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Colombia: The Language of Peace

Gearóid Ó Loingsigh 

1 May 2016

We are almost four years into the peace process with the FARC and at last a slight change is discernible.  It is now acceptable to criticise the process given that there are many debates on the nature and reach of the agreements signed.  It is still the voice of a minority, but at least it exists.  However, there is one element of the process that not only has not changed but it has been strengthened and that is the question of the language we use to describe the process.

George Orwell made the concept of doublethink famous – The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them..– and – newspeak- reducing a language to its most basic elements with the aim of controlling the ability to express oneself – that truth was a lie, war was peace and nothing was what it seemed.  We are used to these concepts and the use and abuse of language by the North American Empire, the media, companies and the academic world is usually denounced.  But nothing is said about the abuse of language by the NGOs and the peace show business that accompanies them.  Here I will try to deal with that abuse of language.

All peace processes talk of a fake national unity that not only does not exist, it cannot exist, unless the working class and peasantry accept as normal the rule of scum like Juan Manuel Santos and the class of thugs and criminals that he represents.

The Victims

As part of unity we have to forget the causes of the conflict and present all the victims of the conflict as just victims, not as victims of state terrorism and neither as social fighters murdered because of their political convictions and their militancy.  They are just plain and simple victims.  According to the dictionary a victim is a person who suffers the harmful consequences of a crime.  Under this definition of victims, Álvaro Uribe could be called a victim as could the Castaño brothers.  Vicente Castaño highlighted his own condition as a victim in an interview given to Semana magazine stating that “We are also victims, the mere fact of finding ourselves obliged to take part in war that we never wanted, made us into victims from the start.”(1)  It is clear that the term “victim” is in the best of cases void of content, as everyone is a victim, and no distinction is made between them.  In the worst case, it hides the truth of the conflict under a shroud of impunity that covers things up by comparing those who fell prey to state terrorism with any other type of person.

The UP leaders, Jaime Pardo Leal and Bernardo Jaramillo, both murdered by the Colombian state were not just victims.  They were killed for a reason.  The thousands of militants from the UP and A Luchar that fell under the bullets of the state, were murdered for a reason.  They were fighters.  Even in the case of peasants, we find that very few of them are just mere victims.  In 1998, 13,000 peasants took over the city of Barrancabermeja and occupied it for 103 days.  They reached an agreement with the Pastrana government and returned to their homes.  No sooner had they returned to their farms, the paramilitaries, who according to Pastrana himself were openly active in the area and had the support of public servants, began to murder the leaders.  They disappeared one of the main spokespersons of the peasants, Edgar Quiroga.  Neither are these leaders and peasants just simple victims, they are fighters murdered by the state.  Yes, there are some people who can be called victims, such as the youths who were kidnapped and murdered by state forces and presented to the media as guerrillas killed in combat.  They are victims, they were not social fighters, but they are victims of a publicity campaign by the state.  Each so-called false positive was a showpiece to the media of the effectiveness of the state policy in dealing with the war.

The term victim, in the context of the peace process, includes so many people and so many categories, putting scum like Uribe, the Castaños and others on the same plain as the victims of state terrorism, which creates confusion about the nature of the war in Colombia.  That term gives the NGOs an opportunity to propose a solution for so many victims: a political outcome or solution.

A Negotiated Political Outcome or Solution.

The peace process fans talk of the need for a political outcome or solution, another deceitful phrase.  What is a political solution?  Well, the military defeat of the insurgencies would be a political solution.  The old refrain of Clausewitz that war is the continuation of politics by other means, says it all.  It would be a victory for a hawkish state policy, the same policy Colombian governments have been implementing for the last 50 years.  A victory of the insurgency would also be a political solution, even though it is unlikely.  A revolution would also be a political solution.  Although such a scenario is very far away and could not be put forward as an immediate proposal, the problem is that it is discounted, not just at this juncture but forever.  The so-called political solution has to be negotiated with the bourgeoisie.  By this they are saying that the state is willing to negotiate matters of substance.  However, if the state wanted to resolve the agrarian question it does not need to negotiate with anybody, it could do it, on its own.  If the state wants to change the mining-energy policies, it could also do so without having to consult the insurgencies.  The negotiated political outcome, is a scam, it only brings the insurgent violence to an end and discounts any opposition to the state’s policies and this is why it calls upon us to support the agreements, as the possibility of opposing the state’s policies has been written off.  It is not for nothing that the former leader of the Democratic Pole, Clara López is now the Minister of Labour for Peace.  The political solution they talk so much about is to accept the rules of the game of the capitalist class and acknowledge its victory.


This brings us to another all to common phrase in every peace process in the world: reconciliation.  We are told that we have to seek peace and reconciliation, because reconciliation is good.  It is good in our personal relationships and it is good for society as a whole and we are treated as if it were something akin to problems in a relationship.  How to come up with a situation where we hug, kiss and live happily ever after.  Unlike the fairy tales, this mythical end does not and will never exist.  It has not happened in any society as a result of a peace process.  Reconciliation is to re-establish friendship, or achieve inner peace.  What friendship is it, that they want to re-establish?  Who reconciles with whom?  What was the motive behind the discord?  These questions are never really answered.  Within the discourse of peace, we all have to reconcile with each other, to forgive and forget.  The peasant who saw his family die, dismembered by a chainsaw has to reconcile themselves with those who murdered their loved one, with the paramilitary capos and the state.  The family of the disappeared student also has to seek reconciliation.  It is not a choice, it is an order from those who have always been in charge of society.  The executioners, the state, the Catholic Church and other thugs order that we forgive and forget.  In the process with the AUC paramilitaries monsignor Rubiano made it very clear.  In an interview with El Tiempo he stated “It is prerequisite that we forgive, only those who forgive will cease to be victims.”(2)  Francisco de Roux, the favourite Jesuit of the NGOs and the oil palm companies also stated “in the complicated situation, we Colombians find ourselves in, justice without forgiveness is never ending vengeance.”(3) Once again that term of passive victims, who can only stop being victims if they lend themselves to wiping the slate clean.  Fighting for what is theirs, land, truth, justice (as they see it) is discounted.  Reconciliation is everyone living together.  It is, as Robert Meister states “The underlying hope of today’s Human Rights Discourse is that victims of past evil will not struggle against its ongoing beneficiaries after the evildoers are gone”,(4)i.e. reconciliation obliges us not to struggle.  It is the negation of class conflict, one has to lively happily with the oil companies, the mining companies, the political parties of the oligarchy, the landlords, the oil palm companies that Francisco de Roux and the Santos and Uribes of the country like so much.  Those who want to struggle against them, want to return to the past, to the violence and they are the real problem for society.

Transitional Justice

In order that we not struggle, another phrase was invented, Transitional Justice.  A transition from what to what?  It would be lovely if they could answer that simple question.  But not only do they not do so, they won’t even admit the question. It is a phrase that they all use but nobody is willing to explain, or rather they will not explain it in terms that the victims of state terrorism can understand.  They never say, “look your child died and we are going to free his executioner in the name of peace, because we have to progress” nor do they tell us that they cannot show a single example in the world where that transitional justice has put a president or high ranking officer in jail.  In fact, the accord signed with the FARC explicitly prohibits the possibility of bringing an ex-president before the courts.  As Meister states “Today’s mainstream literature on transitional justice tends to assume that past victims never really win— their choice is whether to persist in struggle or to stop—and that stopping makes sense if they can declare a moral victory that seems to put oppression in the past.”(5) Furthermore, “There is… very little discussion of the role of victims (seen more broadly) in relation to the structural beneficiaries, those who received material and social advantage from the old regime and whose continuing well-being in the new order could not have withstood the victory of unreconciled victims.”(6)  Reconciliation is the mechanism to ensure that those behind the war and now behind the peace do not lose a single cent in the process and hold on to their dominant role in society.  Reconciliation, is in the end, a reconciliation, not so much with individual executioners but rather with the system, with capitalism and the ruling class of the country, the Pastranas, Santos, Vargas, Lleras, and lets not forget Turbay, just in case anyone thought that we just have to reconcile ourselves with the rulers of recent years and their crimes.  Thus, we have to reconcile ourselves with all of them and everything.

Transitional Justice is a ruse that promises that someday over the rainbow we will find justice.  The justice they promise is as illusory as the gold that according to legend, leprechauns hide at the end of the rainbows we see in the sky.  One has only to look at the case of Ríos Montt in Guatemala, or the South African mining companies that were beneficiaries of both apartheid and transitional justice, which did not go after them, who nowadays wreak havoc in Colombian communities.  The country has already suffered the consequences of transitional justice, once with the killers from South Africa that come here and now we will have to live through it directly.  In the name of reconciliation BP, OXY, Chiquita, Indupalma etc, will not be touched.  They won’t even be investigated.

The language of peace is part of the neoliberal ideological war that wants to convince us that not only should we not struggle, but that struggling is not an option.  Peace and reconciliation is when we promise to be good slaves of capital.

1.  Semana 06/05/2005 Edición 1205 Habla Vicente Castaño versión electrónica.
2.  El Tiempo (24/12/2006) La Iglesia tiene su archivo de la verdad page 17
3. De Roux, F. (2006) Pertinentes del Magdalena Medio, marzo 2006 page 1
4. Meister, R. (2011) After Evil: A Politics of Human Rights, New York: Columbia University Press. page 8
5. Meister, R. (2011) Op. Cit. pág 10.
6.  Ibíd., page 26

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