Once More Into the Breach



It’s hard to know which is more surprising: a guerrilla that has resisted for more than 50 years, constituting the largest farmers’ movement in the hemisphere according to the late Eric Hobsbawm; an oligarchical government that has so little sense of sovereignty that in extradites political prisoners to the country of its northern bosses; or the fact that the two parties sit down to dialogue, as is now happening in Cuba between representatives of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) and the government of Juan Manual Santos.

In fact, only in Macondo can such things come to pass. Yet it’s important to evaluate the degree of magic and the degree of realism in each one of them. Regarding the first two elements (that is, the 50-year guerrilla and the extravagantly servile government) they are, if astounding and “magical,” quite real. It is the last element, however, the dialogue between the two parts, that tends toward the phantasmal.

Not that the guerrilla does not want peace: the FARC-EP maintains – and recent declarations have corroborated this – that it has long fought for peace, a peace with social justice, and has always been willing to dialogue with that principle as the basis. The Colombian government, however, seems more interested in image-mongering and at present appears only committed to doing lip-service to peace.

Thus, in the preliminary talks in Oslo last month, government negotiator Humberto de la Calle responded to the soft-spoken and content-rich presentation of FARC comandante Iván Márquez by saying that they were not going to listen to speeches of the public plaza (nixing outright the basis of Greek democracy: the agora); that they could not debate the country’s economic model (difficult to understand since the issue of land reform was in the pre-agreement); and that the government was not going to be “hostage to the process” (by which he meant that they were not going to be “hostage” to democratic procedures).

This last point is the most important and telling one. Colombia, like its northern boss-state (the USA) has polished a highly restricted form of democracy which includes manipulated voting and parapolitical practices such as assassination of opponents, which prevent any substantialissue from entering into democratic decision-making. Steps taken by recent Colombian governments – including those of both Álvaro Uribe and J.M. Santos – have only worked to further restrict democracy, assigning more and more rights to big (and usually foreign) businesses and fewer rights to citizens. [1]

Given this situation, it would only be structural changes in the society, state, and economy that would open the doors to a real and lasting peace by going to the roots of the conflict. Such changes, which would have to include eliminating the U.S. military presence, agrarian reform, and recompense to victims of state terrorism, might seem “magical” and far-fetched given the track record of Colombian governments, but only they would guarantee that the conflict would not re-initiate for the same reasons it started, while providing a basis for the insurgency to enter into parliamentary and presidential politics.

It is clear that the insurgency should not put down its arms without achieving these objectives, because even if it were to do so, for the people of Colombia – mostly without land and access to adequate health care and education – the struggle (and the violence) would continue, though likely with a more unilateral exercise of violence from the Colombian State.

Can one imagine the Colombian state making such structural changes? It will only if it has to: that is, only when it recognizes that the war will not end without such concessions, and that a failure to yield will make the state more precarious; only when there is much international pressure; and above all only when a wide sector of Colombian “civil society” and its powerful organizations such as Marcha Patriótica and Congreso de los Pueblos can weigh into the dialogues.

All of which takes time. And it takes a dialogue which would – as FARC negotiators have proposed [2] – reach far beyond the sweep of the “summit” sort of meetings that have so far taken place. For some indication of whether this possible opening to a different (less Macondian) chapter of Colombian history could come to pass, one should pay close attention to the new round of dialogues that will begin this November 15th in La Habana and focus on the theme of land reform.

Chris Gilbert is professor of political science in the Universidad Bolivariana de Venezuela.


[1] Jairo Estrada Alvarez, Derechos del Capital: Dispositivos de protección e incentivos a la acumulación en Colombia (Bogotá: Universidad Nacional de Colombia, 2010).

[2]  Delegación de Paz de las FARC-EP, “Reflexiones sobre la Agenda de La Habana III”: http://www.rebelion.org/noticia.php?id=158686&titular=reflexiones-sobre-la-agenda-de-la-habana-iii

Weekend Edition
October 9-11, 2015
David Price – Roberto J. González
The Use and Abuse of Culture (and Children): The Human Terrain System’s Rationalization of Pedophilia in Afghanistan
Gary Leupp
The Six Most Disastrous Interventions of the 21st  Century
Mike Whitney
Putin’s “Endgame” in Syria
Jason Hribal
The Tilikum Effect and the Downfall of SeaWorld
Paul Street
Hope in Abandonment: Cuba, Detroit, and Earth-Scientific Socialism
Andrew Levine
In Syria, Obama is Playing a Losing Game
Louis Proyect
The End of Academic Freedom in America: the Case of Steven Salaita
John Feffer
Mouths Wide Shut: Obama’s War on Whistleblowers
Conn Hallinan
Portugal: Europe’s Left Batting 1000
Brian Cloughley
Hospital Slaughter and the US/NATO Propaganda Machine
John Walsh
For Vietnam: Artemisinin From China, Agent Orange From America
Robert Fantina
Canadian Universities vs. Israeli Apartheid
Paul Craig Roberts
The Impulsiveness of US Power
Philippe Marlière
Class Struggle at Air France
Binoy Kampmark
Waiting in Vain for Moderation: Syria, Russia and Washington’s Problem
Paul Edwards
Empire of Disaster
Margaret Knapke
These Salvadoran Women Went to Prison for Suffering Miscarriages
Cesar Chelala
The Perverse Rise of Killer Robots
Halyna Mokrushyna
On Ukraine’s ‘Incorrect’ Past
Walter Brasch
Mass Murders are Good for Business
William Hadfield
Sophistry Rising: the Refugee Debate in Germany
Christopher Brauchli
Why the NRA Profits From Mass Shootings
Pete Dolack
There is Still Time to Defeat the Trans-Pacific Partnership
Andre Vltchek
Stop Millions of Western Immigrants!
Dave Lindorff
America’s Latest War Crime
Ann Garrison
Sankarist Spirit Resurges in Burkina Faso
Cesar Chelala
The Perverse Rise of Killer Robots
Franklin Lamb
Official Investigation Needed After Afghan Hospital Bombing
Linn Washington Jr.
Wrongs In Wine-Land
Charles R. Larson
Prelude to the Spanish Civil War: Eduard Mendoza’s “An Englishman in Madrid”
October 08, 2015
Michael Horton
Why is the US Aiding and Enabling Saudi Arabia’s Genocidal War in Yemen?
Ben Debney
Guns, Trump and Mental Illness
Pepe Escobar
The NATO-Russia Face Off in Syria
Yoav Litvin
Israeli Occupation for Dummies
Lawrence Davidson
Deep Poverty in America: the On-Going Tradition of Not Caring
Thomas Knapp
War Party’s New Line: Vladimir Putin is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things
Brandon Jordan
Sowing the Seeds of War in Uruguay
Binoy Kampmark
Imperilled by Unfree Trade: the TPP on Environment and Labor
John McMurtry
The Canadian Elections: Cover-Up and Steal (Again)
Anthony Papa
Coming Home: an Open Letter to 6,000 Soon-to-be-Released Drug War Prisoners From an Ex-Con
Ramzy Baroud
Listen to Syrians: The Media Jackals and the People’s Narrative
Norman Pollack
Heart of Darkness: A Two-Way Street
Gilbert Mercier
Will Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and Iraqi Shiite Militias Defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq?
John Stanton
Vietnam 2.0 and California Dreamin’ in Ukraine
William John Cox
The Pornography of Hatred