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Colombian Peace Agreement in Peril: Rebels Return to Armed Struggle   

Photograph Source: Ministerio de Defensa del Perú – CC BY 2.0

Civil war in Colombia may have a new lease on life. Appearing in a video released on August 29, Iván Márquez (formerly Luciano Marín Arango) spoke for former FARC guerrillas accompanying him.  He announced they had returned “to the mountain,” to armed struggle.

Guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) had fought Colombia’s government since 1964. In late 2016, the FARC and that government signed a peace agreement. A war ended which, from 1980 on, had led to 220,000 deaths, mostly at the hands of paramilitaries and government forces. Now a precarious peace agreement is in intensive care.

Márquez, head FARC negotiator at the peace talks, explained why his group acted and what they hope for. The dissident FARC members joining him included Jesús Santrich (formerly Seuxis Pausias Hernández Solarte), also a former peace negotiator. The number of newly armed FARC guerrillas is unknown.

Approximately 2000 recalcitrant FARC members remained armed after the agreement. The others, numbering at least 6000, formed a socialist political party. The agreement, awarded the party ten seats in Colombia’s Congress. Márquez and Santrich occupied two of them. The new party, called the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force (FARC), issued a statement rejecting the return to arms.

Colombian President Iván Duque ordered that FARC members under arms be captured. The Defense Ministry indicated nine of them had been killed.

Background information is relevant as to why Márquez, Santrich, and the others acted:

1. During the four year-long peace negotiations, Márquez and Santrich had opposed relinquishing arms at once, which is what occurred. They preferred doing so in stages.

2. Colombian authorities arrested and jailed Santrich on April 9, 2018. Their plans were to extradite him to the United States on drug-selling charges. Prosecutors there were holding Marlon Marín, Iván Márquez’s nephew, to testify against Santrich. Santrich left prison on May 30, 2019 after convoluted judicial processes, abuse, a hunger strike, and a suicide attempt. He disappeared in July.

3. Perhaps in response to Santrich’s capture, Márquez disappeared in August, 2018. The fate of Simón Trinidad is an object lesson. Colombia extradited that FARC commander to the United States in 2004. Convicted on spurious charges, he is serving a 60-year sentence in a high security U.S. prison.

4. Demobilized FARC insurgents risk death. Since the peace agreement presumed paramilitaries have murdered 150 of them, plus 500 community and political leaders in rural areas. From 1986 on, they killed ex-FARC guerrillas and Communist Party members belonging to the Patriotic Union electoral coalition, around 5000 in all.

In his video presentation, Marquez surveys the government’s failures in implementing the peace agreement. Through “treason,” the government, he says, enables the killings, hasn’t addressed land reform, hasn’t allowed for conversion to legal crops (The agreement provides for both), did deprive demobilized guerrillas of full political participation, unilaterally introduced a plebiscite for endorsing the peace agreement, unilaterally modified the agreement’s language, and allowed “third parties” – a reference to paramilitaries – to escape punishment for crimes.

The “strategic objective” of the newly re-armed FARC insurgents is “peace in Colombia with social justice, democracy, sovereignty, and honor.” Márquez envisions a “great coalition of forces for life, social justice and democracy.” They will create “a new government [and] a new dialogue for peace.”

Márquez anticipates cooperation with guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (ELN). A mainly defensive war will target corruption, impunity, and particularly “the oligarchy,” but will respect “the soldier, police, and lower officials [as] class brothers.” He calls for a constituent assembly. Under a “new order of sovereignty of the homeland,” there will be no extradition of citizens, no free rein for multinationals … and no foreign military bases.”

A video appeared on September 1 in which Jesús Santrich, attended by comrades, reiterated themes put forth by Márquez. He spoke of a universal right to revolution.

Prospects for implementation of the peace agreement, obviously grim in the eyes of these FARC rebels, rest fundamentally on whether their government wants war or peace. The odds are on war.

In that regard a recent report attributed to the Observatory of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law describes government prioritization of rural “developmental projects serving an extractive economy.” The report notes that, “Connections with narco-trafficking and illegal mining, connivance with paramilitaries, and a vast project of military control are not hidden.” The projects take root in what the government calls “Strategic Zones of Comprehensive Intervention.” Militarization of these rural zones has paralyzed land reform and stymied compliance with the peace accords.

The report attributes extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances to the military’s new rapid response teams. In fact, “the areas that are most militarized are those where illegal economies expand, and where illegal actors prevail, particularly the ELN, FARC dissident groups, and paramilitary groups above all.”

The existence of a powerful military force of 481,000 troops likewise suggests a disposition to war, just as does the government’s war-making partnership with the United States. Colombia hosts U.S. troops, intelligence operatives, and military bases, seven of them. Its government buys weapons from the United States. Currently pending is the delivery of anti- aircraft missiles and 15 F-16 combat planes.

Colombia plays a crucial role in aiding U.S. aggression against Venezuela.  According to one observer, the United States “has stationed special forces and equipment along the Venezuelan-Colombian border,” “the Duque government leads a diplomatic and propaganda war against Venezuela,” and officials are “docile captives of the interests of the United States.” Colombia’s government tolerates or encourages Colombian paramilitary incursions inside Venezuela.

In Colombia silence reigns as regards support for re-armed FARC insurgents, A voice identified as “We Defend the Peace,” asserts that “no justification, no excuse … can be considered as valid” for efforts favoring “armed violence.” Former ELN guerrilla commander and prisoner of war Carlos Arturo Velandia counsels patience: “Peace … is built day by day.”

On the basis of “democratic struggle in the country,” the Communist Party joined the Patriotic Union – the latter survived the massacre noted above – in condemning “a political action with grave consequences for the process of implementing the peace agreement.”

More articles by:

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

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