Colombia’s Marcha Patriótica Calls for International Solidarity, Not Interference

by James Jordan,

National Co-Coordinator for the Alliance for Global Justice

The Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia turned out to be an embarrassing fiasco for Pres. Obama and the US delegation. It was mainly marked by the Secret Service prostitution scandal, denouncements of the War on Drugs at every turn, three heads of state in the region not even showing up and Argentina’s Pres. Kirchner storming out, and the utter isolation of the US and Canada in regards to Cuba. 

There was one pernicious dog and pony show, however, that was a “success” for both the US and Colombian delegations–and for the same 1% they both serve. This was Pres. Obama’s announcement of Colombia’s compliance with the Labor Action Plan upon which the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement is contingent. The FTA is now on course to go in effect on May 15th–and with it an acceleration of more hard times and displacement for Colombia’s small, family farmers. Pres. Obama’s announcement is especially cynical given that there have been several recent murders and arrests of unionists. In fact, threats and attacks against Human Rights defenders in Colombia are at a ten year high, according to Somos Defensores (We Are Defenders).

The Marcha Patriótica converges at the Parque Nacional

But there was another meeting, also in April, that was of a very different character. This was the convening of the Marcha Patritica (Patriotic March) and its launching of the Consejo Patriotico Nacional (National Patriotic Council), made up of representatives from more than 1,500 grassroots organizations. Several observers, both in and out of Colombia, have said this may well have been the most important event in the Colombian Left since the mid-1990s. The Marcha Patriótica and launch of the Consejo Patriótico Nacional represents the next stage and the coalescing of the movement into a powerful and independent political block.

According to former Senator and former Mayor of the town of Apartado, and member of the Marcha Patriotica’s National Directorate, Gloria Cuartas, “The people have converted their pain into political power.” She called the Marcha Patriótica “…the most interesting reconfiguration of the Left in Colombia since the genocide of the Union Patriótica (Patriotic Union), which was literally eliminated. The Marcha opens a new route of hope for the various sectors found within it….We are very much in tune with what is occurring in Latin America.”

Recently released Political Prisoner, Human Rights Defender and labor activist Liliany Obando told me that,

The MP [Marcha Patriótica] is like the Phoenix that was reborn from the ashes of previous failed processes…such as was the case with the genocide against the Union Patriótica and many other social and political processes…. With the MP, we find all those who…feel that there is no true space in the Colombian political system for dissidence, for critical opinion, for political opposition….We hope to be able to continue our search for…a just and durable peace, without social iniquities and with truly inclusive politics, so that they no longer incarcerate, torture, displace and kill you for thinking and dreaming of a different kind of country.”

I was one of five US delegates representing the Alliance for Global Justice, the National Lawyers Guild, the video collective Pan Left, and the pro-immigrant, anti-border militarization Coalición de Derechos Humanos (Coalition for Human Rights). We witnessed more than 400 delegates from all over Colombia coming together to organize a new political platform on April 21 and 22. And on April 23, we saw some 100,000 persons march to the Parque Nacional (National Park) to demand peace with justice, negotiations toward a political solution, full, open and secure political participation and meaningful land reform.

Reported widely in Colombian press of all kinds, international corporate media completely ignored the event and, indeed, much of the international progressive media also ignored it. Cuba’s Prensa Latina, Telesur and a variety of Leftist media supplied coverage, but other voices were conspicuously absent, especially in the US. This is a shame for a couple of reasons. First, it betrays a general ignorance or neglect for Colombia solidarity. The Marcha Patriotica brought together under one banner the Left wing of the Liberal Party as well as Colombianas y Colombianos por la Paz (Colombians for Peace), both led by Piedad Córdoba (who is part of the Marcha’s National Directorate), the Colombian Communist Party, FENSUAGRO—the largest organization of peasant unions and associations, the indigenous Minga movement, a former mayor of the San Jose de Apartado Peace Community and hundreds of other organizations and popular representatives.

Piedad Córdoba and Gloria Cuartas at the Marcha Patriótica

 

However, the second reason the silence is so deafening is because violence and repression are already underway against the Marcha and the rest of the Colombian Left and labor movement. Even before delegates had arrived in Bogotá, the disappearance of FENSUAGRO delegate Henry Díaz dampened the event. Then, on the Friday after the Marcha, SINALTRAINAL unionist Daniel Aguirre Piedrahita and Coordinator of Body Guards for Carlos Lozano, Mao Enrique Rodríguez, were both assassinated in separate events. Lozano is the Editor of Voz, Colombia’s largest circulation Left newspaper, and is part of the National Directorate for the Marcha.

Threats continue against members of the Marcha, many directed at FENSUAGRO. Jimmy Sneith Ortiz Gutierrez is a young leader of the SINPREAGRICUN union, a FENSUAGRO affiliate. He has been contacted numerous times by members of the Armed Forces who have cajoled and, finally, threatened him, wanting him to go on record identifying unionists as members of the FARC-EP. On May 1st, he received a note full of run-on sentences and bad grammar…but all too easily understood:

Guerrilla dog, don’t believe that you can save yourself, don’t believe that we don’t know where you are ….the cleansing begins….you cannot shield yourself with a simple union because we go there to begin to take heads….and don’t believe that everything is going to end with you leaving your sector, there will not be an alert that saves you, we have already seen you in Bogotá and we do not lack gall, we are waiting to see if you yourself….take this decision, respond to our message within 20 days.”

This is, incidentally, a classic example of how people are pressured and forced to turn into informers to give false, usually paid testimony to frame union and popular movement leaders as guerrillas. In fact, former Defense Minister Freddy Padilla de Leon once bragged that one out of twenty Colombians acted as agents and informers for the Colombian state. Padilla was the General Commander of the Colombian Armed Forces from 2006 to 2010, including the time when the False Positive scandal was first uncovered, for which he urged an “attitude of tolerance” in investigations and prosecution of these crimes. The False Positive scandal stems from a process wherein young persons are rounded up and executed, then dressed up as guerrillas and claimed as enemy combatants. So far some 3,000 victims have been officially identified, and perpetrators have been implicated up to the highest levels of the Colombian military.

International awareness and accompaniment are considered absolutely key to the success of any peace process and to the safety of the Marcha. In fact, in my travels to Colombia, never have I heard so many requests for the presence of internationals.

Sen. Cuartas called to both the national and international communities that “…you might accompany us, protect us and attach yourselves to this Marcha.”

Human Rights lawyer, Luis Carlos Dominguez Prada, writing a few months before in the magazine Taller, writes that for a successful political solution and land reform to occur in Colombia, “It constitutes an imperative….that it can count on ample solidarity and international accompaniment.”

Liliany Obando, with her family, has endured repeated threats and harassment since her release in March, 2012, including being followed and photographed by unknown men. For her, the issue of accompaniment is very personal, saying,

International accompaniment always will be fundamental….Your presence in some form prevents them from committing so many human rights abuses. Equally, it is of great importance that you might serve as direct witnesses to these processes….This is just as important for the positive aspects, such as the case of constructing new initiatives of social and political organization and participation, as well as for the negative that takes place in Colombia such as the systematic violation of human rights, the theft of our natural resources on the part of the multinationals, the support of foreign governments for war in Colombia and the nefarious role of the Free Trade Agreements.”

It is important to note that the Marcha Patriótica is not a second phase of the Union Patriótica (UP), which included the open and legal participation of the FARC-EP. Nevertheless, the memory of the UP’s experience is seared in the minds of the Marcha Patriótica. The UP was created as part of an effort toward a political solution to the armed and social conflict in Colombia. Over ten years of existence, from 1985 to 1995, military and paramilitary attacks killed 5,000 of its candidates and elected officials, including two presidential candidates.

Nevertheless, Sen. Cuartas adds that, “You can’t compare them. The UP was born out of the negotiations between an insurgent group and the government. The Marcha Patriótica, in contrast, emerges from the social movements.” Cuartas added, “We’re not going to get tangled up in responding to the government….Whatever person who in this country speaks against the system or defends human rights, they are going to be labeled as a son of the FARC.”

Leader of the Asociación Campesina del Valle del Río Cimitarra (ACVC) and Marcha National Directorate member Andres Gil adds, “The FARC are not our political leaders.”

But there is ample reason to believe that both the government and corporate media in Colombia will try to paint the Marcha as a front for the FARC-EP. There are more than 9,000 political prisoners in Colombia and only 800 of them are known to be members of the FARC-EP. The vast majority are prisoners of conscience or of judicial set-ups, more often than not behind bars for the vague charge of “Rebellion”. Many of these, after several years of incarceration (as in the case of Liliany Obando) will be later freed for lack of evidence and/or violation of conditions. Yet the government still claims that most these prisoners are members of or sympathizers with guerrillas.

Even worse is the long-standing practice of political, business and media leaders and outlets who accuse dissidents, without supporting evidence, of being members of the FARC. These kinds of accusations are often followed by acts of violence against those so maligned. Similar accusations have already been leveled against the Marcha, both by government officials and corporate media, and there is no basis for thinking they will stop.

Still, it was clear throughout the event that the vast majority of Marcha delegates rejected the demonization of the FARC-EP as completely counter productive to any hope or possibility of a political solution and a legitimate process toward peace with justice. This stage of the Marcha Patriótica–the launching of the Consejo Patriótico Nacional–grew out of the National Encounter for the Land and Peace that took place in Barrancabermeja in August, 2010. At this meeting some 27,000 delegates from indigenous, Afro-Colombian and campesino communities met with members of the Colombian Left, elements of the Catholic Church, student and labor movements to demand land reform and a peace process based on negotiations and a political solution to the armed and social conflicts.

It was also clear at both the National Encounter and at the Marcha Patriotica that, whatever approval or disapproval participants had regarding insurgent groups, that their good faith efforts toward a political solution were recognized. The FARC-EP has repeatedly declared its willingness to enter into negotiations and work toward a legitimate peace, and these declarations have been backed up by numerous unilateral releases of prisoners, culminating in the release of all remaining prisoners of war held at the time (military and police captives), and the renunciation of taking political prisoners for ransom purposes.

In a joint statement released in August, 2011, the Marcha Política and FENSUAGRO called for, “dialogue among the rural communities, the unions, the government and the Colombian insurgency…for all the political and social actors to sit down to think and construct from the hopes of the country, proposals for peace, and not for war.”

Marcha Patriotica member organization, ACVC, were clear about where they felt the obstacles were coming from. An August 14, 2011 statement declared that,

…It is necessary to interpret as positive the…recent messages of the guerrillas…expressing their availability for dialogue…such as their call…for citizens to mobilize for peace as a fundamental method to achieve it. On the other hand, it is very positive that those who make up the model of the Mafioso State are losing political space before those who opt for a conventional state under ‘Rule of Law’.”

Or as FENSUAGRO President Eberto Díaz told me,

The military aid of the United States and Plan Colombia constitute one of the greatest obstacles to peace…The US must not continue intervening in this conflict and maintaining that peace is not possible. It must stop calling the armed insurgency terrorists because this blocks dialogue and it also shows a double standard regarding political violence in the country….”

The Colombian popular movement wants international support. One thing that they clearly are not asking for, however, is interference or judgment. Yet to our extreme discredit, many US based solidarity activists and organizations, in the name of “peace”, repeat and spread around lies, distortions and misinformation emanating directly from sources such as the US State Department, the Pentagon and the very transnational corporations that are currently plundering Colombia.

Such actions show a profound lack of understanding of the Solidarity Model. As my colleague and National Co-Coordinator for the Alliance for Global Justice Chuck Kaufman explains,

The Solidarity Model to which we ascribe mandates that we create relationships based on self-respect and interdependency in order to moderate power differentials. We view our role to be to amplify the articulated priorities of our Southern partners rather than one in which we tell them what we think is best for them. One aspect of this is that we do not criticize the strategies and tactics of authentic organizations of the oppressed.  We trust that they know the realities of their lives and culture better than we do. In nearly every matter we believe that our partners have the right to walk their own path to peace and justice; a path on which we accompany them. In our own country, our responsibility is to change our own government, and we welcome our international partners to walk our path with us. “

Because the problem of disinformation is all too widespread in the US-based Colombia solidarity movement, it is necessary to identify and at least partially rebut some of the more common of these false or distorted assertions. In broadcasting the call our partners have made for international accompaniment, it is all the more pressing upon us that we address these myths and insist that US based solidarity activist be informed and refrain from distortions and interference in the internal affairs of our Colombian allies. Let me address some of these myths one by one.

Myth Number One:

The FARC-EP is a terrorist organization that refuses to enter into a political process, preferring indiscriminate violence against local communities to a path toward peace.

The FARC-EP was founded in response to campaigns of violence and displacement against rural communities by the government and the hired guns of big landowners. FARC-EP membership is mostly made up of members of rural populations, rather than outsiders. The majority of casualties from FARC-EP attacks have been members of the Colombian Armed Forces and Paramilitaries. Whatever excesses and atrocities may have been committed by members of the FARC-EP , the ELN (National Liberation Army) and other guerrilla groups, it should be noted that throughout the course of the history of the FARC-EP (dating from May 27, 1964), 70 to 80% of all political violence has been committed by either members of the Colombian Armed Forces or by “private”, paramilitary death squads.

As far as entering into the political process goes, there are many, many examples of the FARC-EP’s willingness to negotiate and take up political organization, and we have already discussed the main example of the Union Patriótica. The lesson learned from this history is that minus an end to the impunity of political criminals and a secure and open political process, the FARC-EP has no guarantees that good faith entry into the electoral arena will be met by good faith efforts on the part of the government, corporate leaders and big landowners and their paramilitary hirelings.

In fact, this last November, at the 2011 protests to close the School of the Americas, I took part in a workshop in which a woman from the Justicia y Paz movement in Colombia, brought to this event by Witness for Peace, was asked point blank if she thought that the FARC-EP should be required to disarm as a prerequisite for negotiations. She responded with an emphatic, “no”. She was most definitely neither supporter nor friend of the FARC-EP, but still seemed incredulous that the question was even asked, given the experience of the UP.

Recent history has also not been encouraging regarding government and corporate commitment to peace. For instance, on the opening day of the National Encounter for the Land and Peace, Pres. Santos ordered the indiscriminate and unprovoked bombing of a villages in the municipality of Chaparral, Tolima, alluding to the alleged presence of FARC-EP troops in the area. That same day, Pres. Santos declared that the door to peace was “…closed with a key, and I have the key in my pocket.” A few days before, Santos had commented that “There are many people who do not want peace and many people who want to play a leading role, and the advocacy for peace is very harmful.”This was both preceded and followed by the arrests of several FENSUAGRO members in the Department of Putumayo. The timing of these attacks, arrests and statements seemed designed to undermine the Colombian movement for peace.

So far, the Colombian government, the US government that funds and advises war and repression in Colombia, and the transnational corporate interests they serve have not shown a genuinely strong interest in negotiations. Having displaced more than 5 million mostly rural Colombians from as much as 12 to 16 million acres of land, their interest is not in peace, but in the consolidation of illegal corporate land-grabs and access to oil, water, energy, agricultural and mining resources.

For the US government to list the FARC-EP as a terrorist organization, and for US “solidarity” activists to repeat this assertion does nothing to advance the cause of peace but, rather, justifies ongoing war.

Myth Number Two:

The FARC-EP and other guerrilla groups are too fragmented to negotiate meaningfully. With only 9,000 members or less left; with no clear, well-functioning centralized command; and with a lack of regular, viable communication among the various fronts, there is no one who can truly speak for the guerrillas.

First of all, where exactly does this “9,000” number come from but from the previous administration of Pres. Uribe–a man who was listed in 1991 by the US Defense Intelligence Agency as one of the 100 most “important narco-traffickers” in Colombia? This number was being quoted before revelations showed that at least 3,000 young people-the false positives-had been murdered and used to inflate the numbers of killed insurgents.

The figure of only 9,000 soldiers left in the FARC-EP also comes from the Uribe administration in its employment of Luis Carlos Restrepo as a “peace commissioner”. Restrepo has since been found to have concocted another kind of “false positive” scandal in which he claimed to have overseen the demobilization of an entirely fictitious front of the FARC-EP.

This 9,000 figure comes from an administration that employed the services of Cesar Caballero, former director of Colombia’s National Administrative Department of Statistics. Caballero admitted that the government had manipulated and continues to manipulate ‘statistics to make Colombia appear safer than it is. Caballero adds that , “…the president’s policy is…to maintain the perception that security has improved, no matter what the case.”

In other words, there is absolutely no reason for US-based Colombia solidarity activists to accept this number as credible, much less to repeat it. Doing so is a service to the propaganda efforts of Empire.

Almost all credible sources will admit that it is impossible to get an exact count on the numbers of FARC-EP insurgents. Canadian scholar James Brittain has suggested the number of FARC-EP combatants may be well over 40,000, citing several carefully documented sources and his own experience conducting first hand research among a number of FARC-EP fronts.

Scholar James Petras says that the FARC-EP is “…the dominant political force in over 50 percent of the country’s municipalities, fielding a guerilla army of approximately 18,000 mostly peasant fighters.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross affirms that there has been no significant loss of capacity for the FARC-EP, despite the high-profile deaths of several FARC leaders. In a press conference launching a report by the ICRC, Christophe Beney noted that, “What we see today, perhaps between the end of 2009 and the beginning of 2010, is that…the FARC adapts itself dynamically….to continue being an important actor in the armed conflict.”

The Colombian government-funded think-tank Nuevo Arco Iris notes that there have been steady increases in 2010 and 2011 in military actions by the FARC-EP, although it attributes them to restructuring and new strategies, rather than the failure of the government’s “Democratic Security” strategy. Nevertheless, it does recognize the failure of the predicted “end of the FARC-EP” and a subsequent demoralization among the armed forces. According to a 2011 Nuevo Arco Iris report,

There was an overvaluation of the successes of democratic security in 2008…[and] the country was said to be at the “end of the end” [of the war]…Then General Padilla de Leon declared that in no more than one year the FARC would be practically liquidated….The research showed that there is a wear or fatigue in some structures of the Military Forces. This is due to the fact that the so-called “end of the end” is not so near for the guerrilla group….”

When US-based Colombia solidarity activists repeat as fact that the FARC-EP is fragmented and down to only 9,000 combatants, they are relying on outright liars and manipulators of statistics for their numbers. I once even heard one such oft-cited activist remark, “Who would the government negotiate with? The FARC are so weakened and the communications between fronts so disrupted, that even if the government reached agreements with FARC Commanders, how could they be enforced?” In other words, he was repeating exactly what the Empire wants us to believe.

Myth Number Three:

The FARC-EP no longer need popular support or the backing of local communities because they have forsaken their ideological principles and have converted into nothing more than a narco-trafficking organization.

This is a myth that is repeated ad nauseum by many alleged proponents of peace.

Oliver Villar and Drew Cottle note in their new book, Cocaine, Death Squads and the War on Terror, that,

From the late 1980s the Colombian state commenced efforts to manufacture its image as a defender of democracy at war with narco-terrorists. The state employed the services of the Sawyer/Miller Group, a leading public relations company in the United States to wage PSYWAR on Colombia’s narco-terrorists, the FARC….By the 1990s, the Sawyer/Miller Group had regularly used the American press to disseminate Colombian government propaganda….

Despite the propaganda about the FARC as narco-terrorists, in 2001 Colombian intelligence estimated that FARC controlled less than 2.5 percent of Colombia’s cocaine exports, while the AUC controlled 40 percent, not counting the narco-bourgeoise as a whole…

The guerrillas provide the security and enforce a drug tax, as they do with all products under their control. By protecting its campesino base, the FARC accepts the cash crop as a supplementary income for the campesinos’ subsistence…When territory is captured by the FARC insurgents the narco-bourgeoisie is driven out…

…If the FARC dominated the multibillion-dollar cocaine trade in any way, it could not be in conflict with needed contacts within the Colombian establishment and the United States.”

Donnie Marshall, the head of the Drug Enforcement Agency under Pres. George W. Bush has gone on record saying, “…there is no evidence that any FARC or ELN units have established international transportation, wholesale distribution or drug money-laundering networks in the United States or Europe.”

According to Rafael Suarez, who was a military advisor to the Uribe administration, “if you reduce the FARC to just a drug cartel, you make the possibility of negotiating a political settlement more difficult.” Of course, if the goal is not peace, but the consolidation of stolen lands, then the strategy works well of branding the FARC-EP as major drug traffickers and carrying out a “War on Drugs” that is really a War of Displacement and a War against Farmers.

James Brittain explains that,

Guerrillas don’t get paid and receive three meals a day and medical treatment if they need it, but sometimes even those are scarce. They live in camps in the forest, sleep on wooden planks, bathe in rivers, and fight with diseases. It isn’t a life of luxury, which led journalist Garry Leech, who once spent time in a FARC camp, to say:

‘And if guerrilla leaders…are little more than the heads of a criminal organization, then they must be considered miserable failures. After all, other Colombian criminals live in luxury. The leader of the former Medellín cocaine cartel, Pablo Escobar, lived lavishly in magnificent mansions, as have many other Colombian drug traffickers over the past thirty years. Paramilitary leaders have also lived well on their vast cattle ranches in northern Colombia, enjoying the riches wrought from their criminal activities’”

Regarding measuring the popular support of the FARC-EP, again, when Colombia “solidarity” activists claim that there is none, and that the FARC-EP is isolated from the populace, they are once again mouthing the words of the Colombian oligarchy and the US-Corporate Empire.

The FARC-EP is strongest in areas abandoned by the government. In these areas, the FARC-EP has built roads, set up schools and health clinics, acted as a legal system for the settlement of disputes and protected the populace against paramilitary and military attacks. James Brittain notes that, “Alongside the creation of education centers, the guerrillas have shaped grassroots medical facilities…Medical and dental services have been provided by the FARC-EP directly or through allies….When someone is ill, remedial treatment is offered at no cost. I experienced this at first hand when I became severely ill in the jungle.”

Brittain also notes that, 

the FARC-EP has been involved in much simpler excise practices in some rural communities. These levy systems saw the guerrillas collect a tax on amenities such as toothpaste, soap, and in some cases, beer, which was reciprocally repaid in full to a community-based body. The taxes were collected but not spent by the FARC-EP. They are forwarded to ‘an elected committee from the locality’called Juntas Acción Comunal (JAC) – a locally elected neighborhood council – which implements social programs and infrastructure with the collected funds.”

Polls are often cited as proof positive that the FARC-EP does not enjoy any popular support. However, these polls are generally done via landline telephones. Most Colombians don’t own land lines for economic or geographic reasons. Furthermore, those polled can easily be identified using landlines, therefore the polls are not truly anonymous.

Perhaps the peace negotiations of 1998-2002 give some clue, though, to how rural communities regard the FARC-EP. For instance, before negotiations, the region of San Vicente del Caguan had around 100,000 residents. After negotiations, roughly 740,000 peasants migrated to the area under the control of the FARC-EP.

Myth Number Four:

The lack of concern or consideration for human rights and life is proven by the FARC-EP’s recruitment of child soldiers.

No one who cares about peace can approve of the use of child soldiers. But I also have heard repeated testimonies from Colombian rural villagers as well as students about killings of Colombian young people by the military and paramilitaries. Young people are killed as false positives, they are killed for their political activities, they are killed because they refuse to become informers, they are killed for a variety of reasons. In fact, I heard one story about a young 13 year old girl who wanted to join a contingent of the FARC-EP, but the brigade commander refused. A year later the commander was in the area again, only to find that the girl had been killed by paramilitaries.

When I was visiting in a village of the municipality of Corinto, Cauca, in 2008, we saw a video that graphically illustrated the dangers of being a young person in a rural zone of conflict. The video showed two teenagers who had been murdered by members of the Armed Forces while they were sitting on the floor eating supper. The villagers refused to let the soldiers leave–and refused to allow these young people to be dressed up to become yet two more false positives. A subsequent investigation confirmed that this was indeed a murder committed by the military–but no one was jailed for this crime.

The Alliance for Global Justice condemns the use of child soldiers. And we condemn the killing and maiming of children by the Colombian Armed Forces and paramilitary death squads, and we recognize that part of the reason some children are compelled to take up arms is for their own safety.

Because AfGJ refuses to either endorse or condemn Colombian guerrilla groups, I have been asked several times what is the attitude of the Alliance for Global Justice toward the FARC-EP, the ELN and other groups. AFGJ and myself, personally, emphatically do not meet with any clandestine groups nor do we know nor can we identify any members of such groups. We have no reason and no desire to talk with such organizations or their membership. We do not in any way give our support to insurgent groups in Colombia. Besides, if they needed the paltry resources of the AfGJ, then they would be pitifully bad off indeed.

However, we also refuse to condemn insurgencies or spread false information about them. As a solidarity organization based in the US, our job is to oppose US policies of war and repression, not to choose sides in the internal affairs of other countries.

All our allies in Colombia have chosen the road of popular mobilization and political organization rather than violence. Indeed, all our closest allies have hitched their horses to the wagon of the Marcha Patriotica. Our solidarity takes the form of efforts to change US policies toward Colombia and to give our support for a legitimate peace process. Our solidarity takes the form of a positive answer to our partners’ calls for accompaniment. As internationalists, we also join in worldwide efforts to bring to bear the pressure of international opinion on the Santos administration to pursue negotiations for a political solution because peace in Colombia is of vital importance to the stability of the continent, the hemisphere and the entire planet.

I would be remiss to suggest that Santos is no different than his predecessor, Álvaro Uribe. In Santos’ dealings with Cuba and Venezuela and in his criticisms of the War on Drugs and openness to the prospect of legalization, he shows some level of independence, however small, from the dictates of Washington, DC.

In regards to the armed conflict, unlike his predecessor, Santos at least admits the armed conflict exists and has even said that he and others could be found guilty of crimes against humanity in a context other than the war. Most important has been the reality that the Santos administration has already engaged in backdoor, unofficial and low level talks with guerrilla forces. Thus it is all the more important that we bring international pressure to bear on this administration that it might enter fully and in good faith into a legitimate peace process.

With the advent of the Marcha Patriotica and a history of growing mobilizations for peace in Colombia, the role of the US solidarity movement is to stand squarely with these mobilizations. Several times in the past, the US government and Pentagon, and US corporations like Drummond Coal, Chiquita Banana, Coca-Cola and others have interfered to sabotage movements toward peace. We must demand that the US support the goal of a political solution by not interfering. A good start would be for the US government to return to Colombia extradited guerrilla Prisoners of War such as Ricardo Palmera, so that they may participate in a peace process. The US should also return extradited paramilitary prisoners so they can participate in truth-telling commissions. And the US government should take the FARC-EP off its list of terrorist organizations.

The Colombian popular movement is insisting that international awareness and accompaniment will be necessary components for any kind of social transformation and peace. We in the US must step up to the plate and do what we can to answer this call in the affirmative. But what is not needed, and not welcome, are those who, in the name of peace, naively or arrogantly repeat the lies and distortions of the Empire. For “solidarity” activists such as these, it is best that you stay at home.