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Colombia’s Peace


Earlier this week, in the context of the current Colombian peace talks, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) declared an immediate, unilateral ceasefire until January 20, 2013.[1] This step has left the Santos government stunned, provoking precipitous declarations that the FARC is not trustworthy, and that the Colombian Army will continue with its offensives. Speculation aside about secondary motives, the insurgent group has taken therewith a clear lead in securing the moral high ground. However, this recent decision is simply part of a series of decisive steps the FARC’s negotiating team has taken in that direction since the dialogues began.

For example, earlier this month in an extended interview with the Anncol agency, chief FARC negotiator Iván Márquez reiterated the organization’s desire to “put the people” into the peace process. To conclude this historic interview, Márquez took control of the conversation himself and, turning to face the camera, made the point even more emphatically: “The participation of all Colombians is needed to achieve a peace which would be stable and lasting… This is not the peace of the government or of the guerrilla, but a collective matter and a collective dream.”[2]

The insurgency’s attitude, reinforced by later declarations of FARC negotiator Jesús Santrich[3], contrasts sharply with the Colombian establishment’s desire to keep the peace process within very narrowly defined limits and with government negotiator Humberto de la Calle’s repeated threats to leave the negotiating table should these limits be transgressed. The government’s preoccupation – whether you define it as fear that the FARC will enter into normal politics, fear of the “rabble” and its voices, or simply fear of democracy – does not exactly shine in the eyes of anyone willing to exercise moral or political judgment.

Combine that with the usual dirty tricks (for example, Colombia’s establishment-controlled media mysteriously “lost the signal” when Márquez was talking in Oslo last month, cutting out more than half of his thought-provoking discourse) or the stiff-necked militarism shown in the goverment’s buying drones and other military aircraft while claiming to seek peace in good faith [4], and one can understand the profound dissatisfaction of many Colombians with the Santos regimen’s lackluster, not to say shameful, performance.

That is essentially because peace is such a longstanding and deep-seated desire of the Colombian people: an objective which has been sought through highly creative, quite varied initiatives ranging from insistent social movements such as Congreso de los Pueblos to the regional constituent peace assemblies with come out of Barrancabermeja’s “El Diálogo es la Ruta” meeting of 2011 (to say nothing of the many times the insurgency has impulsed peace processes). The government evidently fears the consequences that could come out of combining such initiatives with the General Constituent Assembly that the FARC has proposed as one of its central objectives in the peace process.

A more ample participation in the dialogues has in fact already been happening in spite of the “closed doors” preferences of the government. It can be seen in the varied proposals that individuals and organizations such as Marcha Patriótica  have made regarding elements that need to be taken into account in the current debate about land reform, or in the fact that the Christmas ceasefire derives most likely from an open-letter exchange from one of the FARC’s most solid and morally credible interlocutors: Colombianos y Colombianas por la Paz. All of this risks creating a kind of domino effect that would escape control of the government, and break with the two-part, mechanical solution to the very grave structural problems that the country faces, despite the oligarchy’s longstanding denial.

Years ago Camilo Torres, a Colombian priest who joined the armed struggle after seeing that all other routes were closed off to the popular movement, argued that the oligarchy would have to give up its privileges or have them taken away violently. These days what seemed to have been a simple alternative may have opened up to a range of intermediate possibilities involving different and combined forms of popular struggle in response to the oligarchy’s quite complex and varied application of coercion and violence. Still, the basic dilemma remains; while recent declarations from government officials and negotiators seem to indicate that the Colombian oligarchy is not significantly different from the one Camilo Torres faced some forty years ago.

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


[1] “Las FARC declara un cese de fuego unilateral de dos meses durante el fin del año”:

[2] “Conversando con el Comandante Iván Márquez sobre perspectivas de paz, por Dick Emanuelsson”

[3] “Entrevista con el Comandate Jesús Santrich, integrante de la delegación de paz de las FARC-EP”:

[4] “Colombia comprará más armas de guerra y aviones militares, incluidos “drones” de Isreal”:

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

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