One million Colombians marched in the capital city of Bogotá as well as other cities and towns on April 9 to show their support of peace negotiations between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-Peoples Army (FARC-EP). Talks which began in Oslo, Norway, in 2012 are now continuing in Havana, Cuba.
Considering that the total population of Colombia is 45 million and that popular organizations normally face heavy repression from the state apparatus and from paramilitary organizations, these demonstrations show the courage of the demonstrators and the strength of popular support for these negotiations to succeed.
The right wing in Colombia, led by the landowners’ friend and former president, Álvaro Uribe, has attacked these talks relentlessly. Uribe’s regime, like many others for the last five decades, had relied on a constant stream of money and weapons from Washington in the failed attempt to crush the FARC-EP. Some 70,000 lives have been lost and millions have been displaced from their homes. Land mines have isolated whole villages.
But these massive demonstrations show that the people of Colombia are adamantly opposed to the continued war that the government has waged against the FARC-EP, a conflict that has affected the lives of millions of people. They instead want a process of peace negotiation where the voices of the people, including labor, peasants, Indigenous people, Afro-Colombians, women, the LGBTQ community and youth from the unarmed civil society are heard and contribute towards the building of a new, peaceful and just homeland.
The situation in Colombia cannot be viewed in isolation. When the Marxist-Leninist organization began its campaign in the 1960s against the landowner U.S.-backed regime, much of Latin America was ruled by military juntas and dictatorships, backed by the U.S. government, the big banks and the Pentagon. The U.S. was able to isolate revolutionary Cuba from most of the rest of the hemisphere. How times have changed since then!
Governments from Argentina to Ecuador have refused to bankrupt themselves to pay off the U.S. and European banks. Former military junta members and dictators have been put on trial for their crimes against the people. The countries of South America have refused Washington’s demand that revolutionary Cuba be excluded from conferences and meetings.
And a process opened by Colombia’s neighbor, Venezuela, led by President Hugo Chávez, has shown the Colombian people the social gains possible from an anti-imperialist government dedicated to the welfare of the people.
The leadership of the FARC-EP has consistently expressed its strong commitment to the success of these negotiations and has insisted that the popular organizations have an active role in them. This is despite the refusal by the government of Colombia to honor a ceasefire.
The April 9 march was called by the Marcha Patriótica (Patriotic March) movement, which is made up of unions, students and youth, peasants and other groups. Indigenous populations were well represented. Leaders of the demonstration include some who have been targeted for assassination by right-wing death squads.
Even the president of Colombia, FARC-enemy Juan Manuel Santos, was forced by the overwhelming popularity of this movement to attend the march.
Last week, the chief negotiator for the government at the talks in Havana announced that an agreement had been reached on the key issue of land reform. Talks on the other issues are scheduled to resume April 18.
The threat by the right wing, the wealthy landowners and by the Pentagon-backed military to torpedo the talks remains. That has happened before. But the people of Colombia are mobilized to press forward their demand for successful negotiations for peace with justice.
We in the U.S. should remain in solidarity with all the progressive forces in Colombia and accompany the peace process by exposing the U.S.’s violent role.