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The War in Colombia and Why It Continues

In Havana, representatives of the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have been negotiating peace for 30 months. The war they are trying to end has killed or disappeared 250,000 Colombians over 25 years. The future of the talks is uncertain.

“Today the mountains and forests of Colombia are the heart of Latin America.” At an international forum on Colombia on June 8, former Uruguayan President Jose Mujica was saying that developments in Colombia, including the peace process, are “the most important in Latin America.”

Interviewed on May 30, head FARC negotiator Iván Márquez, asserted that “confidence at the negotiating table is badly impaired and that only a bilateral ceasefire can help the process advance.” He said deaths of “human rights defenders [including] over 100 members of the Patriotic March coalition” and “persecution of leaders of the social movements” were poisoning the atmosphere.

Since March in Cúcuta, thugs have killed four labor leaders, including on June 2 Alex Fabián Espinosa, a member of the MOVICE human rights group. In May assassins killed community leader Juan David Quintana and professor and social activist Luis Fernando Wolff, both in Medellin. Analyst Azalea Robles says that “a total of 19 human rights defenders were murdered in Columbia during the first four months of 2015.”

On April 15, FARC guerrillas killed 11 Colombian soldiers in Buenos Aires (Cauca). According to Márquez, “They were defending themselves following the disembarkation of troops [from aircraft] who were advancing on them.” In apparent retaliation, the Colombian military, bombing from the air, killed 27 guerrillas on May 21 in Guapi (Cauca).   The FARC immediately ended the unilateral, indefinite ceasefire it declared in December, 2014. Within days, government forces killed 10 guerrillas in Antioquia and five more in Choco Department. The dead included two FARC peace negotiators who were in Colombia updating guerrillas on the talks.

Negotiators have reached preliminary agreements on three agenda categories: land, narco-trafficking, and political participation. But now they’ve have spent a year on the “victims” agenda item; reparations and assignment of blame were prime topics. On completion recently of their 37th round of talks, they did agree to form a truth commission as “part of the integral system of truth, justice, reparation, and non-repetition.” Work on that project may divert government negotiators from their steady focus on “transitional justice” which entails punishment and jail time for FARC leaders.

A pilot project on removing landmines and discussions by military leaders on both sides about ceasefire mechanisms are other markers of progress. Márquez insists on “reconciliation on the basis of actual history, far-reaching justice, comprehensive reparation, and no repetition [and] all of this is tied to structural transformations.” This last promises to be a sticking point.

Azalea Robles explains why: Emphasizing Colombian government dependency on powerful economic interests, she implies that the hands of government negotiators are tied. “The Colombian reality,” she says,” is shaped by dispossession and territorial re-accommodation destined for all areas … that are of economic interest. It’s a capitalist logic that allows no scruples and constitutes ecocide turned into genocide. In Colombia strategies of terror are promoted and they relate to capitalist plunder.”

For example, “80 percent of human rights violations and 87 percent of population displacements take place in regions where multinationals pursue mining exploitation, [and] 78 percent of attacks against unionists were against those working in the mining and energy areas.” Some “40 percent of Colombian land is under concession by multinational corporations.” She counts 25 environmentalists killed in 2014.

Capitalism in Colombia, Robles insists, rests on “state terrorism.” She cites “physical elimination” of the Patriotic Union party, “6.3 million dispossessed and displaced from their lands for the benefit of big capital,” and “60 percent of assassinations of unionists worldwide” having taken place in Colombia.

The fate of Wayuu Indians in La Guajira Department epitomizes the terror of extreme poverty and powerlessness. Some 600,000 of them occupy northern borderlands in Colombia and Venezuela. In 2012, 14 000 Wayuu children died of starvation and 36,000 survivors were malnourished; 38.8 percent of Wayuu children under age five died. La Guajira’s El Cerrejón, owned by the BHP Billiton and Anglo America corporations, is the world’s largest open-pit coal mine. Mine operators have destroyed Wayuu villages and poisoned soil and water. They pump 35,000 liters of water out of the Rancheria River each day thus depriving the Wayuu of water they need for survival

While ongoing violence and terror serve as backdrop for the peace process, that reality, ironically enough, originally prompted President Juan Manuel Santos to initiate the talks. He and his political and business allies worried that for civil war to continue might frighten off multinational corporations and international investors. To protect Colombia’s capitalist economy and its integration within the U. S. – led globalized system, they wanted it to end.

But, one asks, where is the common ground shared by a capitalist regime habituated to criminal brutality and Marxist insurgents still in the field after 50 years?

Maybe compromise is not to be, and civil war will continue. Writing for rebelion.org, Colombian political exile José Antonio Gutiérrez D. accuses the Santos government of using negotiations exclusively to create space for strengthening its military power, while beating up on its political opposition and the FARC. Peace, he implies, is not the government‘s objective.

In fact, the government anticipates a “neo-liberal peace.” Were that to occur, the FARC would be giving up on its basic objective of securing justice through political action. FARC negotiators have long called for a peace with mechanisms in place allowing for social justice and structural transformations to flourish. A constituent assembly is a prime example.

Commentator Fernando Dorado gives voice to the government’s line. Fearing that the FARC itself might use a bilateral truce to restore military capabilities, he specifies that, “The only solution is to de-escalate confrontation voluntarily and speed up the talks.” He regards ex-President Uribe’s recent switch to supporting peace on neo-liberal terms as facilitating this approach. Until now Uribe has masterminded obstruction to the peace process. Dorado claims the U.S. government is insisting that “the bloc of hegemonic power [in Colombia]’ unify itself in order to achieve its objective: ‘neo-liberal peace’ with tiny ‘democratic’ concessions.”

The spilt among conservative forces stems from the Santos-led group’s face-off against right wingers – ones Uribe speaks for – who are loyal to traditional forms of oligarchical power, among them: large landholdings, ranching, military force, paramilitaries, and more recently narco-trafficking.

The government now is riding high in the negotiations on account of its power, which is military in nature but rests also on its command of the economy and its U.S. alliance. To both achieve peace and rescue its goals, the FARC must, by any logic, also project power; good ideas are not enough. Indeed, ever such since negotiations began in 2012, FARC strategists have been clear on how to do that. They’ve called for popular mobilization in Colombia for peace with justice – for a people’s uprising.

In a recent interview FARC commander Carlos Antonio Lozada, a delegate to the Havana peace talks, explains: “What with vacillations by Santos and growing pressures from militarism against the peace process, the only guarantee of its continuing and its definitive consolidation is that the majority sectors who believe in a political solution to the conflict mobilize in its defense. Peace with social justice for our people will not come as a present from the oligarchy.” He regrets that, “Still there is no success in structuring a broad front that brings together and decisively mobilizes all the social and political forces that crave a peace with democratic changes.”

In the end, the outcome of negotiations probably will depend on what happens in Colombia. Jaime Caycedo, secretary – general of the Communist Party, announced on June 4 that “social and political organizations will be preparing a national mobilization in favour of peace and the demand for a bilateral cease fire.” It takes place in late July.

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

 

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

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