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Colombia: Iván Márquez and his Confusing Open Letter

Gearóid Ó Loingsigh

7 October 2018

The former FARC commander Iván Márquez, in an open letter  to the Senate Peace Commission, also signed by El Paisa, brought an end to his silence.  In the letter Márquez unveils, without saying so, one of the reasons for his disappearance the uncertainty surrounding his whereabouts.  The letter is very telling in many aspects, though not in the way Márquez intended.  His first concern that appears in the letter is the legal uncertainty for the Farianos and he cites the Santrich case as a clear example.

Without a doubt, the LEGAL UNCERTAINTY reached its height with the arrest of Jesús Santrich in order to extradite him through a set-up hatched by the Chief Prosecutor’s Office, the US ambassador and the DEA.  This crazy decision aimed at undermining peace ended up driving out the last bit of thrust that remained in the former combatants…  We are faced with a brazen abuse of the exercise of power, mixed with an unacceptable surrender of our legal sovereignty to a foreign power.(1)
He is right regarding the crude set-up against Santrich.  It is a frame up and the Prosecutor’s office recently had to acknowledged that it hadn’t the slightest bit of proof against him.  According to the Prosecutor General all of the “proof” is in the hands of the US Attorney General.
I have reaffirmed to the JEP [Special Jurisdiction for Peace] that the case file contains no audio or video evidence (…)  The thing is that the Gran Jury convened by the New York courts had access to audio and video that established the facts that led to the action taken by the New York court in this case.(2)
But this was not done to undermine peace as Márquez states, but rather to remind the new FARC party that the state demands total submission.  When Santrich was arrested the highest-ranking leader of the FARC, Rodrigo Londoño, alias Timochenko stated in a letter to FARC militants that:
When we signed the accord, we accepted the constitution and the laws and it is our duty to act in line with them.  Whoever does not do so must pay the consequences and then it would be difficult to ask for solidarity from the party.(3)
Prior to the letter, he met with Santos and tweeted that he had asked for due process in Santrich’s case, i.e. due process within a legal framework designed by their enemies, a legal framework that the Havana Accord does not change, despite the transitional Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP).  It is clear from the letter that Timochenko believes firmly in the Colombian justice system and in passing that of any capitalist state (a strange position for a supposed Marxist).  Timochenko has such faith in the legal system and bourgeois law that when it was announced that a case had been filed against Uribe, he was emphatic in demanding due process and the presumption of innocence.  Uribe got greater public support than Santrich.  Joaquín Gómez y Bertulfo Álvarez, two former commanders referred to this in another letter:
3.  Taking as a starting point our revolutionary outlook, how is it that such incoherency occurs, like that of Timochenko when he stated in a Forum in Manizales that he asked that the  due process and the “presumption of innocence” be respected in the case of the “honourable” Senator Uribe, when in the case of Santrich he more or less stated that Santrich should prove his innocence, in other words his starting point was that he was guilty.  A position that was totally hostile to Santrich in comparison to the defensive attitude he took in relation to the case of the “honourable Senator” and psychopath Álvaro Uribe, the real father of paramilitarism in Colombia.(4)
Márquez is partially right when he speaks of US and Colombian functionaries.  Without a doubt there are sectors of the bourgeoisie and the state that seek revenge, but the legal uncertainty is not a problem that they created, it is a deep problem within the peace process itself and the agreement that was signed.

The original version of the Havana Accord that was put to a plebiscite would not have changed anything that has happened to Santrich or the farianos that still remain in jail.  Neither would the second version.  In the negotiations in Havana the farianos believed in their own discourse to such a degree and they placed their trust in the virtues and good offices of the bourgeoisie that it never occurred to them that what is happening now could actually happen.  Santrich is a victim of the Colombian judicial system but also of his own organisation and the accord he helped negotiate.  They laughed at the suggestion that they insist in being treated as rebels under the aegis of the legal figure of the right of rebellion.  They are no longer laughing as much seeing how the state treats them as common criminals.

The reference to the surrender of legal sovereignty is laughable.  Colombia surrendered its legal sovereignty many years ago and the Havana Accord does not deal with the issue at all.  In fact, the section on justice in the said accord is nothing more than a weak and ignominious attempt to prevent the intervention of the International Criminal Court, an organism accepted as a reference point by all of the signatories to the accord, the NGO, the Left etc.  Whilst some African countries have threatened to leave the Court due to its legal imperialism and racism (to date it has only tried Africans) in Colombia they all accept that this organism has a voice, a vote and even a veto over judicial decisions taken in Colombia and Iván Márquez has never disagreed with them having this power.  It far too late to complain about foreign interference in the judicial system in Colombia, even the judicial reform and part of the Public Ministry is financed by the USA.

The Havana Accord is an international document endorsed by the UN, where foreign governments intervened, financing studies, the very peace process itself and of course acting as advisors to the Colombian government and the so-called post-conflict projects.  In fact, Márquez appeals to its international character when he complains about the failure to comply with the said accord and he also complained about the theft of international resources “Somebody should tell us in whose pockets did the post conflict resources, so generously given by the donor countries, end up in.”(5)  Does he have a problem or doesn’t he with foreign interference?  It would seem not and moreover he believes that donor countries, whose multinationals plunder Colombia’s and the world’s natural resources, are generous.  It is not the only problem in the document regarding foreign governments.  He states that the USA has done little to strengthen peace.  The process began under the mandate of Obama, the charismatic president who would sit every Tuesday in front of a plasma screen to supervise the next bombing of a Pakistani wedding, his next crime against humanity.  What did Mr Márquez expect from such a person?  Foreign governments seek stability and the defeat of those who defy them in peace processes.  Peace is not important in and of itself.

Regarding the non-fulfilment of the accord and the changes made to it, Márquez asks, “In what other part of the world has such a thing happened?”  The answer Mr Márquez is everywhere, all over the world, starting with the daddy of peace processes, the agreements signed between the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Israel.  These agreements are known as the Oslo Accords.  When you Mr Márquez launched the peace process in an event in Oslo, were you not aware that you found yourself in the city where these accords were signed with the Palestinians?  When you were negotiating in Havana, did you never get news of massacres carried out by Zionists?  So much blood has been spilled in Palestine that one wouldn’t know just where to start to remind Márquez about the reality of that country.  In El Salvador, Guatemala, Ireland, everywhere the accords were not fully complied with and sometimes as was the case in Ireland they had to renegotiate the original agreement, so we have the Good Friday Agreement, then the Saint Andrew’s Agreement and various “administrative” changes to its content or reach.  These failures were political but also practical.  In South Africa, unlike the timid and contradictory proposal signed by the FARC, they did propose an agrarian reform to share out 25 million hectares of white lands to black peasants.  This never happened, and now more than 20 years later they have begun to talk about the land and other economic issues under pressure from popular revolts and the growing unpopularity of the African National Congress.

The FARC’s ignorance on the issue is understandable.  None of the NGOs that went to Havana to talk to them about the process spoke of the defeat of armed movements in other parts of the world.  The left politicians didn’t do it either.  Envoys arrived from various countries speaking of the thousand marvels of their processes.  But you, Mr. Márquez, did you never read anything about other peace processes in the world?  Not even now?  If you had ever read anything about South Africa, for example, you would not say in relation to Colombia that “Five years after reaching the First Partial Accord, there have been no deeds issued on land, nor the land bank with three million hectares for those who have none, nor anything that brings dignity to life in the countryside.”(6)  You wouldn’t ever say it, because you would never have expected it.  Really, in all those years in Havana nobody ever talked to you about the failures of other accords in terms of agrarian reform?  Not even about Guatemala where there wasn’t an agrarian reform either?  I wonder just what it was they said to you then.

Márquez and El Paisa’s missive breaks a long silence that ends gossip as to whether they represented a rupture with the process, whether they would lead some dissident group etc.  The answer is clear cut, Márquez has learned nothing about the peace process.  He finishes off his letter with the following plea:

Ladies and Gentlemen of Congress:  our main concern is how to pluck peace in Colombia from the abyss of failed agreements into which it was cast with disdain and we would like to know your valuable opinions.  It is worth trying to do the impossible, as everyone else deals with what is possible every day.(7)
He has learned nothing, he believes just like in Ireland that everything bad is the work of dark forces and not the logical result of the peace process itself.  He wrongly believes that perhaps their mistake was to hand in their weapons before they had complied with the reintegration of guerrillas.  But the weapons are not the problem.  At the end of the day, the FARC used weapons to advance their political ideas, but we have seen in the peace process that the FARC’s positions are as fleeting as the morning dew, the problem is of a different nature.

Mr Márquez your mistakes were legion, here I name just six:

1)Beginning with your intervention in Oslo launching the process where you almost declared victory over the state and capitalism.  Humberto de la Calle put you in your place declaring that the model will not be touched.  But your people, the NGOs and the Polo and many more continued with the tale of the transformation of the country whilst you not only negotiated behind closed doors but in secret.
2)That was your other mistake, it was a process with its back turned on the people.  The grassroots organisations, the peasants, the environmentalists that now fight against mining depredations were not present, the women, gays, etc.  Yes, it is true that many organisations went to Havana to talk to you.  But putting a proposal to you is not the same as participating in the process.  In the end nobody can explain why you, behind the backs of the peasants, negotiated the land and accepted the neoliberal model, or why you, behind the backs of the Mothers of Soacha, negotiated impunity for their sons’ executioners.   On whose behalf did you appropriate the right of those women to demand justice when their sons, as they themselves say, were not victims of the conflict but of the state?  You were not party to the events, you had no moral authority to negotiate the future of victims that were not members of your organisation or its social base.
3) When you negotiated the agrarian question, as good farianos you opted for perks and crumbs.  You thought that negotiating hectares and projects for a social base would favour you.  You never put forward a discussion on power structures in the countryside and the agrarian model.  In fact, the last point of the Agrarian Accord are more crumbs to mitigate the harm from the neoliberal model which is explicitly accepted in both versions of the accord.(8)  By the way, that point is contrary to the rules of the WTO and could never be implemented.  I am sure nobody told you this.
4)When you accepted a justice accord that compared you to what were considered criminal elements in the state forces (and not the state forces as such) you accepted being treated as common criminals.  You should have insisted on recognition as rebels and the right of rebellion.
5)You believed in the goodwill of the state, a state that massacred the civilian population for more than 50 years.  This was a political mistake of monumental proportions.  Not only did you believe it, you promoted this idea in wider society.  There was not the slightest sign to believe in the state’s goodwill.
6)On the issue of justice Mr. Márquez, you fully trusted in the legal perks that you negotiated, you never thought that what happened to Santrich could come to pass, so you never proposed judicial guarantees for the mass of the population just perks for yourselves.  You negotiated a half-measure “guarantee” on extradition instead of demanding a substantial change in extradition proceedings.  To demand an extradite have some guarantees is not that much.  In many capitalist states the requesting country has to present some reasonable evidence to establish a prima facie case against the accused.  But you preferred to negotiate some advantages for yourselves rather than society as a whole.

The letter shows that Iván Márquez, for the time being, does not represent a political opposition to the Havana Accord but rather its continuation with more certain and solid perks on judicial issues for himself and his militants.  He does not put forward a reform of the justice system, of the jails.  For him, peace depends on the possibility of remaining within legality and some guarantees for his militants in order to prevent them from taking up arms again.  He does not propose an alternative for the population, but rather that we hand ourselves up to an accord that promises nothing.  Márquez’s thing is not about a critical reading of the process, but rather a personal disappointment in the face of what he terms in his letter a betrayal of the accord.

The reactions

The letter surprised many and it would seem that is surprised the FARC party too.  The peaceniks came out to say that Márquez was right regarding the non-fulfilment of the accord and the legal uncertainty.  But as these are the same “experts” that told us that the peace accord in Colombia would be different to all the other ones in the world, that FARC were the most tenacious and that the accord would transform Colombia, we can ignore their opinions of Márquez’s letter.  They do not know how to evaluate anything critically and they fear that the Márquez’s criticisms will encourage others to take a more profound look at the problems with the Havana Accord.

The reactions from the FARC party are more important and more interesting, Márquez being the former head of the FARC’s negotiating team.

First they say that they are personal opinions.  This is true, but they are not the personal opinions of just anyone, but rather those of Iván Márquez and Oscar Montero.  They claim that they never say the signing of the accord as the end of the political and social struggle in the country.  Maybe, but they declared a new world, that the state was going to fulfil the accord and the country would be transformed.  In their press conference, they refer to the Political Statement of the FARC where they lament that “Comprehensive Rural Reform cannot be seen anywhere, whilst at the same time the aim of replacing it with projects that only serve the interests of big business.” In that they coincide with Iván Márquez and make the same mistake.  The accord signed by the FARC openly and explicitly contemplates agroindustry and economy of scale, etc.  On page 12 the accord states the following:

Comprehensive development of the countryside:  the comprehensive development of the countryside depends on the proper balance between the different forms of production in existence – family based agriculture, agroindustry, tourism, commercial large scale agriculture; on the competitiveness and the need to promote and foment investment in the countryside with an entrepreneurial vision and productive aims as a condition for development; and the promotion and fomenting in equitable conditions of chains of small scale rural production alongside other production models that may be vertical or horizontal and on different scales.  In any event, the peasant, family and community economy will be supported and protected ensuring its development and strengthening. (Bold not in the original)
And on the projects the accord says on page 33 point
Associative practice: the government will foment and promote associative practices, productive chains and alliances between small-scale, medium sized and large producers as well as processors, traders and exporters with the aim a guaranteeing a competitive scale of production inserted into value added chains that contribute to improving the living conditions of the inhabitants of the countryside in general and in particular the small-scale producers.  To that end, it will provide technical, legal and economic aid (credit or financing) to small-scale producers in order to guarantee balanced, sustainable family and associative based economies. (Bold not in the original)
But the political aspects are more important and within them the question of legal certainty for the former militants of the FARC guerrillas.  In a press conference called by the FARC party as a result of Márquez’s party, Carlos Antonio Lozada stated that:
I could hardly come out and say that are no conditions nor guarantees whilst sitting in the press room of the Senate in a press conference, that would be to contradict myself.  What we are saying is that they process has some difficulties, that the state has not been coherent in implementing it, but without a doubt there are spaces that have been won and we value them as they are spaces that are very important to making progress in the implementation of the peace accords.(9)
He is right, he is seated in the Senate and to date they have not tried to do anything to him.  The Patriotic Union enjoyed these same guarantees until they began killing their militants, then the councillors, the deputies and senators and even two presidential candidates just like they murder demobilized guerrillas and social leaders.  The state might decide that there is no need to kill the FARC senators, as they are down on their knees so why bother?  But Márquez’s concern is real, not only have they sought to extradite Santrich without any proof, hundreds of farianos are still in prison despite the accord and the cowardly attitude of Timochenko and the FARC regarding Santrich’s case would make anyone doubt not just the judicial system but the “resistance and opposition” of his comrades.

Joaquín Gómez and Bertulfo Álvarez’s criticisms are more political.  But Márquez’s also indicate that all is not well in the ranks of the FARC.  However, Márquez clings to the Havana Accord like a drowning man clutching at anything to keep himself afloat.  They must break with the FARC.  Márquez and Joaquín Gómez and company’s  letters that there exists some displeasure with the party and its appeasement, but they haven’t broken with the Havana Accord, they have not made a critical analysis of what happened its real content and impacts.  They continue to believe that they signed a good agreement and moreover in the case of Márquez, he ends his letter begging for intervention from the members of Congress.  But struggle is a struggle, something Joaquín Gómez and Bertulfo Álvarez seem to acknowledge.  So are we going to beg the powerful in the country that they be decent or are we going to struggle to transform the country.  Struggling for a new country doesn mean going back into the mountains, but it does mean breaking with the FARC, the Havana Accord and bourgeois institutionalism.  On this point Joaquín Gómez and Bertulfo Álvarez say:

39. A significant part of the mistakes, inconsistencies, deflections both on a theoretical and practical level seem to stem from tenets so absurd not just when carefully examined under the light of revolutionary theory but also from a scientific perspective, like that which appears in the first paragraphs of the so-called strategic programme that assures without any compunction: “We have opted to struggle within that order, not to preserve it but to improve it, and especially to overcome it.”

40. However, it is clear that in order to improve it we would be forced to preserve it which would be absurd if we really want to overcome it.

41. From this, flows the mirage of centering political work on the improvement and functionalist perfecting of institutional spaces.

42. From there they aim to displace the scientific vision of society and the struggle for socialism itself for a vague promise of the advent of a “new society”, “alternative social order” or “alternative society”,  a juggling act that seeks to wrest importance from the Party in leading the revolutionary process and thus justify its current ambiguous configuration.

There is nothing revolutionary about the FARC as a party.  It is a party that is openly and irreconcilably not just reformist but institutionalist.  I recall a conservation with a friend who is a former member of the FARC guerrillas and I asked him who he thought would be the Villalobos of Colombia.  Without hesitation, he spat out the name of Pastor Alape.  It is beyond doubt and even Joaquín Gómez’s letter hints at it, Pastor Alape is winning the race to become the Colombian Villalobos, but in truth, in a short lapse of time, it would seem that the entire party has become Villalobos.  It is worth remembering that Villalobos is a former FMLN commander in El Salvador, who is now an ardent neoliberal and rightwinger and a member of the same ultra right-wing think tank as the current Colombian vice-president, Marta Lucía Ramírez.  That is where the FARC are going, it is time to break with them and their accord Mr. Márquez.  Take the step.  The struggle for socialism is no about begging Congress but rather encouraging the peasants, workers, women and students to take what is theirs.


(1) Márquez, I. y Montero, O. (22/09/2018) Carta Abierta a la Comisión de Paz del Senado page 1.

(2) RCN Radio (27/09/2018) Fiscal responde a JEP que no tiene pruebas sobre el caso Santrich

(3) El Tiempo (21/04/2018) Quien infrinja la Constitución y la ley debe asumir las consecuencias

(4) Gómez, J. y Álvarez, B. (s/f) Carta al Pleno de la FARC. Page 1

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