all a ruling class, which like no other, understands how to twist any law to its own benefit.  However, you want us to believe that this time, everything you have said about them is not true.  No, on more than one point, you have hit the nail on the head in relation to the nature of that gang of thugs and murderers that form the ruling class of Colombia.  So we can ask ourselves, what will the owners/thugs of the low productivity latifundia do?  They will, in the name of a just and fair treatment demand that the State through subsidies etc. should give them the opportunity to increase their productivity and that they also need roads, water etc. and what is more they have a cousin on hand whose company can carry out the project in the most corrupt form possible.  Thus, not only will there be no agrarian reform, something already ruled out by the State and the FARC, there won’t even be a distribution of the small number of latifundia they allude to.  If we look at Santos’ land restitution law, we see what happens and how they take advantage of such laws.

In a recent article in Semana León Valencia stated that the process has been very slow.  According to the analyst only 20,694 hectares have been restored over a period of 2.5 years, when they expected the figure to be 360,000 hectares out of a total of 6,000,000.  Of the land handed over, 8,400 hectares i.e. 40%, was given to one family, in the Department of Meta, who have no right to receive state lands.(8)  However, they have them and the peasants do not.  Moreover, Valencia points out that the State has opted to use the slowest procedures in the legislation and to not take advantage of other provisions to expedite the handover of land.

All of the restitutions go before the judges, of whom there are few and they have no expertise, when the government could choose any amount of landholdings without any opposition and make quick, expedited restitutions by administrative means.  Instead of relying on Art. 97 of the law which gives a green light to restitutions in all risk zones of the country, using the compensation system, they preferred to invent what they call “micro-focalisation” which means going to the Ministry of Defence to ask them where they can carry out restitutions, turning the military into arbiters of the process.  As Carmen Palencia of the Associación Tierra y Vida (Land and Life Association) denounced, they turned their backs on victims’ organisations that had offered to help publicise and implement the law.  They ignore the brutal figure of 69  land claimants murdered since 2008.(9)
León Valencia is another demobilised guerrilla who believes in the negotiation processes, however, in this case he has had to face the reality of the State and the country.  Although the title of the article President Santos, save the restitution of land! shows the exact same naivety or lack of politics as the FARC.  He seems to believe that Santos is interested in resolving this problem.  Here we have a law which contains many elements of the Land Bank put forward in the Joint Report.  However, we see that the government does not facilitate the peasants in reclaiming the land that was stolen from them.  On the contrary, they continue to kill them.  The bourgeoisie is calm.

The Conservative Party senator Juan Mario Laserna travelled to Cuba as part of a congressional delegation and he came back very happy with what he saw and heard there.  According to Laserna, the FARC’s proposals are not over the top.

There is nothing exotic about what I heard.  They are surely talking behind the scenes of a vision of collective property, which someone like me, who believes in the social economy of the market might disagree with on many points.  But in terms of rural development for the peasant, marketing, problems with prices, volatility, revaluation, access, there are things which are in the development plan and are not exotic, rather they are needs, which the government will have to deal with in any case, with or without a peace process.(10)
Later on in the same article he states that the mining companies can pay higher taxes in order to finance a peace agreement.  The supposed reduction in security problems that an agreement would mean for them, means they could pay more taxes.  It sounds like a personal opinion, however mining will not disappear from Colombia, the multinationals will stay, so we will have to wait and see to what extent that opinion of Laserna reflects the general feeling of the elite.

Whilst the FARC are negotiating in Havana the government is trying to change the current law in order to hand over state lands to the large companies and the foreign takeover of lands continues apace.  In contravention of the law, the US company Cargill bought more than 52,000 hectares in Vichada and nothing happened.(11)  The bourgeoisie does not have a split personality nor anything of the kind and if it proposes changing the law and if it is handing over land to multinationals whilst they talk in Havana, it is because what is happening in Cuba is not going to change their policies at all, no matter what the fans of the process say.

Political Participation. 

Political Participation is the second agreement that the parties have signed.  But it is the most laughable of all.  We are expected to believe that they want political participation, not just of the FARC commanders but of society in general when the government vetoed any participation in the negotiations in Havana by peasant and victims organisations and the FARC accepted this.  It is laughable to talk of political participation coming out of a secret process, behind the backs of the people, who are excluded from the process.  When the negotiations are over, Iván Márquez is not going to plant yucca, however, it is he and his comrades who are negotiating the land issue and not the peasantry, who now do not even have the right to have an opinion.  It is worth pointing out that the FARC have their 100 Minimum Proposals on Political Participation. One presumes that the FARC want greater participation of the people in decision making processes in Colombia.  Nobody should oppose any reforms that arise to that end, but that is not what it is about.  The problem of political participation is not just a question of how many seats the FARC will be given as part of an agreement, nor how many they could win in subsequent elections, as part of political formations that already exist, such as the Polo, the Greens of the Patriotic Union.  The truth is that the immense majority of the population has been excluded and in the country votes are bought, either with private funds or state funds.  The insurgencies and the legal left have not set a good example.  The Colombian left looks at the elections as something conjunctural, they, like the right see it as their opportunity to get their slice of the pie.  Every time there are local elections the peasant and workers organisations sit down with the candidates and negotiate.  They don’t just negotiate and discuss the political programme, but rather brazenly ask the Mayor to be corrupt and award them projects, jobs and there are some who even have the cheek to ask that the Mayor build an office for them with public resources.  The candidate who makes most concessions in terms of corruption is the one who gains their votes.  In all of this process the people are excluded by the same left that asks them to rubber stamp the corruption that the left negotiated behind their backs.

This is the legal left, both, reformist, revolutionary, radical etc.  The insurgencies have not been any better.  It is well known that in some areas the insurgencies help candidates they have reached an agreement with on some points of their political programme and of course in relation to corruption.  The view is purely conjunctural.  The programmatic points are of lesser importance.  In one case I came across the candidate said he was opposed to the fumigations of coca.  In exchange for this, he was given their support, even though there is little a Mayor could do on this issue, as it is a national and international issue.  Later it turned out that the candidate was accused of having links to the paramilitaries.  This is the example they have set, one which is not that different to that of the Colombian right.

Of course the illegal left is not alone when it comes to giving support to people of doubtful character.  The Polo did the same with the current Mayor of Barrancabermeja, Elkin Bueno and also with Julio Cesar Ardila, both of doubtful character.  Ardila was found guilty of the murder of a journalist.

The Colombian left put the indigenous leader Floro Tunubalá in as governor of the Department of Cauca and it meant nothing to the people.  Tunubalá took decisions without even having to consult the political grouping that nominated him as candidate.  His term as governor had no positive impact on the participation of the people and also had its quota of corruption and inefficiency.  In fact, the BSA lost the following elections to Juan José Chaux, currently accused of having links with the paramilitaries.  When Tunubalá left the governorship he went off to work for the Coca Cola Foundation.  With leftwingers like him, there is not much need for rightwingers.(12)

The Colombian right is not going to increase the participation of the people and the left can only do so if it leaves its old clientelistic corrupt practices behind and takes a long term, programmatic view of the elections.  Colombia is the only country in the world where supposed leftwingers stand as candidates for the Conservative Party or that an ex minister in neoliberal governments such as Horacio Serpa considers himself to be left wing.  Neither should we forget that when Angelino Garzón became Santos’ Vicepresident, some on the left and many human rights groups took a positive view of this, as Garzón had been a member of various leftwing formations and even had the backing of the Polo as governor of Valle.  Participation is not something you negotiate, it something you do and the legal and illegal left do it very badly and in a manner so corrupt that we just cannot accept that suddenly there will be greater real participation flowing from a decree coming out of Havana.

The Power Structure.

The problem with the agrarian and political participation agreements is that they are, in the best of cases, lukewarm measures.  The land question is a problem of power in the countryside.  It doesn´t matter how much land you distribute, or don’t as is the case, if the power structure in the countryside doesn’t change, your efforts will be in vain.  We should be clear about this, there is no mini-revolution underway, there will be no change in the power structure in Colombia. That is very, very far away.

Worse still for the legal left and the peasant and workers’ organisations, the agreement will set the limits of the social demands.  Every time an organisation asks for a more political reform in the countryside, they will be told that it can’t be done as it breaks with the new social contract signed in Havana and the meek left will adhere to this as they have done with the 1991 Constitution.  The only ones who let themselves be limited by the constitution and the institutions etc. is the left, the right just laughs at it.

Any change in the power structure, requires not just the mobilisation of the people but also clarity in demands, that they are not bought off for crumbs, that they are not divided by the State giving something to some of them and nothing to others as happened with the potato growers in the agrarian strike last year, when they broke the unity of the strike for some subsidies that they were never even given.

The Constituent Assembly

Amongst the ideas of the FARC there appears a demand for a new Constituent Assembly.  The idea that the people be given a voice and vote is not new, but as always it is not thought through.  The government that does not want the people to take part in the process nor in any other setting was emphatic in its response to the proposal.  Humberto de la Calle rejected any suggestion of a constituent assembly.  Amongst the arguments that he put forward were the following questions: 

“Can anyone guarantee that what is agreed in Havana will be ratified in the Assembly?  Can anyone condition and even guarantee its political composition?  Who can ensure that rather than deepening the tolerant spirit of the Constitution we are opening up the door to a counter-reform?”(13) 
It is an exercise in demagogy from the representative of those who have never believed in participation and democracy, but the questions are not out of order, though nobody wants to acknowledge why this is so.

A new assembly could replicate the representation of the new congress with its ultra rightwing bench of Uribistas and may mean a serious step backwards in social and human rights.  However, it is the Why that is important.  A constituent assembly decreed from above can only replicate the 1991 experience.  A constituent assembly should be the result of a long process of struggle and mobilisation, it should come out of a social process with a correlation of forces which is very different to the current one.  Decreeing this resolves nothing.  It is not the assembly as such which is important but the process by which we get there. The political constitutions of countries are a reflection of various things.  First of all, they reflect the interests and ideas of the ruling class.  In a capitalist country the constitution cannot be socialist.  This seems obvious, but in the current debate, there is an idea afloat that it could be socialist.  However, many constitutions place limits on the capitalists.  This occurs where the balance of forces is such that concessions can be demanded and social progress made.  The demand for a new constituent assembly is mechanical and the result will also be.  It will be much more mechanical than the process in 1991 and we all know how that ended up.  Once it is passed, it has to be defended, applied and we have to take advantage of it and for that to happen it has to come from a strong process of mobilisation.  This partly explains the failure, setback and endless amendments to the 1991 Constitution.  The 1991 Constitution did not prevent the large massacres by the paramilitaries and the state forces, nor did it prevent the False Positives, nor the Process 8000, the theft of land, not even the modern invasion of large scale mining.  In fact, one could argue that it facilitated some of these things, especially in the economic field.  A new constitution that doesn’t arise from a real struggle to make major democratic gains is of no use to anyone.

But if the FARC do believe that they can achieve a new constituent assembly and that they still have time to mobilise the people around the proposal, then that should be their only demand. Well, why are they negotiating, if later on the people are going to decide everything in a constituent assembly?  A constituent assembly could be something positive, but as already pointed out, the right of the Colombian people to decide in this process has already been discounted.  The ELN had the idea of a National Convention where the people would discuss their future.  Of course, they first made this proposal 18 years ago when the conditions to hold it were much more favourable.  It didn’t have much of a response then and they proposed it once again to the Pastrana government when he was negotiating with the FARC in the Caguán demilitarised zone.  Pastrana rejected the proposal as he doesn’t believe that the poor have the right to express an opinion.  It would seem that the ELN itself has abandoned their flagship proposal and they now ask that be given a deal similar to that which the FARC has received in Havana.

The Alternative

In all the peace processes the armed organisations, the NGOs, the intellectuals and the states demand of the few critics an alternative to their peace process.  To this demand, we have to ask, an alternative, To what? For what? For whom?

These three questions are important, as the demand for an alternative is underwritten by various suppositions: that the state is legitimate, the regime is also and any idea of a different vision of society is illegitimate or utopian at best.  What is more they attempt to polarise the debate between the surrender of an armed group or the continuation of their failed strategy.  The armed strategy of the FARC has failed for many reasons.  There is not enough space here to go into the why and the how, but the FARC also believe it has failed, why else would they be negotiating after so many years of preaching revolution and the taking of power?  They acknowledge that they are not going to do so.

So, an alternative to what?  Well, obviously they mean the process.  But as we are not members of the FARC nor of the government we do not have to come up with an alternative to the process of negotiations between them.  Nor do we have to seek out alternatives to demobilise the FARC.  When one criticises the content of the agreements, the former militarists such as Yezid Arteta, ex commander of the FARC try to place the debate between political surrender or war.  Above all we should be clear that the criticism made is of the political surrender, the military question is of less importance.  Pre-empting possible criticisms of the negotiations, Yezid Arteta in an article in the magazine Semana mocked the critics saying:

A betrayal looms in Havana, underlines the maligner, from his Macbook.  He hasn’t the first clue of the sufferings that the rebels have gone through to sustain their cause and force a negotiation, but he continues to write.  One shouldn’t take them seriously, but one can read them as a pastime if there are no crosswords or Sudoku to hand.(14) 
Well, Mr Arteta, your article was written long before I wrote anything on the peace process, but just by chance, like you, I also have a Macbook, though far fewer articles come out of my Macbook for the bourgeois press than the ones that you write for the magazine Semana whilst you sip upon a carajillo in Els Quatre Gats. Perhaps it is jealousy on my part as I do miss my time spent in Barcelona.  Unlike yourself I have never even been a guerrilla combatant, less still a commander, so you are right, I have no idea of what you suffered in your struggle in the mountains or in jail, something I have in common with the majority of the people of this country who don’t know either.  But this is not what it is about.  Nobody is questioning your personal bravery nor that of other guerrillas, but rather your political proposals.  But if there is one thing which is a constant in all peace processes it is when former militarists from the armed groups want to come to just any kind of deal they come out and say; 

You don’t have a rifle, so you can’t criticise me for what I do with my rifle.  Now that I wish to give up the gun you can’t criticise my political ideas or the changes in them as you never had a rifle.”  

So, when we made criticisms of massacres such as Bojayá we couldn’t make any criticism because we didn’t have a rifle of our own; now that you have given up the gun, or want to, we can’t criticise your political postures as we never had guns.  This is nothing more than an apolitical stupidity which wouldn’t deserve to taken into account were it not for the power and role of those who come out with such idiotic statements.  You gave up the gun, but like all others you fall back on your past to justify your political ideas, but ideas are justified by themselves and not by how brave you were.  Of course this moralism is never applied to social democratic writers who used to condemn the FARC but now support the peace process.  The moralism is only applied to those disagree with you.  Neither are the peasants and their organisations guerrillas,  perhaps this is why nobody cares whether they have a voice and a vote in this process.

This moral and moralistic tone is common to all peace processes in the world.  But Mr Arteta don’t talk as if they idea of betrayal was far removed from the FARC.  How many guerrillas have voluntarily handed themselves in to state forces?  Thousands, at the very least, including the legendary and feared commander Karina who handed herself in to the Uribe government.  The equally legendary and feared commander of the FMLN, Joaquín Villalobos who said he would never hand in his weapons, declared victory in 1992 stating that “what is happening in El Salvador today is a revolution.  That's why it is not easy. We are touching sacred cows -- reforming the military and the police.”(15) He made these statements while other comrades of his were saying that the armed forces of the US could help in the transition to peace.(16)

In your diatribe you also laugh at those who know how to quote Lenin.  This is somewhat strange coming from a man who dedicated a significant portion of his life to a supposedly Marxist guerrilla group.  I haven’t quoted Lenin nor Marx, not because I wish to avoid attacks from the likes of yourself, who boast about their ignorance and lack of reading, but rather because Marxist ideas are not in discussion in Havana, we have no common reference points to bother quoting them.  It is telling that after 50 years Marxism is a cause for being mocked amongst the Farianos.  There are good bookshops in Barcelona, dare yourself Mr Arteta, go into one and read something.  Just as well you are not negotiating education in Colombia.  With such disdain for studying and reading everyone would end up illiterate.  Who would read the articles you write in the cafés of Barcelona then?

So Mr Arteta, leave aside your mocking of supposed coffee house intellectuals with their Macbooks, as those who most resemble this are the ex guerrillas like yourself and León Valencia, amongst others, writing their columns for Semana.  Leave aside your moralism that you were brave.  Nobody was braver than Villalobos whose faction of the FMLN inflicted the greatest casualties on the armed forces of El Salvador.  He is the clearest example that a personality’s past means nothing.  Where is Villalobos today?  Criticising the left, at ever opportunity and he is a member of rightwing institutions such as the Inter-American Dialogue where the ultra rightwinger, the ex Minister for Defence, Marta Lucía Ramírez is a member of the board, alongside  Zedillo, the ex president of Mexico, various White House functionaries and the infamous Francis Fukuyama.  The debate is on ideas, not what you did or didn’t do in the past, because, if a guerrilla past was all that matters we would have to listen to Villalobos and accept the domination of neoliberalism.  Moreover, you claim the right to give up your weapons but have never figured out that many did not join the guerrillas because they believed that such a path was not viable. In your diatribe you say that FARC forced a negotiation with the State.  Nothing further from the truth, for many years the FARC insisted on another demilitarised zone in the municipalities of Florida and Pradera, Colombia and Santos took you to the municipality of Havana, Cuba.  It is clear who forced whom.

The FARC and the NGO see the social conflict as something between the FARC and the State and not between the peasants, workers and the elites of the country.  If by alternative you mean an alternative to obtain an agrarian reform, a greater political participation, more labour, political and social rights etc, well first it must be pointed out that negotiations in Havana are not going to achieve any of these.  As already stated it does not aim to transform the country, so we are not talking about an alternative but a proposal.  The proposal is to continue struggling and to not be bound by the content of the agreements.  If the agreement doesn’t produce an agrarian reform you keep struggling.  Nobody should feel obligated by the agreement.  Unfortunately, we know that peace processes define public discourse and bind many organisations to an agenda that legitimates the state and capitalism as the only alternative for the poor.  To put it another way, the alternative is to not accept the capitalist refrain that there is no alternative.

We must make effort to leave the usual formulas behind.  In 1930 the majority of the new left coat tailed liberalism.  In 1991 a part of the left went into the establishment and the other part – both the legal and armed left – maintained itself in opposition but did not become a real alternative.  In 2014, will the left be capable of preparing the conditions to make a second independence a reality in 2019?
There is no clear alternative for workers and peasants to be seen which clearly puts forward the idea of the struggle for Peace and democracy as part of the struggle for socialism and clearly raises a revolutionary programme that unmasks the seemingly democratic trap that has been designed by the empire and the capitalists to fool the people once again.
This revolutionary alternative must be built in the midst of the struggle and the political-ideological debate which must be developed both within the left and outside of it.  This “new democratic aperture, will quickly show its dictatorial and neoliberal character and the people will have to face up to the capitalist crisis which has diverse manifestations in our country.  The struggle continues and must go forward.  Of that let there be no doubt!(17)
The peace processes are based on the absurd notion that in a conflict there can be two winners.  There can’t be.  They also completely discount the notion that there is such a thing as social classes and class struggle.  It is all just a misunderstanding amongst governments that want to do the right thing but haven’t been able to and with whom we must reconcile ourselves.  That is to say, the peasant with one hectare or thirty must reconcile with whoever has a thousand, three thousand or more.  This is the notion we have to reject.  With or without a peace process the struggle for the land continues, the workers have to continue struggling, none of this is going to change, none of this has changed in any other countries that have been victims of peace processes.

The FARC will see if they continue to struggle once they have demobilised, but the history of other countries and that of Colombia itself is that the demobilised become part of the new institutionalism, defending capitalism and the social pact tooth and nail.  We don’t yet know how many personalities like Villalobos will come out of the FARC, all we know is that it is a foregone conclusion that there will be people like him.  The agreements cannot be the horizon nor reference point for the peasantry and the workers in Colombia.  Those agreements are the peace of the victors, the State.

(1) Espinosa, F  (31/05/2013) Del Acuerdo Agrario A La Construcción De La Paz
(2) Molano Bravo, A  (El Espectador 01/06/2013) Paz sin victoria,
(3) Communiqué of the FARC-EP (23/01/2014) Sobre proceso de paz: mitos y mitomanías
(4) Joint Report of Dialogue Table , January 2014 pág 9 (official translation is poor quality and here the translation used is my own)
(5) Joint Report op. cit. p.7
(6) Montesinos Coleman, L y Ó Loingsigh, G. (2013) Peace in Colombia: Reality, myth and wishful thinking  pp 5 & 6
(7) Joint Report op. cit. p 7
(8) Valencia, L.  Semana (29/03/2014) Presidente Santos ¡Salve a al restitución de tierras!
(9) Ibíd.
(10) Rueda, M. I. El Tiempo (10/03/2014) La paz tiene un precio que podemos pagar': senador Juan Mario Laserna
(11) Suárez, M. (2013) Pacto Agrario en Colombia, ¿a lo Cargill siglo XXI?
(12) For greater detail on Floro Tunubalá and his time as governor see Ó Loingsigh, G (2011) Una mirada desde el sur: Huellas de lucha y resistencia, CNA, Bogotá.
(13) Semana (15/06/2013) De la Calle le dice NO a las Farc. ¿Por qué?
(14) Arteta, Y (Semana 08/08/2013) Miedo a la traición
(15) Lemoyne, J. (1992) Out of the jungle – In El Salvador Rebels With a New Cause, New York Times 09/02/1992
(16) Ibíd
(17)Dorado, F (2013) Elecciones 2014 y la izquierda manatiada Semana 29/11/2013


Return to top of page