In a recent interview Carlos Lozano, a leader of the Colombian Communist Party (PCC) and director of the Party’s weekly Voz newspaper, offered a sobering appraisal of the likelihood that talks underway now in Cuba between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government will lead to peace with social justice.
He alluded to historical affinities between the FARC and his own Party, thereby raising the possibility that these two Marxist – oriented groups, together in the past and then apart, are finding common ground once more. He speaks of nationwide struggle toward socialist, anti-imperialist revolution. That’s an uncommon narrative these days.
Prospects for a negotiated peace
Lozano thinks the FARC’s decision to begin a unilateral cease fire on July 20 is “hopeful,” especially because the government reciprocated by promising to “de-escalate the conflict” with one possibility being no more aerial bombardments. Lozano, however, objects to what looks like an ultimatum; the government has invoked a four-month probationary period for de-escalation at which point it may leave the talks. He complains that the government has not yet explicitly defended the peace process and still has tight relations with right wing enemies of peace.
He charges that the government took advantage of the FARC’s most recent unilateral truce to gain military advantage and that it “continues to jail and prosecute activists in the social and people’s struggle.” President Juan Manuel Santos “wants the guerrillas to surrender and give up their arms and wants their principal leaders in prison. He ignores key political and social reforms addressed to the causes of the conflict.”
Furthermore, the government provides “privileges and sinecures for the trans-nationals, the powerful economic groups, the financial sector, big landowners, and ranchers. Plutocratic power is guaranteed in order to protect interests of the oligarchy and foreign-capital and [thus] build investor confidence.”
Lozano calls for “strengthening the Broad Front for Peace as an independent project pressing for a negotiated political solution now and conversion later to an option for people’s power … But what comes first is action from the masses and popular pressure.” The Colombian people, he thinks, still lack trust in the peace process.
In fact, “the conditions are right for a stable and durable peace. The remedy for the crisis therefore is to maintain dialogue and look for solutions other than war, which did not settle the conflict. Neither side achieved victory. The conflict is degraded and is a national tragedy. (…) Revolutionaries are humanists and we cannot resolve the social drama with guns and violence because they bring ill-fated and terrible consequences for the population.”
“The point of no return” for the negotiations has not been reached, but “there is still a long time. Key themes are pending like justice [for victims], giving up arms, guarantees, mechanisms of ratification, and one still in the refrigerator, which is that all of these [items] need to be defined. But I will tell you one thing: I am sure that if they reach an agreement on justice, the process will then be at the point of no return. What this means is agreeing on the fundamentals of truth, justice, and reparations, and beyond that, agreement on no reprisals and no going to prison.”
Lozano observes that, “In Colombia oligarchs take a position of vengeance and of denying their own responsibility for violence in Colombia. They were the ones who converted the state into a violent instrument of domination. No longer can they make fools of us.”
Then the conversation took unexpected turn. Lozano was asked: “Must one now conclude that that armed struggle was an error?”
“Nobody invented the guerrillas’ armed struggle,” he replies, “not the Communist Party and not the small farmers who armed themselves on being confronted by violence from the dominant power. Armed struggle evolved out of deep, historical causes. The Commission on History [of the negotiating parties in Havana] provided a through-going analysis, yet the government trivialized the conclusions. They dread academic studies and any historical record of facts and of conflict itself, both nationally and in the world. It’s a retrograde, reactionary, and brutish position that doesn’t recognize the contribution such sources can make to truth, justice, reparation, and no repetition.
“The armed struggle did not appear on its own. It took on forms appropriate to different historical periods and each stage of the political and social process. It’s not merely a problem of ‘combining forms of struggle,’ which is the common way of justifying armed conflict. The combination of forms of mass struggle is no decree or revolutionary law. It reflects Colombian reality, a kind of social X-ray of our own reality in which people’s mass struggle is expressed in multiple forms, including armed insurgent action. This is how the guerrilla movement became a fundamental force for changes. Always the understanding was to prioritize democratic struggles carried out by mass actions in the countryside and in the city.”
Lozano looks at history. During the 1950’s, an era of “rightwing dictatorship,” peasants took up arms to defend themselves “against the violence of big landowners protected by the state.” Later “Revolutionary peasants defended themselves by moving south where they waited for government policies oriented toward dictatorship and routine anti-communism to evolve. They issued repeated calls for peace.”
In 1964 U. S. – backed government forces “bombed Marquetalia, El Pato, Riochiquito and Guayabero in order to eradicate the tiny guerrilla force. That led to a change in strategy and the movement was converted into a political and military guerrilla force. It based its action on guerrilla warfare, yet all the while they were proposing dialogue and peace.”
Lozano recalls peace efforts in the 1980’s when the FARC launched the ill-fated Patriotic Union electoral coalition. Indeed, “the genocide of the Patriot Union generated distrust on the part of the insurgency, inasmuch as violence from those in power caused this horrible annihilation of an entire political organization.”
When the PCC and FARC were one
Lozano’s sympathetic view of the FARC’s beginnings harks back to the time when the PCC and the FARC were part of the same revolutionary movement. Central Committee member Jacobo Arenas arrived in Marquetalia in April 1964. Until his death in 1990, Arenas remained at the side of FARC leader Manuel Marulanda as a leader and advisor. Arenas edited the “Agrarian Program of the Guerrillas,” which appeared just weeks after the attack on Marquetalia and proclaimed their shift to active insurgency.
“We are revolutionaries who fight for a change in regime,” the document said. We are “obliged by circumstances noted here to adopt a way to change other than the peaceful route, specifically, the armed revolutionary route of struggle for power … realization of this Program will depend on a worker-peasant alliance .”
On his way to the FARC’s “Constitutive Conference” in 1966, Arenas reported on the FARC to the 10th Congress of the PCC. He told delegates that, “This congress is important for taking place when the armed resistance movement is growing, at a time when important guerrilla units are waiting upon the communists’ Congress – which is their Congress – for new formulations on armed struggle … They will lead to new successes … and to growing prestige of Marxist Leninist ideas, of revolution, and of communism.” (1)
By endorsing the PCC’s previously articulated strategy of “combination of all forms of mass struggle,” the 10th Congress signaled support for the FARC. Gilberto Vieira, the Party’s secretary general at the time, recalled in 1991 that, “The Colombian people created the combination of all forms of mass struggle when at the end of the 1940’s they confronted the terrible policies of blood and fire from the reactionary governments of the time. That’s why the important form of struggle of invincible guerrilla resistance against tyrants in the Colombian homeland burst forth, created by popular forces – but at the side of mass struggles in the cities.” (2)
Reminiscing in 1995, Vieira adds that, “The model that Conservative Party governments implemented in that era is still in force. Therefore, struggle for democracy and for democratic liberties is today very important for the Communist Party. I emphasize that because the Colombian people’s resistance against reactionary, militaristic dictatorship had its highest expression in the upsurge of the guerrilla movement that continues in Colombia and is stronger than ever. This is the truth.” (3)
Yet by 1993 the FARC had separated from the PCC. At its Eighth Conference, held that year, the FARC opted for developing a military force capable of striking government targets of “high strategic value.” The insurgency decided also to “urbanize armed conflict” by surrounding cities and forming urban militias. And henceforth, decision making on war and politics would be in “the hands of the FARC” and removed from the PCC.
Unity then and now
Carlos Lozano’s remarks on the origins of the FARC’s armed struggle and on historical realities of that time reflect warm feelings for an era of unified struggle. Communication of that viewpoint prompts speculation here that in his interview Lozano was offering advice on current lines of action. If his purpose had been merely to comment upon the peace talks, it seems unlikely he would have taken on the vexed issue of armed struggle, unless he had another agenda in mind.
The PCC seems to have arranged for Lozano’s interview. (4) It appeared on the web sites of the Party and of Voz, the Party’s weekly newspaper, and a nameless interviewer asked the questions. And because Lozano’s widely respected views rarely circulate these days – he is being treated for a serious illness – their presentation now was a special occasion.
Lozano may have been preparing the way for resumption of PCC-FARC collaboration. The context is telling: as Lozano sees it, there is no certainty that the talks in Cuba will lead to peace with social justice. But the need is great for mass mobilization in favor of such an outcome. Hence the PCC works to build the so-called “Broad Front for Peace,” supports the Patriotic March social and political coalition, and helped revive the Patriotic Union.
If the peace talks do conclude successfully from the PCC and FARC viewpoints, FARC veterans surely will be contributing to such a mass movement and necessarily will become PCC allies. But if the negotiations fail, the need for building a people’s mobilization hardly disappears, and members of the FARC, one imagines, would be part of a political movement emerging from those circumstances. Throughout the period of negotiations, FARC spokespersons have been calling for mass organization in Colombia.
Ultimately the issue at hand is unity, that battle cry heard at every turn in the saga of communist organizing. Revived unity now would underscore its earlier role in building one of the world’s few revolutionary communist movements still fighting for power, and one of the largest and most durable ones. More importantly, it would bear significantly on the future evolution of that struggle.
1. “Manuel Maruland, Tirofijo – Colombia: 40 Years of Guerrilla Struggle,” Arturo Alape, (Txalaparta, Mexico, 1998), p. 84.
2. “Gilberto Vieira: Pensamiento, Obra y Vida,” ed. Nelson Fajardo, (Ediciones Izquierda Viva, Bogota, 2008), p. 64.
3. Ibid., p. 272.
4. The entire interview may be read at: http://www.pacocol.org/index.php/noticias/14539-farc-ep-oxigenan-los-dialogos-de-paz The author translated.