The Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP) have agreed to begin formal negotiations in October, in Norway. The People’s Liberation Army (ELN) is also expected to participate. Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos confirmed this in an August 27, 2012 press statement. According to a media release by the Patriotic March (Marcha Patriótica), “This is an important step in the search for peace, a decision that takes up the demands of thousands of Colombians who raise the banner of the political solution and dialogue as the route forward in search of the end of the armed conflict.” The Patriotic March is a popular organization advocating for a political solution based on broad dialogue, land reform and an open and safe political process.
The Alliance for Global Justice (AfGJ) wishes to express our congratulations to the Colombian people in this important victory. This is the first time in over ten years that such dialogue has been entered into. Support for such a peace process is high throughout Colombia, with polls consistently showing 70 to 75% of Colombia’s people in favor of negotiations.This new development would not have been possible without mobilizations by organizations like the Patriotic March which, in April, turned 100,000 people into the street to demand a political solution to Colombia’s armed and social conflict.
The Colombian government began exploring the idea of talks the following month. The FARC-EP had expressed its desire for negotiations in an August, 2011 recorded greeting to the National Encounter for the Land and Peace in Barrancabermeja that brought together labor, student and human rights groups with rural, Afro-Colombian and Indigenous community members.
According to a report by the Colombia media outlet RCN, the government is calling for the demobilization of the FARC-EP, a ceasefire, and the decommissioning of weapons. The FARC-EP is advocating for land and agricultural reform, renegotiation concerning access to and development of extractive industries such as oil and mining, ecological protection and the participation of Colombia’s social movements in negotiations.
There are nevertheless many obstacles to peace. These include transnational corporations and big land-owners who have benefitted by the displacement of Colombia farmers and who fear land reform would impede their exploitation of natural resources and cheap labor. And they include their hired goons: paramilitary death squads who are paid by corporations like Chiquita Banana and Drummond Coal to terrorize union organizers, family farmers, human rights workers and any who stand in the way of their mega-profits. Other obstacles are far right politicians in Colombia, such as former Pres. Álvaro Uribe and his associates, whose connections to paramilitaries are exposed on an almost daily basis, as well as political and business leaders in the United States whose main interest is the advancement of the US/Corporate Empire. A particularly major obstacle is the culture of violence that has been cultivated by the Colombian Armed Forces while receiving billions of dollars in funding from the US government. The Colombian Armed Forces operate with the advice, training and oversight of US military personnel. Thus, one way those of us in the US can support the cause of peace is to demand a change in our country’s policies toward Colombia.
Advocates for peace in Colombia must learn from the past. During the 1980s and 1990s, members of the FARC-EP joined with other elements of the Colombian Left to form the Patriotic Union. The Patriotic Union openly and legally participated in electoral contests. Over a period of 10 years, some 5,000 of its candidates and elected officials were assassinated by paramilitaries and members of the Colombian Armed Forces. Today, the same kind of repression has begun against the Patriotic March (which does not include participation by guerrilla groups). Since April, several of their leaders and members have been killed, disappeared, arrested or threatened. We have been told by the leadership of the Patriotic March as well as union leaders and activists throughout Colombia that for a peace process to work in Colombia, there must be not only international awareness, but international accompaniment of those who are being targeted.
We therefore urge our supporters to consider going on delegations to Colombia that we are supporting or leading in November and in March—or to consider organizing your own (we’ll be happy to help with the logistics). For more information, send an email to James@afgj.org .
We have also been told by our Colombian partners that as people in the US, we have a special obligation to speak out against the extraditions to the US of Colombian Prisoners of War and paramilitary prisoners. We not only call on the US government to not pursue future extraditions, but to repatriate the Prisoners of War and paramilitary members now being held in US jails. We also call on the US government, in the mean time, to end the cruel conditions of extreme isolation being forced on FARC-EP Commander Ricardo Palmera. The extraditions of prisoners from the FARC-EP directly interfere with Colombia’s internal peace process since the fate of insurgent and political prisoners is an important matter for negotiations. Extraditions of paramilitary prisoners also serve a negative purpose by bringing to a stop investigations and truth-telling that exposes links between paramilitary death squads and political and corporate leaders.
AfGJ invites those who would like to be more involved in Colombia solidarity efforts to consider joining our annoucnement and discussion list concerning Colombia by sending a blank email to firstname.lastname@example.org .