By Gearóid Ó Loingsigh
Renegotiating is in fashion. The President-Elect of the USA, Donald Trump, threatens to renegotiate everything, o just simply burn all the agreements signed by the country. But the Colombian Right beat him to it. After their victory in the plebiscite, Uribe and the evangelical pastors, amongst others, did not waste any time in demanding to renegotiate what had been agreed upon. The salient themes were the rights of the LGBT community, impunity for Uribe and his lackeys and of course, as part of that, the land question. The Left, however, remained silent on the content of the agreements and raised its voice to defend them in their entirety.
Almost all of the Left came out to ask the population to mobilise in defence of the Final Peace Accord, including those who had rejected or disagreed with various parts of the text i.e. those who campaigned asking the people to vote, Yes, but..
Not that the accord has been renegotiated, they could have taken advantage of the moment to do the same as the Right; demand changes to the text. But no, they didn’t ask for anything. Is there nothing they would like to change? What was that But? It is worth looking at where in the text they could have asked or proposed changes. There are many very reformist changes that could have been made, but the Left did not even propose them. They opted for defending an agreement, which in many cases they had criticised severely. Here we aim to take at the Agreement in terms of the agrarian proposals.
When the Accord was signed it was supposedly a final agreement i.e. unchangeable and the FARC stated at their X Conference that:
The agreed upon Agenda reflects the minimum conditions under which we are prepared to put an end to our armed uprising against the state and the existing capitalist social order without renouncing our strategic aims for the structural transformations that Colombian society requires in order to overcome the imposed domination of the most wealthy classes, the absences of real true democracy, the misery and exploitation that flow from the economic model and the dependency on imperialism and trans-nationals and their varied forms of intervention in national life.
But is plain to see, now that important points of the Accord have been renegotiated that this did not reflect the minimum conditions for giving up their arms. Minimum does not exist, not even after the deaths in combat of two members of the FARC in the midst of a supposed bilateral ceasefire. It resembles Ireland in that regard, where the IRA and Sinn Féin announced time and again red lines, till such time as they ran out of red ink and the definitely shut up, without any major attempt on their part to continue to deceive their social base. Nothing in the accords in Ireland was definitive and they were renegotiated over and again. Nothing in the Colombian process is definitive either, despite both of the accords being titled Final Accord. In Ireland, at least they had the decency to give the agreements different names. Here in Colombia, it looks like a cowboy and western film and we are only missing Humberto de la Calle announcing the Final Accord Rides Again, and then later presenting the Son of the Final Accord. Everything was up for negotiation and only the Right decided to take advantage of that.
First, we should be clear that the Accord does not promise or propose at any stage un real Agrarian Reform. The FARC in the X Conference acknowledged this in their internal document.
What has been agreed in relation to a Comprehensive Agrarian Reform is essentially designed to improve the living and working conditions of the peasantry in general and particularly the poor peasantry and disposed, as well as the peasant communities and addressing the needs of the indigenous peoples and afro descendant communities; without having achieved the aims of a revolutionary comprehensive agrarian reform, which overcomes the scandalous concentration of land and the current model of large-scale agribusiness… (emphasis not in the original).
So, we will leave that particular criticism aside, for the moment. We will look at some other points first, where even the most reformist, the NGO, and the corrupt politician could be in agreement, although they don’t say so.
When one looks at the text, one sees a long list of initiatives where the State commits itself to setting up commissions, committees and spaces etc., to strengthen, promote, diagnose and monitor. If they come through with even half of what they say, they will have to set up an unparalleled bureaucracy for peace. Of course, the NGOs are drooling. Broad swathes of the Polo the lived off of and robbed (just like the Right) the public purse in Bogotá are also drooling, thinking of the posts they could get in these new bodies given that they already lost the gravy train of the Bogotá’s Mayor’s Office. But there are many examples of where the Left could have made concrete proposals, including with the desired lucrative commission. But they didn’t dare.
Healthcare for the Peasantry
Point 22.214.171.124 of the Accord deals with the problem of healthcare for the peasantry. The government and the FARC propose:
To strengthen the infrastructure and the quality of the public network in rural areas and improve the availability and relevance of the service supply a National Plan for Rural Healthcare will be set up and implemented. In order to develop the Plan the following criteria will be taken into account.
Amongst the criteria mentioned are the construction and improvement of the infrastructure, a differential and gender based focus and a “special model of public healthcare for low density rural areas, with an emphasis on prevention”. So far, there is nothing objectionable, they are points that should be included in the programme of any government. But we are not talking about a programme or technical proposal on healthcare. We are talking about an Accord that boasts about bringing to an end the causes of the conflict and they don’t mention any of the causes of the problems in the countryside regarding healthcare. The peasantry, like the rest of the population are victims of the legislation in force on the topic i.e. Law 100. But it is not mentioned at any point. They didn’t even propose a revision of that law, not even one of the lucrative commissions that they like so much in order to analyse the situation.
Something similar happens with education. There are laws, decrees etc. that affect not only the peasantry but all of the poor, both urban and rural. But FARC remained silent. The Left, which has convened many marches and protests against public policy on healthcare and education, and which will surely do so again, said absolutely nothing and when the new Final Accord came out, they praised it with even having read it, just like they did with the first agreement.
If we take the issue of native seeds, an issue which directly affects the peasantry, we find something which could be clarified, modified, specified. In point 126.96.36.199 the Accord states:
The promotion and protection of native seeds and seed banks so as the communities – men and women – may have access to the best material for sowing and in a participatory manner, contribute to its improvement, by incorporating their own knowledge. In addition, the strict socio-environmental control and regulation of genetically modified organisms, favouring the common good.
It is somewhat ambiguous when it talks of promoting and protecting native seeds. There is legislation in place that obliges the peasantry to use the so-called certified seeds or improved seeds. Could they not mention the laws that have to be changed? At least give us an idea of what it is about, of what they are thinking. But no. However, it does include one general, though positive thing on genetically modified organisms and the common good. So it remained for the Left, something imprecise which left many doubts. The Colombian ultra Right, did not stand idly by and obtained a more precise and reactionary transformation. On this point the new Final Accord reads as follows:
The promotion and protection of native seeds and seed banks, without restricting or imposing other seeds such as the improved, seeds, hybrids or others so as the communities – men and women – may have access to the best material for sowing and in a participatory manner, contribute to its improvement, by incorporating their own knowledge. In addition, the strict socio-environmental control and regulation of genetically modified organisms, favouring the common good (emphasis not in original).
So, they will promote native seeds but without restricting or imposing other types of seeds. At the stroke of a pen, the native seeds are placed in competition with the improved ones, without any possibility of real incentives for these seeds. Of course, some will say that are no restrictions like the ones that exist at the moment, but the legal restrictions are no the only ones that count. The can restrict native seeds, limiting not the seed but the loans available for such seeds or removing subsidies etc. It maintains the regulation of GMOs. However, even where they are allowed in the world, they are regulated, it is like saying the strict regulation of pharmaceuticals, something which is obvious but has no impact on their widespread use in relation to treatments other than the pharmaceuticals. After many years of persecution, native seeds compete once more, but with the damage already done and no measures to remedy the situation. They couldn’t even ban GMOs, they just regulated them.
If the Left had nothing to say regarding relatively simple issues, such as seeds, they could say nothing, or didn’t want to say anything regarding the agricultural model. The Peasant Reserves are to be limited to currently existing ones, the concept of “good faith” is introduced for the criminals who bought the displaced people’s land. In less than three months a group of experts will recommend changes to the legislation that “when possible: will regulate the property rights of owners, occupiers and holders acting in good faith, as long as there has been no theft or bad faith” (emphasis not in original).
This last point is important, as in many areas the businesspeople did not act directly, but rather sent the paramilitaries into action and bought the land later having passed through the hands of peasants before reposing in the dirty but distant hands of the landlords. It is difficult to prove bad faith in such circumstances. The agrarian counter-reform of the paramilitaries is to be legalised. There are no exact figures on the amount of land taken from peasants, but rather calculations that are more or less accurate, but it is beyond doubt that the figure is far in excess of the three million hectares that will form part of the Land Fund mentioned in the Accord, i.e. the thugs who bought in “good faith” have in their hands more land than the Accord will share out and they can hang on to it.
Furthermore, according to the recent publication by the National Centre for Historic Memory, Tierras y Conflictos Rurales (Land and Rural Conflicts), between 1995 and 2012, 253,262 hectares were awarded to 85 people in plots exceeding 2,500 hectares. In the same time period 109,435 hectares were given to 13 people in plots exceeding 5,000 hectares. State lands are supposed to be only given to peasants and furthermore, plots that large are no permitted. Could these people claim “good faith” in the acquisition of state lands? Of course they could. What’s more, the Accord does not contemplate recovering those lands and preventing the hand over of such large plots to people who are not from the countryside. In fact, current state policy goes in quite the opposite direction. It is no secret that Santos wants to hand over large tracts of land to multinationals such as Cargill and the sugar barons. The Accord is just one more example of these policies, this time with the support of the FARC and the silence of a Left undeserving of the name.
The agro-exporting model remains in place. Into the principles of the Accord they inserted (page 12) the following gem.
Comprehensive Development of the Countryside: the comprehensive development of the countryside requires an appropriate balance between the different forms of production in existence – family based agriculture, agribusiness, tourism, large scale commercial agriculture-; competiveness and the need to promote and encourage investments in the countryside with an entrepreneurial vision and productive purposes as a condition for development; and the promotion and encouraging in fair conditions of linkages between small scale rural production with other models of production, that may be vertical or horizontal and on a different scale. In any event, the peasant based, family and community-orientated economy will be supported and protected and its development and strengthening achieved.
It is clear that the new Accord clarifies that Peace goes hand in hand with the current policies of the Santos government and there is no contradiction between it and the ZIDRES  law, nor any other initiative of the state. To finish off, it is clarified to the businesspeople and paramilitaries that “Nothing set out in the Accord should affect the constitutional right to private property”.
The new Accord not only reasserts the current situation of land ownership and use but also the production model in rural areas. In various parts it talks about associate work, i.e. where the rural work sets up an association that tenders for work, no longer as an employee, but as a “small businessperson”. It is worth pointing out that all of the lefities, including those that earn their salaries keeping seats warm in Congress have denounced this form of employment time and again. The sugar cane cutters strike laid bare the nature of this piecework. Yet here it forms part of the peace agreement and the uribistas managed to add a very important paragraph on associativity and the peasants in point 188.8.131.52
Associativity: the government will encourage and promote associativity, linkages and productive alliances between small, medium and large scaled producers as well as processors, traders and exporters with the guaranteeing competitive scale of production inserted into value added producing chains that contribute to improving the living conditions of the inhabitants of the countryside in general and particularly small scale producers. To this end, it will afford technical, legal and economic help (loans or financing) to the small-scale producers in order to guarantee balanced sustainable family based associative projects.
This production model where the peasant carries all the costs of sowing and ties their future to an agro-exportable product in “association” with the large companies is the old dream of the Colombian oligarchy and is the model applied in many countries. In the 1990s, it experienced its greatest impetus in Colombia through an alliance between the Jesuit priest Francisco de Roux, the Programme for Development and Peace in Magdalena Medio, the European Union and the so-called social component of Plan Colombia (lets not forget this last element). Nowadays it is the official policy of the state and the World Bank, the IMF and the business associations, such as Fedepalma, amongst others. Hundreds of peasant leaders lost their lives fighting against that model at the end of the 1990s and beginning of this century., one of the most notable cases being the 500 leaders murdered in Southern Bolivar after the Peasant Exodus in 1998. They may have died for nothing now that the Left and the human rights defenders praise an agreement that implements the model they fought against. Such ignominy! Time will tell what the peasant organisations that carried out these struggles do in relation to the Accord and a cosy Left that wants to betray them.
As a palliative they announced at the end of the Accord:
In addition, the provision of conditions and incentives for produce and its commercialisation, including when necessary, direct support to the strengthening of production, with the aim of avoiding or minimizing the negative impacts that arise from the internationalisation of the economy and the liberalisation of trade on peasant, family and community based economies (emphasis no in the original)
That is to say, they will try to avoid the impacts of the model they want to implement. It is great that they have thought about the negative impacts at the end, but it is unlikely that they will implement this part as it is improbable that the direct subsidies to production will comply with WTO rules. Later on the government will say that its hands are tied and I don’t even want to think about what they FARC and the unarmed Left will say.
With this agreement, the FARC and the unarmed Left give their support to all that they criticised for years. Their comrades struggled and were murdered by the paramilitaries in order to impose this model and now it is the model for peace. But the Final Accord, does not have the last word. Further on, there will be more and worse changes. The Accord no longer forms part of the Constitutional Corpus, so a simple legislative act can change any part of it. We will have the Final Accord Rides Again Over the Peasantry, but unlike those cheap films from the 1960s and 70s there will be no hero arriving at the last minute to save the small town, or at least such people will no arise from the silenced Left. The peasants and workers will have to reorganise, many of their organisations are no longer of use and almost no human rights organisation is of any use; they handed over the communities, their dead and the political demands in exchange for nothing and in various cases they managed to convince the communities that it was the correct path.
- Las 2 Orillas (25/09/2016) ¿Que discutieron las FARC en sesión cerrada durante los 7 días de la X Conferencia? www.las2orillas.com
- CNMH (2016) Tierras y Conflictos Rurales: Historia, Políticas Agrarias y Protagonistas, Bogotá, CNMH. Page 222.
- Zones of interest for rural economic and social development