A New Hope for Peace in Colombia

by W. T. WHITNEY, Jr.

“Pitiless glacial rain was falling in Bogota” on April 23, one observer said. Then, “as if by magic, that mute, lugubrious world fell apart as marchers rumbling by brought color, happiness, fraternal embrace, and hope.” They filled the Plaza Bolivar from all sides; 100,000 people had arrived in 2500 buses from all 28 Colombian departments.  They were, “the forgotten Colombia, the Colombia of young people, children, old people…men and women whose views were shaped on the land and in adversity.”

Speakers at this founding celebration of Marcha Patriotica called for a “second and definitive independence,” structural transformation, and peace with justice. Demands were heard for agrarian reform and access to health care and education. Marcha Patriotica “emanates from workers, small farmers, women trying to hold families together, indigenous peoples, and Afro-Colombians,” Nelson Lombana Silva writes. The movement seeks to integrate social movements and political parties. Planning started in 2010, the bicentennial year of liberation from Spanish rule.

Over two previous days, 4000 delegates representing 1700 social and political organizations, with two delegates each, had gathered at a convention center. They discussed Colombia’s political situation, outlined organizational structures, defined tasks, approved a political declaration, established commissions, and appointed a National Patriotic Council. Some 130 international guests were present. Plenary session speakers included: Voz newspaper director Carlos Lozano; Piedad Cordoba, leader of Colombians for Peace; Senator Gloria Inés Ramírez of the Alternative Democratic Pole (POLO); Jaime Caycedo, Communist Party secretary general and former Bogota city councilor; and Marcha organizers.

The movement’s political platform displays revolutionary aspirations. It notes “new dynamics of collective action in our country,” and “growing desire [for] exercise of politics linked to the many social and class conflicts.” The document proclaims a “vocation for power, while signaling the necessity for political change to overcome imperial domination and hegemony imposed by dominant classes over two centuries.” Marcha Patriotica is “not simply a tactic of alliances but is a process for building subjective consensus as to unifying the oppressed and exploited classes, our historic task.”

The platform calls for political solution of armed conflict; democratization of society, state, and economic model; alternative ways of life and production; human rights guarantees; “humanization of work,” reparations for victims; land reform and protection of rural people, educational reform based on “teaching for emancipation; a “culture of solidarity and transformation of the social order;” and lastly, Latin American integration, internationalism, and national independence.

The Liberal Party’s left wing headed by Piedad Cordoba and the Colombian Communist Party helped launch the Marcha Patriotica. National student organizations, the Fensuagro agricultural workers union, indigenous groups like the National Minga, small farmer groups, and protesters against the El Quimbo dam project were also instrumental.

Colombia is used to political projects aiming at left unity. The Patriotic Union (UP) and the Democratic Alliance, propelled by demobilized M-19 insurgents, emerged in the 1980’s. The recently established POLO electoral coalition, joined by the Communist Party, now suffers from internal divisions and disregard of social movements. Leaders issued a statement supporting the Marcha Patriotica, but POLO was unrepresented at the inaugural events.

Communist Party involvement with the UP and Marcha Patriotica suggests kinship of the two, which Marcha organizers deny. The UP came about because insurgents of the Revolutionary Army Forces of Colombia (FARC) abandoned armed struggle to enter electoral politics. The FARC now apparently has no role with the Marcha Patriotica.

Yet one clear sign of Marcha Patriotica importance is scapegoating it has provoked on the government’s part. President Juan Manuel Santos, other officials, and the media say Marcha Patriotica was a FARC idea and is infiltrated by the FARC. Evidence is cited derived supposedly from captured FARC computers, even though the Supreme Court earlier had discredited computer-based evidence used against journalists and other left wing political figures.  Soldiers and police throughout Colombia have monitored and harassed Marcha activists over several months, arresting and tailing many of them, threatening family members, and barging into homes. They interfered with travel to Bogota. Intelligence operatives watched over proceedings there.

The U.S. – allied Colombian government, protective of banking, landowning, mining, and drug-running interests, intimidates also through killings.  Under its auspices, 5000 activists associated with the UP were massacred.  Now, three Marcha organizers are dead, or feared dead. Victims are: Martha Cecilia Guevara Oyola, community leader in Caquetá, disappeared on April 20; Hernan Henrry Diaz, Fensuagro organizer responsible for getting 200 Putumayo people to Bogota, disappeared on April 18; and Mauricio Enrique Rodriguez, bodyguard for Carlos Lozano and others, killed on April 27.

Nevertheless, expectations for the Marcha Patriotica are high. According to its political declaration, “Colombian patriots arrived in Bogota to affirm the existence of collective dreams, to lay out routes of dignity, to open doors of hope just as did liberators for the first independence. We are participating in a new historical chapter, forged necessarily in the broadest possible popular unity.” 

W. T. Whitney Jr. is a retired pediatrician and political journalist living in Maine.

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