Interview with Eberto Diaz Montes, President of FENSUAGRO (United National Federation of Peasant Farmers and Farm Workers), Colombia

This interview was conducted with Eberto Díaz Montes by James Patrick Jordan, who also translated it.

AFGJ: The National Encounter for the Land and for Peace has been a success in bringing together so many sectors of Colombian society to talk about peace and a political solution to the conflict. Do you believe that this Encounter will significantly push forward the demands for a political solution by the popular movement in Colombia?

ED: I believe the Encounter is the fulfillment of the expectations and support coming from the convoking

Eberto Diaz, President of the FENSUAGRO peasant farmers and farm workers union

organizations. If one reads the political declaration, it reflects this sense. Specifically I think that if it is able to channel the good results of the Encounter and to consolidate a dynamic continuing committee concerning these initiatives that conforms to a grand national movement for peace in Colombia, and if, equally, it generates a regional process of constituents whose priority is peace, then, certainly it will oblige the government to change its present positions in favor of the military solution to the conflict. This process will need accompaniment and solidarity movements that work in favor of the political solutions to the Colombian conflict. It is a difficult process, complicated, but not impossible to consolidate in this search for a political exit and a durable peace for Colombia and the region.

AFGJ: The first day of the Encounter, we heard about an indiscriminate bombing of the municipality of Chaparral in Southern Tolima. Have you received more information about this? Do you believe this signifies an effort to sabotage a peace process and/or a lack of sincerity on the part of the government and the Armed Forces?



ED: What we know is that there exists a strong military operation in this region of the country that signifies a major militarization, with battles between the insurgency and the army, including bombardments. Really, the vision of the government of Santos is that in order to have dialogue with the insurgency, first they must be defeated militarily. This position does not help to move closer to an eventual dialogue. I do not see in the immediate present the political will on the part of the government to initiate a movement toward dialogue and a peace agreement in Colombia.

AFGJ: One the second day of the Encounter, President Santos made the statement that the door to negotiations is “closed”, and that the guerrillas only want negotiations in order to grow and rearm. He also said that “advocacy for peace is harmful”. But a couple of days later, Vice President Garzón appeared to contradict this, saying that the possibility of negotiations was still open. What is your analysis of this? Do you believe that popular pressure can result in effective demands that the Santos administration participate in a legitimate peace process?

ED: I believe that the official spokesperson is President Santos and what he says is what is thought by the radical sectors that oppose dialogue and a political solution to the armed conflict, including the leaders of the armed forces.

Don’t listen to Garzón, because Garzón does not have the sufficient strength and I believe at the foundation, also, there is demagoguery on his part. Don’t forget that he wants to be President….But it is necessary to understand that at the same time there are two visions that contradict each other.

I am convinced that if a strong movement for peace is achieved and the social and popular sectors put themselves into this mobilization, we can oblige the government to sit down together at the same table with the insurgency.

AFGJ: In your opinion, what would constitute a just peace for the peasant farmers of Colombia, and for all the country?

ED: Social justice signifies the inclusion of the major social and political sectors that they might surpass their marginalization and the misery that one presently encounters in more than 60 percent of the Colombian population. To respect social, economic, political and cultural rights of Colombians is to have and to build a true democracy.

For the peasant farmers, it is to be able to access the right to land, to live and be able to produce food, develop their culture, there plans for life and to live in peace, without fear, without violence, and over all, to be able to remain in their territories. To this end, at the Encounter, the peasant farmers presented their own project for a Law of Agrarian Reform and a guarantee of these rights of which they have dreamed and that have been denied.

AFGJ: I want to ask you a couple of questions specifically for us in the United States. Do you consider Plan Colombia to be an obstacle to peace in Colombia and, if so, what form of solidarity do Colombians need from us in the United States in order to support the peace process in your country?

ED: The military aid of the United States and Plan Colombia constitute one of the greatest obstacles to peace in Colombia. We see every day how the US affects the situation here. The US must not continue intervening in this conflict and advocating for this idea 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 United States should support a political solution and stop giving and selling arms to Colombia.

Unfortunately, the military industrial complex and foreign corporations are most interested in making profits. When farming families are displaced by the war, it’s the corporations and the big land owners who go in to exploit the land and its resources.

The concept that Plan Colombia is a plan to fight drugs is not true. More than 80% of it has gone to buy weapons for the Colombian Armed Forces and the National Police. It’s not against drugs, it’s against the people. We reject this plan as a militaristic plan, and we reject the intervention of the United States in our territory–its presence on our bases and the training of our soldiers. This is very important to us here. This is our country and the only solution will be political, not military intervention. The United States should follow the steps of the United Kingdom, which has suspended military aid to Colombia.

There is a chance to advance a serious peace process in our country. We have the examples of other countries in Latin America, Africa, Northern Ireland and elsewhere. Right now the US is playing a game with gasoline. It’s as if they are setting the whole country on fire.