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

More articles by:

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

Weekend Edition
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography
Kathy Deacon
Me, My Parents and Red Scares Long Gone
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Rexless Abandon
Andrew Levine
Good Enemies Are Hard To Find: Therefore Worry
Jim Kavanagh
What to Expect From a Trump / Kim Summit
Ron Jacobs
Trump and His Tariffs
Joshua Frank
Drenched in Crude: It’s an Oil Free For All, But That’s Not a New Thing
Gary Leupp
What If There Was No Collusion?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Bernard Fall Dies on the Street Without Joy
Robert Fantina
Bad to Worse: Tillerson, Pompeo and Haspel
Brian Cloughley
Be Prepared, Iran, Because They Want to Destroy You
Richard Moser
What is Organizing?
Scott McLarty
Working Americans Need Independent Politics
Rohullah Naderi
American Gun Violence From an Afghan Perspective
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Why Trump’s Tariff Travesty Will Not Re-Industrialize the US
Ted Rall
Democrats Should Run on Impeachment
Robert Fisk
Will We Ever See Al Jazeera’s Investigation Into the Israel Lobby?
Kristine Mattis
Superunknown: Scientific Integrity Within the Academic and Media Industrial Complexes
John W. Whitehead
Say No to “Hardening” the Schools with Zero Tolerance Policies and Gun-Toting Cops
Edward Hunt
UN: US Attack On Syrian Civilians Violated International Law
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraq Outside History
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Long Hard Road
Victor Grossman
Germany: New Faces, Old Policies
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
The Iraq Death Toll 15 Years After the US Invasion
Binoy Kampmark
Amazon’s Initiative: Digital Assistants, Home Surveillance and Data
Chuck Collins
Business Leaders Agree: Inequality Hurts The Bottom Line
Jill Richardson
What We Talk About When We Talk About “Free Trade”
Eric Lerner – Jay Arena
A Spark to a Wider Fire: Movement Against Immigrant Detention in New Jersey
Negin Owliaei
Teachers Deserve a Raise: Here’s How to Fund It
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
What to Do at the End of the World? Interview with Climate Crisis Activist, Kevin Hester
Kevin Proescholdt
Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke Attacks America’s Wilderness
Franklin Lamb
Syrian War Crimes Tribunals Around the Corner
Beth Porter
Clean Energy is Calling. Will Your Phone Company Answer?
George Ochenski
Zinke on the Hot Seat Again and Again
Lance Olsen
Somebody’s Going to Extremes
Robert Koehler
Breaking the Ice
Pepe Escobar
The Myth of a Neo-Imperial China
Graham Peebles
Time for Political Change and Unity in Ethiopia
Terry Simons
10 American Myths “Refutiated”*
Thomas Knapp
Some Questions from the Edge of Immortality
Louis Proyect
The 2018 Socially Relevant Film Festival
David Yearsley
Keaton’s “The General” and the Pernicious Myths of the Heroic South