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Colombia: “The dead-end peace agreement is now in limbo”
10 October 2016. A World to Win News Service. The following is by the Revolutionary Communist Group (GCR) of Colombia (posted on acgcr.com 4 October 2016).
Everything seemed to be going full steam ahead last 26 September when, after four years of public negotiations, the peace agreement between the Colombian state and the Farc (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) was signed in Cartagena, Colombia. Many of the country’s big shots and 15 presidents, 37 chancellors and 10 heads of international organizations, including the UN and the Organization of American States, attended the ceremony marking the end of a war that has lasted more than fifty years. In a fast-lane “special legislative procedure for peace”, parliament was to pass amnesty legislation a few weeks later. Farc guerrillas were to gather in camps located in some twenty zones, under the supervision of the Colombian army and the UN, and the guerrillas were to turn over their arms to the UN in the last three months of the six-month cantonment process. At that time, about April 2017, the Farc was to launch a legal political party to consummate their entry into the establishment. But one gear was missing from this machinery: it was hoped that the agreement that had been reached in Havana and signed in Cartagena would be endorsed by a referendum held on Sunday, 2 October. This step was considered a piece of cake, since polls had predicted an overwhelming victory for the “Yes” vote. Both sides had agreed to the date for that vote, chosen because it is the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, who was actually a misogynist defender of the caste system in India. That icon of “non-violence” was complicit with the brutal apartheid system in South Africa, where he lived for several decades, before returning to India to lead the people in a reconciliation between British imperialism and the country’s reactionary regime aimed at preventing the crisis situation from moving toward a revolutionary resolution.
But the polls proved disastrously wrong. With the unexpected triumph of the “No” vote in the referendum, the agreement has been put on hold. This outcome was considered so implausible that the Washington Post summed it up with a meme saying, “If the Colombians had been dinosaurs, they would have voted for the meteorite” [whose impact with the Earth triggered their extinction]. Yet the “No” vote won by a narrow margin, less than half a percentage point (49.78 percent for “Yes”, versus 50.21 percent for “No”), with a very high level of abstention (62 percent). Both the Farc and the government of President Juan Manuel Santos had bet everything on the victory of the “Yes” vote in the referendum. All along Santos insisted that he had no “plan B”, and the Farc, even after the results of the plebiscite were known, insisted that there was no turning back from their abandonment of the armed struggle. Not even the most extreme right, the main promoters of the “No” vote, had taken into account the possibility that they would win. Now they are scrambling to go from being part of the background scenery to playing a leading role in the negotiations drama.
The split in the ruling classes between supporters and opponents of the peace agreement is tragicomic. On the one hand, they have used clumsy lies to trick, manipulate and degrade a great many people, as they often do, to drag them into one or the other camp. On the other, while the differences among the right are in many ways only a question of nuance, there is a real division of opinion about how to deal with the guerrillas and particularly about the peace agreement, reflecting the interests of different, although closely related, economic and social sectors. The agreement would affect very sensitive issues for the sector led by ex-President Alvaro Uribe, especially the big landowners, a sector that tends toward fascism (Uribe’s conception of the state is based on the work of Carl Schmitt [a Nazi legal theorist, later pro-American, known for his advocacy of the removal of legal constraints on the exercise of state power]) as part of what has already been a long period of rightward drift (with the increasing influence of religious obscurantism) for the whole traditional political spectrum, including the armed reformists.
Lenin was very insightful right when he wrote, “People always were and always will be the foolish victims of deceit and self-deceit in politics until they learn to discover the interests of some class or other behind all moral, religious, political and social phrases, declarations and promises. The supporters of reforms and improvements will always be fooled by the defenders of the old order until they realize that every old institution, however barbarous and rotten it may appear to be, is maintained by the forces of some ruling classes.” The different visions on both sides of the peace agreement and the disputes about the plebiscite itself are full of “moral, religious, political and social phrases, declarations and promises” – and behind them we must “discover the interests of some class” or class sector.
The agreement comprises five points: (1) policies for comprehensive development in agriculture; (2) political participation; (3) end to the conflict; (4) solution to the problem of illegal drugs; (5) the victims. There is an additional point about the implementation, approval and supervision of the agreement. Of the five points, the one that bothers the far right the least is the end of the conflict. The two most bothersome are the points about land (1) and justice for the victims (5). The point about land, which calls for clearing up land titles and property rights in the countryside, would expose the land usurpers who have resorted to barbarism, causing about a million deaths in wave after wave of violence with their “chulavitas”, “pájaros” and other kinds of paramilitary forces during the last century and through today. Many big landowners, especially cattle ranchers and industrial agricultural producers (with large plantations) would find it difficult to explain how they acquired “their” lands. The point about justice would mean punishment for thousands of military men including generals (and their civilian superiors) who committed or ordered genocide, like the case of the more than 5,000 civilians known to have been murdered [and their bodies used by the authorities] to substantiate claims of casualties inflicted on the guerrillas, the so-called “false positives”. The instigators and financial backers of the paramilitary groups would be called to account. Among them, Uribe himself, along with his family and friends, would have a lot of explaining to do. Yet with the points about political participation (2) and democratizing rural property (1), the “final” agreement signed in Cartagena concentrates the common aspirations of both sides, both of them waving the flag of bourgeois democracy as the pinnacle of history.
But the agreement turns out to be less than meaningful for the people insofar as it does not seek to transform anything radically (radical in the sense of getting to the roots of things). What it does mean is an opportunity for the imperialists and local ruling classes to shore up their system (the system of the production and exchange of commodities that characterizes capitalism) and legitimize it in the eyes of the people, and an opportunity for the Farc reformists to become more directly a part of the establishment. And despite the political tug of war over the past few months, the talks between the government and the ELN [National Liberation Army, another, smaller guerrilla group, formed in 1964 under the influence of Cuba] seek to achieve the same ends, even if right now they maintain that they are not going to come to an agreement without significant changes in Colombian society.
One of the objectives of this peace process with the traditional guerrillas is to ensure, with their support, that there will be no further armed mass uprisings against the oppressors and everything reactionary, and to further steer the general discontent among the masses into channels through which the local ruling classes and the imperialists can ensure the defence and legitimization of their social order. This is an order in which imperialist domination disarticulates and distorts the national economy, developing productive enclaves as required by imperialist needs, using natural resources as raw materials to be inserted into global circuits of production and accumulation, including the production of cocaine, which involves all the ruling classes and the financial system that, in the end, crowns the whole drug business. This order conditions development in some regions and also makes deals with semi-feudalism, which is still rampant, especially in the whole political and social superstructure, widening the gap between the growing and deepening poverty of the masses and the parasitism of a handful of imperialist servants who also control the media to maintain an iron dictatorship.
Unmasking and rejecting the “peace agreements” as a fatal illusion for the people does not mean taking the same side as the reactionary sector (ex-presidents Uribe and Andres Pastrana and the rest) that has (so far) opposed those agreements, people who, in the words of the ex-president Belisario Betancur, “are, in their way, helping to bring out the shortcomings of the process” – in other words, turning the whole situation further to the right in political terms and benefiting the ruling classes as a whole and imperialism. Nor does this position mean opting for the reactionary war. It is simplistic to argue that we have no choice but to take one or the other side in the country’s present political polarization, that we have to back either the much-trumpeted “peace” or a brutal war against the people in which neither the Farc nor the ELN represent anything positive in terms of people’s aspirations for something radically different. In fact, both are playing into the hands of the system with their armed struggle that was never intended to be more than a bargaining chip to win a few reforms while leaving the overall framework of exploitation and oppression intact. This is a simple expression of destructive “determinist realism”, a passive and reactionary understanding of objective reality and “necessity” that declares that “what is desirable is what is possible and what is possible is what exists”.
The predominant positions in the political polarization around the “peace agreements” between armed reformists, on one side, and the imperialists and Colombian ruling classes on the other, represent nothing but a dead end for the masses – poor peasants, youth, women, etc. The terms of the debate that many people have been pushed to accept and which fill the media represent a smokescreen behind which imperialism is more deeply penetrating the country and inserting it into the global dynamics of the capitalist-imperialist system. At the same time, there are increasing efforts to control and repress the people. For example, the fascist new code of conduct for the police has been tacitly accepted. The situation is being used to propagate reactionary verdicts on the people’s struggles and on the possibility and necessity of a real revolution.
This is part of the framework for this agreement, which cannot be seen as simply a “Colombian thing” or a regional affair. The imperialists see it as part of an historical question. They are ecstatic that the world’s oldest so-called “Marxist” guerrillas are giving up “the revolution” and agreeing to become part of a democratic state.
But first of all, the Farc has never represented either revolution or communism, no matter how often these words might be used, and what they are giving up on is not revolution. These false claims are enabled by today’s ubiquitous lies and distortions about revolution and communism. Even when it was under the influence of the now defunct Communist Party of Colombia, the Farc arose as a form of peasant self-defence against government repression, organized to fight for a few changes in the land distribution dominated by big landlords, and to oppose the rigged political system under the two-party National Front, a political deal to pass the government back and forth every four years between sectors of the ruling classes concentrated in the Conservative and Liberal parties. This arrangement, which lasted from 1958 to 1974, was supposed to be a way to share power and settle the disputes that had taken a violent term at the end of the 1940s. The Farc programme basically represented the interests of settler peasants who had opened up new regions for cultivation in the face of pressure from the big landlords (and, in recent decades, the acquisition of extensive landholdings by imperialists and local entrepreneurs involved in agro-industrial production and global food and fuel crop speculation), and the middle peasantry that demanded that the state bring about reforms in terms of land access, but without radical opposition to imperialist domination and the property relations and reactionary ideas associated with this domination and feudal backwardness. The Farc – and the ELN – have coexisted with and defended the property of big landlords and agro-industrial firms owned by multinationals and local big landowners, as long as these owners pay the “revolutionary taxes” demanded of them, and have benefited, directly or “indirectly”, from drug trafficking. Their goal has always been to join the establishment by means of an agreement that would allow them to end their armed struggle with the achievement of a few barely liberal reforms that are fully in line with the capitalist development imperialism requires.
“Comprehensive agrarian development – one of the agreement’s “major accomplishments” – is to be accomplished by “an alliance between businessmen and peasants” through the establishment of new Peasant Reserve Zones. Under this scheme, a few hectares of barren land would be handed over to organized peasant communities so as to restrict the monopolization of land ownership. Similar mechanisms were set up by the state in the 1990s and denounced by Farc at that time. The objective of the promised infrastructural improvements, access to credit and technical assistance is a more rational – capitalist – organization of exploitation in the countryside and of peasant labour. The idea is to deal with the legal obstacles to such changes after decades of a brutal war against the masses of people in the countryside. A much greater concentration of land ownership was brought about by driving people off the land and massacring them. Today, according to a recent census, 0.4 percent of property owners hold 42 percent of the land dedicated to crops and livestock, while 60 percent of families in the countryside have no land at all. There is a greater concentration of land ownership today than before the agrarian reform laws of the 1960s. The peace agreement implicitly accepts the Santos government’s agrarian programme. Santos’s proposed Rural Economic and Social Development Zones are perfectly compatible with the Peasant Reserve Zones that the agreement calls for.
Secondly, what is being agreed to is not the end of a revolutionary armed struggle. Although the Farc and ELN have taken up arms, a radical form of struggle, their goals have nothing to do with getting to the roots of problems. They are not radical goals. What is needed is a revolutionary communist leadership that embodies a scientific method and approach and a truly liberating morality consistent with the highest aspirations of all humanity to guide the masses, and for the masses to make this vision their own, striving for the elimination of “the four alls”: the abolition of all class distinctions, all the relations of production on which they rest, all the social relations that correspond to these production relations, and the revolutionization of all the ideas that correspond to those social relations. There is absolutely nothing like this in the outlook of the Farc and ELN.
The decisive question for the people is whether this capitalist-imperialist system, and the concrete expression of its domination in countries like Colombia, will continue devastating lives and the planet itself, legitimizing its actions through all of its political representatives – including those who present themselves as leftists – or whether, on the contrary, there will be a new repolarization with the development of a movement for revolution led by a real revolutionary communist party, one that makes Bob Avakian’s new synthesis of communism its own, so that amidst the struggles against the outrages committed by this system it can lead the people to transform themselves to struggle radically and carry out a real revolution that can allow humanity to shake off all the dark years of oppressive and exploitative societies. This is the revolutionary communists’ crucial challenge.
As the traditional parties are falling into chaos and the functioning of this bourgeois democracy is making millions of people more frustrated and angry every day, there are tremendous possibilities to show the necessity for a radical solution to all this: the revolutionary overthrow of the existing order and the establishment of a new, really revolutionary state that can mobilize the people to begin to solve the problems humanity faces and overcome the divisions and inequalities that now devastate it. The growing polarization of society presents serious dangers. But these same explosive conditions also bring real opportunities to begin to forge a different kind of future. There is an urgent need for millions of people to unite to confront the enormous problems of the people in Colombia and the whole world from a perspective based on the needs of oppressed humanity. We have to lift our sights beyond the horizon of the present system and begin to build a movement that not only fights the reactionary onslaught but can also take us to the only real solution, communist revolution.
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