Havana talks approaching the Colombian people’s hopes for peace

On Nov. 6, the Colombian Government and the FARC-EP insurgency published a joint statement regarding the agreement reached on the second item on the agenda of the peace negotiations that have been underway in Havana, Cuba. The point in question is “political participation.”

The declaration begins by listing the three central themes of consensus: “1. Rights and guarantees for the exercise of political opposition in general and in particular for new movements that might arise after the signing of the Final Agreement. Access to media. 2. Democratic mechanisms for citizen participation, including direct involvement on different levels and different issues. 3. Effective measures to promote greater participation in national, regional and local politics for all sectors of the population, including the most vulnerable, in equal conditions and with security guarantees.” (http://www.pazfarc-ep.org)

This agreement is crucial not only for Colombia but for the entire region, as it lays the foundations for a participatory democracy which would boost the leadership of the most oppressed and excluded masses in Colombia. And it could change the country from being a regional threat (the Latin American Israel), to a truly sovereign and democratic country that unites with the progressive peoples. It is not as many people think a mere step to the electoral participation of the insurgency and positions in the Congress of the country.

FARC spokesperson Commander Iván Márquez read their statement entitled “Let’s open the doors of true democracy.” In it, Márquez underscores the undeniable engine driving the process of the negotiations: the big popular mobilization in recent months.

“All initiatives submitted by the FARC at the Havana talks, which we called 100 minimum proposals for real democratization, peace with social justice and national reconciliation, have been inspired by the demands and proposals by social and political organizations of the country; they arose from the respective thematic forums, and the strength of our words has come from the courageous mobilization of a people who, without fear of repression and criminalization, has raised its banners to demand structural changes that are required to the foundation of peace.”

How could this be achieved? Márquez continues reading: “We have reached … the commitment to convene without delay the parties and spokespeople of social organizations, calling them to develop guidelines to finally have a statute for the political opposition; [it] is perhaps one of the most important achievements, and on the other hand, they should create in democratic events of national scope, the foundations for the emergence of normalization that gives true recognition, with guarantees, to the existence and rights of the social movement.”

At the same time, he emphasizes the essential role of the people: “There is still a long way to go, however, and it is only with the feet and the determination of the people in the streets, of the sovereign people proposing and deciding, that it will be possible to expand democracy as a prerequisite to reconciliation and to turn into reality what so far are only aspirations and commitments.”

But on the other hand, Márquez emphasized the need to clarify and explain the origins of the armed conflict and the role of the state power. He reminded and warned about the terrible and cruel experience of the Patriotic Union beginning in the 1980s, when after the peace talks between the insurgency and the government of President Belisario Betancur, an electoral party was established and party members, (over 4,000 deaths to date) were systematically murdered by paramilitary and state repression forces.

Thus, the insurgency spokesperson stressed that “the conquest of peace depends a lot on these approaches, but, beside the progress of the talks, there are other issues without whose solution progress will remain slow: Success for peace depends on the elimination of corruption, an end to the interference of the mafias that one way or another have captured the state, including all its parts: executive, legislative and judicial.” And he holds it responsible: “Among the responsibilities of the state is that of leaving justice to rot, for the widespread corruption that was born years ago in the executive branch (with contracts and commissions in all spheres of operation), and that spread to the justice system through that revolving door (where the same people exit from the same door, and the same people enter to do the same things), as well as in the Congress. The Congress members who were investigated and put in prison always represented the parties and the regime.”

Different perspectives

Although the government and the FARC have signed an agreement which has been reached by consensus, their perspectives are very different. The insurgency advocates the direct involvement and leadership of the people, above all, for those who have suffered most and who have been denied political participation in issues that most impact them. But the government thinks otherwise.

Humberto de la Calle, the main representative of the government in the negotiations, in an article he wrote for the newspaper El Tiempo on Nov. 9 entitled “Government explains the Farc political participation agreement,” referred to the people not as sovereign, but as an entity that needs to be “recognized and regulated along with the role of these movements, their dialogue with government officials and the establishment of mechanisms that attend in timely manner the manifestations of the right to peaceful protest. For the movements that achieve a certain stature and that wish to enter the political arena, a bridge will be set up to facilitate this transition. Similarly, mechanisms for democratic discussion with those movements will be established once the Final Agreement is signed.”

And about the guerrillas, he insisted that “an essential condition for the implementation of these initiatives is the demobilization of the guerrilla forces.”

However, De la Calle admitted that “the emergence of social movements is acknowledged. It is a worldwide phenomenon unprecedented until recently.”

Dangers posed

While it is a historic agreement and extremely positive, there are several national and international dangers looming over the Colombian people in their search for peace with social justice. Apart from the lack of access to the media, the solution of which is included in the agreement, there is the fact that “nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to.” The talks began a year ago and no one knows when they will end; meanwhile, the repression against the people continues as does the impunity for the government’s repressive forces.

Social and trade union movements that have no relations with the armed insurgency are still being threatened and their activists murdered by paramilitaries or by the government’s armed forces for the benefit of transnational corporations. César García, a leader in Tolima of the resistance against gold mining by the transnational Anglo Gold Ashanti, was killed on Nov. 2. And on Nov. 9, Nestlé worker Oscar López Triviño was riddled with bullets in Bugalagrande, where several hours earlier his union had received a threat from paramilitaries to stop them from organizing against Nestlé. The union had begun a hunger strike a few days earlier because Nestlé refuses to negotiate with the workers.

Besides the pressures at the national level of the far right, represented by former President Álvaro Uribe, there are the transnational corporations that continue to be the government’s beneficiaries while stealing the land from the peasants, the Indigenous peoples and Afro Colombians. There is Colombia’s military cooperation with NATO and Israel, the military bases the U.S. has in Colombia, and above all, Washington’s control of the Colombian government.

Next step, the crucial U.S. role

The next item to be discussed in the negotiations will be “the solution to the problem of illegal drugs.” This topic by necessity will include more explicitly the U.S. As Alfredo Molano, reporter for El Espectador, summarizes, “The United States government will have active participation. From now on its support for the peace process is decisive.” And he mentions the problem of drug trafficking, the extraditions to the U.S. and Simón Trinidad, imprisoned in the U.S. and demanded by the FARC to be part of the negotiation team in Havana.

It is interesting that on Dec. 3, a meeting between Santos and Barack Obama is scheduled.

It is now when more active participation of the movements of solidarity in the U.S. will be required. As ELN Commander Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista said in an interview: “We defend the thesis that today no single people can struggle alone because its enemies are inside and outside the national borders. Likewise, the friends and comrades in the struggle of the peoples and societies are inside and outside those borders, and we have to count on them for the development of the struggle.” (justiciaypazcolombia.com, Nov. 9)

Meanwhile, the Colombians in exile keep up with the process. Imelda Daza wrote to the author of this article from Sweden: “Colombians in exile follow with hope the development of the negotiations in Havana. The end of the conflict and the reforms which will subsequently undertake must ensure coexistence, tolerance and the ability to participate in politics without fear of further genocides. The silence of the guns is not enough. Peace is above all social justice.”