By Javier Orozco PeñarandaIn Colombia, after a half-century of internal conflict, guerrilla forces understood that it is not possible to seize power by force of arms and the State accepted that it could not defeat them militarily, despite US support and the strategy of a dirty war against the civilian population.
The only desirable way around this negative impasse is negotiation to reach an agreement on conditions to stop the war. That is the aim of the Peace Talks in Havana with the FARC-EP and it is also the beacon that willl guide the talks from now on with the ELN in Quito. The guerrilla forces are not participating in these talks in a posture of surrender. Negotiations with the ELN are beginning not a moment too soon because an agreement with the FARC alone would be incomplete and would make room for another cycle of violence. For this very reason, the government must initiate talks with the PLA, too.
The war, apart from being very costly for the country, is very hard on those who are fighting it – who are not the children of the rich – and for leftists who are persecuted unto death, marked as insurgents, and even more for the peasants living in areas where a terror reigns that has left more than 250,000 dead, 30,000 missing and almost seven million displaced.
The enemies of the peace process are powerful and are inside and outside of Colombia. The recent visit of the Asturian Delegation to Assess the state of Human Rights in Colombia witnessed a lack of protection for grassroots movements in almost half the country, a failure that has its origins in the military doctrine of the internal enemy and that is aggravated by the re-paramilitarization of regions with the tolerance or cooperation of the police force. Repression and prison police brutality have become the tools for managing social conflict along with massive death threats and selective and unpunished assassinations, which represent a risk, too, for the guerrillas who aspire to create – after laying down their arms – a new political reality while rejoining civilian life without giving up their plans for social transformation, democracy, equality and dignity.
But people are weary of this endless and degraded war. It is no surprise, then, that former President Álvaro Uribe Vélez’s call to mobilize against talks with the guerrillas fell on deaf ears. For over twenty years, the guerrilla forces have proposed dialogues demanding the cessation of state terrorism, political exclusion and social injustice.
For the FARC-EP, the Havana talks are the continuation of the stalled negotiations with the government of Andrés Pastrana 14 years ago, while for the ELN, they will be their first experience of formal and public negotiations because never in half a century has the process gone beyond the tentative, exploratory stage for them.
The challenges we have in moving beyond the armed conflict are great, but so are the bravery, the high level of organization and clarity of purpose of broad sectors of the population who are risking so much to stop the acquisition of land and goods by displacing the populace – a feature typical of Colombian capitalism – and to promote a political and grassroots movement for human rights to press for substantive changes in the neoliberal economic model so as to prevent war profiteers, whether large landowners, drug traffickers, bankers, arms dealers, national agribusiness or multinational companies, from circumventing the agreements reached at the negotiating table with the guerrillas.
This will be very important because the conflict in Colombia is not solely an armed one. There is an enormous social conflict that the ELN puts on the table by demanding a leading and not merely advisory role for social organizations in the talks that are slated to begin soon.
With the end of the war, the dominant power bloc will want to institute other forms of exclusion, repression and death, but will face social organizations that have not been defeated and oppose “the pessimism of intelligence with the optimism of determination”.
Colombia cannot walk alone along the road to the end of conflict. The governments of Cuba, Norway, Venezuela, Ecuador, Brazil, Chile, Mexico and the United Nations Security Council have understood that. The European Union and Spain are expected to go well beyond the diplomatic support for the negotiations and the search for business for their large corporations that have characterized their role so far.
What is needed is cooperation, such as was provided by Asturias until a few years ago, that supports the development plans of local communities, to help rebuild grassroots organizations fighting courageously for peace with social justice by proposing to eliminate the structural, objective causes behind the longest and bloodiest war of Our America.
By Javier Orozco Peñaranda, Coordinator of the Asturian Human Rights Programme.
1. The Asturian Verification Visit on the state of Human Rights in Colombia has been conducted annually since 2005. It is part of the Asturian Program for Victims of Violence in Colombia. It is an effort on the part of civil society organizations mandated by the Act of the Principality of Asturias 4/2006, of 5 May, in Support of Development and the Asturian Human Rights Strategy for Development Aid. It seeks to support the request by Colombian social organizations to observe, verify, disseminate, support and protect human rights in that country.