August 2011, Week 4


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Mon, 22 Aug 2011 00:47:24 -0400
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Colombia's National Encounter for the Land and 
Peace: Is a Political Solution Possible?
by James Jordan
Alliance for Global Justice
August 21st, 2011

The popular movement for a political solution in
Colombia has taken a big step forward with the recent
National Encounter for the Land and Peace. The August
12-15th gathering in Barrancabermeja was attended by
more than 20,000 persons, bringing together peasant,
indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, along with
government officials, unionists, student leaders,
leaders of social movements and various political
parties, as well as international observers. The event's
theme was "Dialogue as a route to peace." It was
convened by the Peasant Association of the Valley of the
Cimitarra River (ACVC, by its Spanish initials)

That the Encounter took place is in itself a challenge
to the military solution favored by the US government.
Through Plan Colombia, the US has provided Colombia with
more than $7 billion, most of that going to support the
military and National Police. Other portions have been
linked to projects to build jails where political
prisoners are concentrated, and to large grants to
paramilitary owners of African Palm plantations. US
insistence that Colombian insurgents be treated as
terrorists rather than belligerent forces has undermined
progress toward a peace process.

Signs from the administration of President Juan Manuel
Santos regarding the Encounter have been mixed at best.
The event received support and funding from the office
of Vice President Angelino Garzón. However, the opening
session of the Encounter was dampened by the news that
the Colombian Armed Forces had begun an indiscriminate
bombardment of the municipality of Chaparral in Southern
Tolima. Also, 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."

These statements contrasted sharply with various sectors
attending or sending messages to the Encounter.

Among representatives of the Catholic Church,
participants heard the words of Monsignor Camilo
Castrellón, Bishop of Barrancabermeja, who said,

"The opening of an objective dialogue.excludes pretense,
rivalries, deceptions, betrayals..We do not believe that
one can arrive at a stable peace as the fruit of an end
composed of the victors and the defeated..Without
dialogue, peace will never be possible."

Many credit the Marcha Patriotica (Patriotic March) of
July, 2010 as a beginning point that led to the
Encuentro in Barrancabermeja. The Marcha Patriotica and
FENSUAGRO, the largest organization of peasant farmers
and farm workers in Colombia, released a joint statement
calling for,

".dialogue among the rural communities, the unions, the
government and the Colombian insurgency concerning the
most important themes for the construction of political
proposals for peace in Colombia ..[and] 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."

The Marcha Patriotica emphasized several central issues
as crucial for a just peace:

"The unity of the peasant, indigenous and Afro-
descendant communities comes together to insist that the
elements to build an agenda for peace are: a true,
democratic and popular agrarian reform, the recognition
of the social and armed conflict, the necessity of a
humanitarian accord, the freedom and dignity of the more
than 8,000 political prisoners, the majority of them
civilians, belonging to the social and popular
movements, found in the Colombian jails under precarious

A few days before the Encuentro began, the FARC
announced plans to, once again, unilaterally release
several of its captives through the mediation of ex-
Senator Piedad Córdoba. She has been the central
negotiator in securing a series of such releases.
Córdoba and the organization Colombians for Peace have
circulated a number of open letters with the FARC and
the ELN and has called on the FARC to release all its
remaining prisoners, which are believed to number
between 10 and 20 persons.

In an August 14th message, the FARC stated that, "We
reiterate, before this Encounter, our indeclinable
commitment to deliver all our energies and efforts to
receive ideas and accompany the search for formulas that
clear the way for dialogue, in order to pull the country
out of the dark night of terror to which it has been
submitted these 63 years.."

In opening the Encounter, the ACVC gave its analysis
that, "We believe.that it is necessary to interpret as
positive the.recent messages of the guerrillas, the FARC
and ELN, 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".

Vice President Garzón declared his support for all the
proposals adopted at the Encounter. However, he also
declared that "from the guerrillas we need deeds of
peace", including immediately setting at liberty their
captives, an end to the use of child soldiers and an end
to the violence.

The words of President Santos, a few days earlier, had
been much more blunt:

"There is a popular saying that you can't castrate a dog
twice. The FARC have deceived the government and
population of Colombia many times, and have utilized the
processes of peace in order to rearm themselves, to
catch their breaths, to continue fighting. This we are
not going to permit."

However, recent signs indicate an insincerity to these
words and a refusal to recognize good faith efforts of
the guerrillas toward opening a process of dialogue.
While there have been a number of high profile and
unilateral releases of captives being held by the FARC,
there has been absolutely no similar move on the part of
the Colombian government regarding its political
prisoners. Only an estimated 500 to 1,000 of these are
believed to be guerrilla combatants. Others are held for
acts of nonviolent organizing or because they were
peasants refusing to be displaced. As many as 5,000
political prisoners are family farmers and farm workers.
Political prisoners are mostly unionists, members of the
political opposition, students, journalists and members
of the social movements.

Regarding Santos' charge that the FARC only takes
advantage of a peace process to rearm itself, one must
not forget the example of the Patriotic Union-a memory
that is seared in the mind of the Colombian Left. In
1985 the FARC, along with Leftists not involved in armed
struggle, founded the Patriotic Union in order to enter
into the legal political process. Over a ten year
period, some 4 to 5,000 of their candidates and elected
officials were assassinated, including two presidential
candidates. Similarly, while the government calls on the
guerrillas to put an end to violence, it must be noted
that throughout the history of the armed conflict, any
given year, the Colombian Armed Forces and paramilitary
allies have been responsible for 70 to 80% of all
political violence.

And while no one who cares about peace can approve of
the use of child soldiers, it must be noted that
Colombia has been racked by the false-positive scandal,
in which Colombian Armed Forces, with the involvement of
personnel from its highest ranks, are known to have
killed as many as 3,000 civilians, most of them youth
and students. Their cadavers were subsequently dressed
to look like guerrillas and falsely claimed as "enemy

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
house and surrounding houses also showed signs of an
indiscriminate attack on the village that had occurred
earlier when US supplied Apache helicopters flew over
head, spraying the village with bullets. As soon as the
youth had been killed, villagers surrounded the scene of
the crime as well as the soldiers, with video recorders
rolling and calling for officials to come immediately to
investigate. 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. However, no
one was jailed for this crime. This reflects another sad
reality of state sponsored and paramilitary violence-
that in Colombia there exists a more than 99% impunity
rate for such political killings.

While at this village, we heard testimony after
testimony of similar killings and disappearances,
especially in regards to the youth. 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 recognize that this may be
part of the reason some children are compelled to take
up arms.

During the days around the Encounter, there were several
signs that certain sectors were acting to sabotage this
movement even as it was being born. Already mentioned
was the indiscriminate attack on the municipality of
Chaparral on the Encounter's opening day. Meanwhile, in
the Department of Putumayo, seven leaders were
arbitrarily arrested from the Putumayo Peasant

Most distressing of all is the news that on August 18th,
just three days after the Encuentro's closing, Piedad
Córdoba left Colombia because of the increase of death
threats against her. In June, Córdoba's cousin and human
rights activist Ana Fabricia Córdoba was assassinated in
Medellín. Since then, the number of death threats
against the families of both Piedad and Ana Fabricia
Córdoba have greatly increased, with the government
forced to provide protection for members of Ana Fabricia
Córdoba's family, while other members of Piedad
Córdoba's family have sought refuge in other countries.
On August 3rd, ex-President Alvaro Uribe insisted
publicly that he be included as a victim in legal
procedures against Piedad Córdoba, saying that her
negotiations with the FARC for the release of prisoners
were somehow connected to alleged attacks and threats
against him by the FARC. Such irresponsible and
inflammatory remarks by Pres. Uribe have been used in
the past as a tactic by which personalities are singled
out for threats and harassment.

That Piedad Córdoba has been forced into exile is a
distressing setback to the Colombian peace movement. She
was trusted not only by the guerrillas, but by
paramilitaries who had asked (and received) her help to
advocate for the return to Colombia of their leaders who
had been extradited to the United States, thus deprived
the right to stand trial and face charges at home.

But despite these setbacks, reports from those
participating in the Encuentro have been overwhelmingly
positive. As FENSUAGRO's President Eberto Diaz Montes
told me, "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."

He went on to emphasize the important role of the US
solidarity movement in advocating for peace in Colombia.
He said,

"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..Unfortunately, the military industrial complex
and foreign corporations are mostly 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..There is a chance
to advance a serious peace process in our country..Right
now the US is playing a game with gasoline. It's as if
they are setting the whole country on fire."

The Final Declaration of the Encuentro was a Manifesto
for the Land and Peace. One particular paragraph summed
up in a few points the sense of the meeting:

"General declarations concerning peace and dialogue are
insufficient and many times have been accompanied by
escalations of the war. For this reason, the Encounter
demands gestures and deeds from all parties that would
indicate positive responses to the cries of the
population and of the peasant, indigenous and Afro-
descendant communities: An end to forced displacement
and dispossession; Unconditional respect for the rights
of women and children and the guarantee of and respect
for victims' rights; No militarization of the
territories, with respect for the autonomy of the
indigenous peoples.

Stop the war and build the peace. This is the hour for
the political solution."


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