Peace Agreements: A New Stage in Colombian History

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By: Roque Gonzales La Rosa / Source: Resumen Latinoamericano / The Dawn News / July 27, 2017

FARC troops. Photo credit: La Razon

The oldest and most resilient guerrilla of Latin America just turned over their weapons, after 53 years of life that are now becoming part of the glorious history of resistance of our peoples. Their war was not easy, between the bombings from the sky and the counter-insurgent technology provided by the United States. Beaten, but not defeated, the guerrilla resisted against the dirt of paramilitarism, drug trafficking and other threats. In less than four years, the FARC-EP were able to get out of the channels and estuaries where war was rotting, to a scenario of enormous historical impact for Colombia: the Peace Process, which will imply a radical structural transformation of the organization into a legal political party.

The FARC-EP celebrated this agreement in which they established, on paper, their right to political participation, parliamentary representation, amnesty for their political prisoners and other relevant aspects, but they also celebrate the fact that these agreements carry the promise to achieve the change they were fighting for: a reform of the Colombian agricultural system—currently an unfair model in which the levels of land concentration, forced displacements of peasants, and paramilitary massacres surpass the levels of the Guatemalan war, which we believed couldn’t possibly be worse.

A few days ago, the National University published the results of an integral census of over 10 thousand guerrilla members. The study revealed that 66% of the guerrilla come from peasant origins, and 81% of them used to perform agriculture-related activities before they joined. For over half a century, the Colombian establishment denied the link between the dismal situation of peasants and the armed conflict, but again and again the guerrilla brings up the censored debate about the effects of neoliberalism.

Colombia imports over 12 million tonnes of food per year. Over the last decades, land has increasingly concentrated, food plantations have receded to give way to biofuels, and not-so-secret associations between paramilitary mobs, politicians and entrepreneurs have ravaged the Colombian countryside displacing 7 million of people, among other human rights violations.

Enter the Peace Agreements. In theory, they provide a series of legal mechanisms to reinsert the guerrillas in the civil, economic and political life—which is better than what the demobilized guerrillas in Central America got when they gave up their arms and were left to their luck, and to this day they are making roadblocks to demand some form of assistance. The Colombian right slams the the FARC-EP for these agreements because they risk losing their war profits, which require to sustain the unique levels of inequality of the country (the biggest in the continent) and, on top of that, they risk being brought to the special court for the crimes they committed. Therefore they are fueling the campaign led by Alvaro Uribe to, as he said, “tear the agreement to shreds”.

However, the FARC-EP might have sailed stormy seas only to drown on the beaches of peace, because the waters are not calm at all. Right now, as the former army of the people sees its forces dwindle, the grassroots begin to face peace with no resources at all—no healthcare, no hygiene products, no clothes—all things that the central command used to provide.

A few weeks ago, the surrender of weapons took place, in an act attended by the FARC-EP secretariat in full and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. The act was held in a transition camp in the Meta department, where the government-led construction of shelter and hygiene services for the former guerrilla hadn’t been completed beyond 10%.

Peace, for thousands of guerrillas, means having lost their weapons, having lost their permanent mobility, and being forced to trust the Colombian state, which was their mortal enemy up until now. The fact that many guerrillas still wear their uniforms in the transition camps has nothing to do with nostalgia—they weren’t provided new clothes. Not even the most basic of requirements are being met by Santos’ government, leaving little hope for more profound changes.

Furthermore, the Colombian military still tries to break the cohesion of the organization by offering stimuli to those who defect. Taking advantage of the fact that the ex-combatants recently gained access to Internet and smartphones, the army regularly sends them messages inviting them to join them. A few days ago, a guerrilla guard post in the Guaviare camp exchanged shots and captured an intelligence captain who was approaching the area to contact a female guerrilla. This issue is being handled discreetly by both parts, but it reminds us that the peace agreements are far from sealing the post-conflict. On the other hand, the guerrilla grassroots are almost unanimous in self-critically acknowledging the gaps in political training: the midlevel officials, who used to be highly effective in irregular combat, are slower in adapting to the new needs of transition to peace and of creating new types of relations within this organization that has ceased to be as vertical as it used to. Today, the grassroots democratically choose their leadership. The challenge for the FARC-EP is to maintain cohersion, which will begin to shake as the real world, filled with its futile urgencies, begins to seep into its columns.

The FARC-EP have been carrying out an internal evaluation prior to their August congress where they will announce their new political organization. The evaluation consists of a self-analysis of each of the 26 Transition Areas throughout the country, where thousands of troops are living, in which they account for their strengths, their weaknesses and the elements that threaten their success. As I said, cohesion and number are yet to be determined after the process ends. However, to their favor in the political chessboard they still have a highly experienced leadership that has conducted the process with relative success up until now. Peace has been in the FARC’s discourse since the very beginning, when they were still a new guerrilla born out of the belly of neoliberalism. Today, we see that the efforts of the FARC-EP to match their actions to their discourse proves their coherence.

 

The Colombian political party system will have to deal with a new actor that, despite not being a legal party yet, is already the most accepted by the citizenship. Although many Colombians still reject the FARC-EP, the paradox is that they are still expectant regarding how this new left-wing alternative will break the oligarchic bipartisanism that rules the system. This can be compared with the enthusiasm created by the peace agreement between the M19 and President Virgilio Barco in 1990, or by the ANAPO in the 70s. Colombia has a past of trusting the formerly persecuted to bring necessary change—but it has also seen how, once suit and tie replace olive uniform and rifle, profit and vice begin to devour the rebelliousness of the commanders-cum-senators.

The solid Colombian oligarchy that has been establishing neoliberalism and a re-primarizing economy for years today shows internal fractures regarding the issue of peace, sectors linked to big agriculture and the evangelical church are opposed to those who see peace as a business opportunity also linked to agro-exportation and monoculture, and hope that the huge amount of money (50% of the public budget) that used to be allocated in war might be reoriented to other sectors and are greedily looking at the territories that are left unprotected by the FARC-EP.

For the last few weeks, political prisoners of the former guerrilla are carrying out a hunger strike demanding the fulfillment of the amnesty that was agreed upon in the negotiations. Once again, we see why the literary genre of magical realism could only be born in Colombia: government military and police who are in prison for crimes committed during the armed conflict joined the demand for amnesty and denounced the “dark forces that encourage war and hate”. Although one sector rejected the plebiscite that was held to ratify the peace agreements, it is also true that there are many more, from different social sectors, who want peace, and this has created cracks in the consensus.

With international cooperation, with a peace agreement that sets the cornerstone to build a more modern country, with support of many sectors of the country, and a leadership that is respected by the young guerrilla grassroots, the insurgency has a massive opportunity.

The FARC’s introspective exercise naturally also reveals causes for concern, such as the threat that is posed by the criminous paramilitarism that reached its peak under Alvaro Uribe’s presidency and is still in activity, as proven by the murders of 156 social leaders this year. It’s not surprising to see companies being prosecuted for having taken hold of vast extensions of land for agriculture thanks to collusion with these mercenaries, and congresspeople, majors and regional governors are frequently imprisoned for their association with paramilitarism. These illegal forces allied with the establishment are clearly a threat to the process, and the state reveals to be weak against one of its repressive forces, which it has lost control of. The moderate amount of expectations created by peace are also explained by the fact that people know that violence will continue if the places left by the guerrilla are occupied by paramilitarism and criminous gangs.

As a consequence of the above, the social fabric is devastated, the Colombian left doesn’t have a lot of strength and the people have been silenced by force of repression. The FARC-EP will have automatic parliamentary representation for the first two Congress periods as long as it participates in the electoral processes, which is not easy if the plan is to create an alternative that doesn’t focus exclusively in cities—which is where the FARC-EP have less power and less experience.

Knowingly, the Preparatory Theses of the FARC Congress pragmatically state that their biggest goal for the next stage is to implement the agreements, which might include creating a coalition of forces called Alternative Popular Bloc, in which they will participate.

On the other hand, the strategy of the government seems to be a conscious, committed non-compliance with the agreements to let the small needs of life erode the political unity of the former guerrilla. Notably, the FARC’s commander in chief, Timochenko, has warned his troops about the dangers of the inexorable penetration of the forces of market and personal property in the ranks—small resentments might arise between combatants that have a TV or a fan and those who don’t. The dominant class knows of the dissolving power their culture and system have, and whatever they couldn’t achieve with US money and military bases they might achieve through the simple force of everyday misery and its power of fragmentation and and individualism. The Colombian oligarchy fears the rise of a numerous and eager left-wing force. That’s what they’re trying to prevent.

The reinvention of the FARC-EP is an object of expectation in the political chessboard of this country where conservatism and backwardness has been a staple of economic elites. These sectors have already announced that the 2018 elections will be a battle against the peace agreement. Thus, peace becomes a campaign topic, which entails a lot of risk. The FARC-EP have so far showed eagerness and commitment to create peace, which has earned them respect, the cohesion of its troops is still noteworthy, and an army invested in legal politics could give energy to other forces like student groups, LGTBI groups, peasant associations and other social sectors that daily approach the transition camps to talk to the FARC. These political alliances are a source of hope for the potential coalition that might be created, and for the future of the Colombian people, who deserve an opportunity to enjoy life.

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