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Colombia: The FARC Returns To War?

Gearóid Ó Loingsigh

06 September 2019

On August 29th a video in which Iván Márquez announced that they had taken up arms again was released.  There was no delay in the reaction to it, from Uribe, for the umpteenth time declaring the end of peace process to the NGOs and Social-Democrats lamenting what they saw as a betrayal, in some cases, or in other cases as something sad but an expected result of Duque's policies.

Let's leave to one side the hyperbole of the professional peace commentators and look at what this new organisation is, what it  a response to and what we can expect from them in the future, i.e. has a new revolutionary guerrilla group that aims to take power been born? Or are we looking at something different.

The first point in the Manifesto published on their site ( they state that their decision to take up arms again is...

... in response to the betrayal by the state of the Havana Peace Accord.  it is the onward march of the humble, ignored and scorned Colombia, towards justice that glistens on the hills of the future.  It will be a real peace, not betrayed, unfolding it wings of the people's desires over the perfidy of the establishment.(1)
This means that it is a guerrilla group that disagrees with the FARC Party (this names thing will cause a lot of confusion in the future) and the NGOs over how to force the Colombian state to fulfil the Havana Accord, whether by electoral pressure, NGO discourse, or through arms.  But they are all in agreement that the aim is to fulfil the Accord.  In what we have seen to date, there is not the slightest self-criticism regarding the accord or process as such.  Rather they talk about the state's perfidy.

They are partially correct, but not as much as those that form part of the peace bureaucracy (ex-revolutionaries, NGOs, Social-Democrats, human rights professionals etc.) would like us to believe.  Yes, the state has not fulfilled some parts.  But the Accord is nothing to write home about.  We can't criticise it because it is reformist, as it isn't.  A reformist accord would contain reforms and there aren't any.  If we just look at one area in which they talk of non fulfilment: the first point on agriculture.

The Accord is very explicit in that agribusiness, large scale production, monocultures of tropical produce for external markets will exist alongside peasant production, but the peasants will associate with the multinationals.  This has been state policy for a long time.  The government promised to create a land bank comprised of land donated, bought or seized from narco-traffickers.  This has also been state policy since the foundation of the Colombian Institute for Agrarian Reform (INCORA) in the 1960s and from the 1990s onwards the seizure of narco-traffickers' land was added.  There is nothing new in this and they have been failing to share out land for almost the same length of time as the FARC were in arms.  They also promised to give title deeds over seven million hectares the peasants already had in their hands but for which they had no title deeds. This has also been state policy and is even part of World Bank policy since the 1990s.  But neither of these are reforms, they are better described as administrative acts.

The only substantial change that exists in the Havana Accord is point five on Justice.  The Special Jurisdiction for Peace was set up to judge crimes committed during the conflict.  In the Manifesto they complain about the changes made to this part of the Accord not just by politicians but also by the Constitutional Court.  Yes, it is true that what is being implemented now in the area of justice is not exactly what they negotiated, nor even what was submitted to a vote in the plebiscite.  However, the subsequent changes are not the problem, the underlying problem is philosophical, ideological and political.

Long before the plebiscite and the changes made by the Courts and Congress, the FARC and the state published a draft of the agreement on justice.  Various organisations analysed the said document at the time.  The draft had many defects which made their way into the final document.  Amongst the main problems are:

There is no recognition of rebellion in the agreement and less still the right to rebellion in the document.  The FARC and all their actions, both the justifiable ones and the reprehensible ones are equated to the crimes committed by individuals in the armed forces of the state, i.e. in the draft the FARC were a criminal organisation, not a rebel one, every action of theirs is comparable to the massacres committed by the state, with its false positives or the disappearance of the Palace of Justice workers. They were equated to each other, except that the FARC is collectively responsible and the acts of state groups are entirely individual in nature.

This is where all the problems that the FARC would later have began.  They acknowledged that they were criminals and accepted being treated as such and they accepted the individual responsibility of the enemy.  It is not just a simple question of criminal responsibility and sentencing but rather it is about the underlying issue of what is the Colombian conflict.  In the Accord it is a conflict between the state, whose functionaries sometimes went too far or broke the law and the criminals of the FARC.  In this framework, there is no state terrorism strategy, nor even state responsibility for the conflict as such.

The Accord also gave preferential treatment to the businesspeople i.e. impunity for the multinationals is not an act of perfidy, nor a manoeuvre by Uribe or others, but rather something agreed to by the FARC.  Santos was very clear in his speech to the Colombian Oil Producers Association (ACP) that they were not going to proceed against "civilians" i.e. the businesses that financed the paramilitaries.

In Havana, all the FARC had to do was defend concepts such as rebellion, state terrorism as a reality and negotiate structural changes in the justice system.  They completely overlooked it and instead of negotiating a new extradition law that prohibited extradition for crimes committed in Colombia they opted as the smug and egocentric types they are, for some judicial benefits for themselves, nothing more.  They cared little about the legal system for the rest of the people following the Accord.

They are now paying the consequences of their decisions, they are treated as the criminals they acknowledged they were and as with all benefits, they can be altered later on.  The NGOs and politicians from the Polo that advised them do not have to live with the consequences of their counsel to the FARC.  They surrounded themselves with cynics and here we are.  Faced with the re-arming those same cynics who advised them during the peace process are condemning them.  As the saying goes, if you lie down with dogs you get up with fleas and the FARC are flea ridden.

The Manifesto refers to a long list of historic betrayals by the Colombian oligarchy starting in 1782 and continuing up to the agreement signed with M-19 and they also include in the list the murder of the FARC commander Alfonso Cano.  But exactly when did they notice these historic betrayals?  It would seem that it was this year, as there is nothing in the peace process to indicate that they thought Santos and then Duque would not fulfil what had been agreed to, as the failings are also those of the man they had signed a peace agreement with.  Santos pursued the social organisations as never before and they never stopped killing social leaders under his administration.  There is not a single reference to any mechanism to guarantee that the pact would be fulfilled and implemented in full.

So the FARC has very little right to complain, we are where we are thanks to them and their friends in the NGOs and the Polo etc.  But the emergence of a new guerrilla group or the reissuing of an old one should contribute more than a complaint about an accord they themselves negotiated and accepted.  The Manifesto is disappointing on the issue.

The word socialism does not appear once in the document.  In its place is to be found the phrase social justice which comes from the Catholic Church's anti-communist policy of the XIX Century and is sometimes used by some leaders because they fear that they would be killed if they even mentioned the word socialism.  But a group of armed guerrillas in the mountains don't have that problem.  Their adaption to the language of the NGOs and Social-Democrats was to be expected given the content of the Accord Márquez negotiated in Havana.

The Manifesto describes a world that does not exist and makes an evaluation of the armed forces of the state which is surreal and anti-Marxist.  It worth remembering that throughout the conflict they claimed they were the only ones who were entitled to hoist the flag of socialism and they murdered a number of unarmed left leaders who did not meet their expectations and they started wars with the EPL, when the EPL was still a revolutionary organisation, and also with the ELN.  But now they claim that the soldiers are the people in uniform.  There is a long debate on the left about what the members of the state's forces are, whether they are workers in uniform or not, or in this case workers and peasants in uniform.  An article on the Dos Orillas site points out that 80% of the troops are from the lower classes(2) and although it doesn't deal with the issue of the police, it is well known that many of them are also from the same social classes.  To come from a humble origin, from a working class or peasant family does not make one a "class brother" as the new FARC claim.  The scabs in factories are from the same class as those out on strike, the paramilitaries who rob the lands of peasants are, in many cases, from peasant backgrounds and the drug traffickers’ hitmen also come from the poor neighbourhoods of the cities.  But they are not class brothers as the FARC say.  They are class traitors.  This is basic Marxism, and it is a position that even some Social-Democrats may share, but not these new guerrillas of the FARC.

There have been historical cases of soldiers switching sides.  The most famous case, perhaps is that of the Russian revolution when in the midst of a war where millions were dying, the conscript soldiers changed sides, partly due to the material circumstances and partly due to the political work the Bolsheviks carried out amongst them.  It is not for nothing they formed Workers, Soldiers and Peasant Soviets.  The slogan was to point their guns at their officers and overthrow the government.  The FARC are not proposing that, they are not asking the soldiers to rise up.  If they don't like quoting Marx or Lenin and it is obvious they don't and may not have ever read either of them, well then they can quote Bolívar who said. "Cursed be the soldier who turns his weapons on his own people" and later at another time he finished it off by saying "All the peoples of the world that have fought for freedom have in the end exterminated their tyrants."  But the FARC are not proposing anything like this, their document talks of soldiers who respect the people, although Santrich in a further statement said they didn't want to continue to kill other class brothers and called upon the "members of the Armed Forces that feel the people's suffering to march together for their demands and happiness."(3)  A little bit softer than asking them to point their guns at their officers and the oligarchy.  Of course, we are not in a situation where you could ask for something like that, precisely because we are not in an historical moment when the circumstances produce soldiers willing to take the side of workers and peasants, nor as the FARC say when there are soldiers who respect the people.

However, the FARC's imaginary describes a military world which can only be the result of a fevered mind.

In the final leg of the peace process carried out in Havana and in the brief period of the post-accord year, we could see that there were military and police that longed for peace in Colombia, as much as ordinary people.  They, who are the people in uniform, were benefitted by the Accord and wished to spend more time with their families, study a degree, prepare themselves better for the defence of our sovereignty and place their weapons at the service of the people.  We know they wished they had the power to rip the epaulettes off the corrupt high ranking officers of the institution...  They don't want to continue being used as the trigger for demented policies, the false positives, the murder of social leaders and former combatants.  They don't want to continue their complicity with the paramilitaries, in forced displacements, the inhumane theft of land and the economic policies that victimised millions of people.  They are outraged that only they have to sit in the dock whilst the political leadership that issued the orders, looks on in indifference at the spectacle from behind the mockery that is impunity.  After the Havana Peace Accord the great majority distanced themselves from the absurd idea of being Washington's lackeys in an unjust war with Venezuela.
Their view of the military forces of the state is not only very much mistaken, when not delirious, but rather it is even dangerous and has no material basis in reality.  Iván Márquez's FARC is not a revolutionary organisation, it seems more like an NGO led by a schizophrenic.  At the same time that they say they are not going to attack soldiers but rather the oligarchy and they announce the end of kidnapping as a means of financing, something which is positive, they say they are going to prioritise "dialogue with the businesspeople, cattle ranchers, traders and the wealthy people of the country to seek by such means their contribution of the advancement of the rural and urban communities."  So gentlemen of the FARC, what are you going to do? are you going to attack the oligarchy or talk to it? Or is it the case that you don't know what an oligarchy is and who it is comprised of?  Though not all of them, it includes businesspeople and wealthy people.  They are confused about what a bourgeois army is and now they don't even know what an oligarchy is.  They need a little more Marx and a good dictionary, their rifles are superfluous.  If they don't even know who they are fighting against, what is the point in arming themselves?

Neither do they understand what a state is.  For them the state is something noble, praiseworthy, it does not represent class interests.  They state without blushing:

The state has been captured by outlaws and the mafia of corruption and impunity.  Saving it and freeing it is in the hands of the conscience of the nation as a whole, the people united.  That is the force that can do it.

We would have to ask them when it was captured by whom and how.  It is true that the Colombian state presents high levels of corruption, the FARC who have robbed the exchequer with the complicity of local mandatories fearful of the consequences of a refusal to do so, know well how corrupt the state is, but the state is not neutral.  The classical Marxist definition of a state is that:

The state is a product and a manifestation of the irreconcilability of class antagonisms. The state arises where, when and insofar as class antagonism objectively cannot be reconciled. And, conversely, the existence of the state proves that the class antagonisms are irreconcilable.(4)
Marx had said a long time before that regarding the nature of the state and what you should do with it that "the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes."(5)  However, the new guerrilla group reduces the problem with the state to one of corruption and seeks to place another type of government in the Nariño Palace.
Let's apply the strength of unity and reason to bring to the Nariño Palace a government that is more loving of its citizens, respectful of its neighbours, enemy of war, sovereign and in solidarity with the peoples; with new institutions made up of virtuous honourable accomplished people, with human feelings.
To top it all the problem with the state is a question of the virtues of the people who work for it.  No doubt, a state needs honest functionaries to work well, but a state is not the sum of the individual qualities of its functionaries but rather a representation of power, of power of one class over another.  The ideological retreat is so thorough that one just doesn't know where to begin when it comes to making criticism.  It is almost impossible to criticise the new FARC from a Marxist perspective as there is nothing in common with them, it is like criticising any liberal or right wing thinker.

Ruptures and Continuities

The FARC announced a break with the practice of kidnapping and they called for unity with the ELN.  They said they would seek to coordinate efforts with the ELN.  It might be the case, although they continue to use the full name FARC-EP, Army of the People.  When they added the initials EP to their name in 1982 it was because according to them, there was one people and that people had one army and that army was them.  On the basis of this idea they justified attacks against other guerrilla groups over the years.  But not only did they attack other guerrilla groups they also attacked peasant and indigenous organisations that did not accept their hegemony or obey their orders.  One of the most infamous cases is that of the thee US indigenists who worked with the U'wa people against the oil multinational OXY.  The FARC murdered them to protect the interests of the US multinational.  A curious point of the case is that when the US government talks about extraditing people that have affected the interests of US people or entities this case is never a priority.

So, a peasant organisation, the National Agrarian Coordinator (CNA), issued a communiqué about the new guerrilla group.

The Colombian state as an agent for the interests of imperialism is forcibly pushing the reintroduction of fumigations with glyphosate in indigenous, black and peasant community territories.  These are all recurring events and have been the hallmark of the country's oligarchy and have led to a part of the FARC insurgency returning to the path of armed struggle.  We hope that in this stage of the FARC they demonstrate a policy of a total break with paramilitarism, the interests of the multinationals and narco-traffickers and complete respect for the decisions of indigenous, black and peasant communities.(6)
Their concern is not a minor point, although the FARC talk of unity in the Manifesto past experience makes us all think that the social organisations hit by state terrorism with a tally of hundreds of leaders dead since the signing of the Havana Accord will now have to deal with pressure from the FARC in their attempt to re-establish their hegemony in various parts of the country.  For the moment there is nothing to indicate it won't be so.

Why Now?

The question that arises is why has this new guerrilla group emerged now. They say that it is due to the lack of fulfilment of the Havana Accord.  Yes and No.

As already pointed out the process itself and the agreement was somewhat nefarious.  The FARC had many opportunities to walk away from the table and they didn't.  When Humberto de la Calle , the state's chief negotiator, responded to Márquez in Oslo saying that they were not going to negotiate nor touch the economic model was the moment to walk away.  When they refused to free Simón Trinidad from a north American jail and accept him as part of the FARC's team was the moment to walk away.  When every time one of FARC's timid proposals was rejected and put in cold storage was the moment to walk away.  When Santos' government (yes, Santos, not Duque) launched a judicial onslaught on social organisations was the moment to walk away.  When under the Santos government (once again Santos, not Duque) they continued to murder social leaders was the moment to walk away.  When they murdered the first ex-guerrilla during the Santos government (yes Santos not Duque) was the moment to break with the Havana Accord.  But all those who appeared in the video issued by the FARC continued in the process and supported the Accord.  Throughout the process they remained loyal to it and said that in the midst of all the breaches and the murders their steadfastness was a clear sign of their commitment to peace and not a sad example of their ideological and political poverty.

So, what has changed? Well now they are violating a key point in personal terms for the commanders: extradition.  Rather than negotiate a reform of extradition legislation, the FARC simply opted for benefits for themselves. That they couldn't be extradited for acts committed before the signing of the Accord.  It never entered their empty skulls that the north Americans or the Colombian state would frame them for a later crime, in a country were set-ups are our daily bread!  Now a number of them face possible extradition processes.  So they took up arms and went off to the mountains to avoid extradition crying about the violations of the Accord that they themselves negotiated and supported in the midst of all the other violations.

It is not one bit ethical to set up a guerrilla group for personal purposes.  Guerrilla groups are supposed to be altruist organisations in which personal benefits are not sought, but these characters only ask that the Accord be violated less, especially on the issue of extradition.

Marquetalia II

The announced that the founding of the FARC (Bis) was a new Marquetalia.  But the bombardment of Marquetalia is an historial event charged with importance at the time.  There the peasants asking for the state to make its presence felt through schools etc., were attacked by that same state and a long struggle began, where the FARC would make a series of political demands.  Their programme back then was not a revolutionary socialist programme, but it conformed to the basic needs of the peasants.  The declaration of August 2019 is a confusing document, poor in all terms of the word and without any political horizon.

They ask to negotiate another Peace Accord, with all its defects, confident that this time the same state will fulfil it, when in their own document they make clear that throughout Colombian history the state has never lived up to its part with anyone.  In fact, the modern state has signed hundreds of agreements with peasant indigenous and black organisations that it ends up violating.  But now the FARC want to spill blood to repeat history with even greater naivety than ever.  Their organisation, their confusing positions and their poor ideology are not worth the blood that one may spill shaving in the morning.  They don't have a reformist proposal to say nothing of a revolutionary one.


(1) Manifest of the FARC-EP (page deactivated at the time of publication)

(2) Las2Orillas (28/05/2015) De qué estrato social son los soldados de Colombia?

(3) Sputnik News (01/09/2019) Exclusiva: el líder de las FARC Jesús Santrich ofrece una nueva declaración y acusa a Duque de traición

(4) Lenin, V.I. (1917) The State and Revolution

(5) Marx, K. (1871) The Civil War in France

(6) CNA (30/08/2019) Pronunciamiento por el rearme de las FARC

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