Jul 14, 2008
The following is translated from a July 11 article in Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), published by the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.
When Ingrid Betancourt and others, including three U.S. mercenaries, were rescued after years of captivity by guerrillas, the majority of the media painted the Colombia of President Alvaro Uribe in democratic colors. It couldn't be further from the truth.
Colombia has a long tradition of official violence. From the 19th century continuing up to today, the wealthy classes have often moved to drown protest movements of the working classes in blood, rather than satisfy their demands.
For example, between 1946 and 1957, a period called "the Violence," 300,000 people were massacred so that landowners could continue to prosper. The founder of FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), Manuel Marulanda, who died last March, was himself an old member of the peasant militias that were repressed.
The militants grouped around Marulanda, and the peasants they trained, tried to continue resisting the central power. The government tried to destroy them, but the Colombian army wasn't strong enough to do it. So it used the hired hands of the wealthy, the paramilitary groups. Between 1964 and 1966, Marulanda and his companions established the FARC. Their program was essentially that of an agrarian reform, which the peasants had never had. In regions where the FARC rooted itself, they offered a protection to the peasants who were driven off their lands by the militias of the landlords.
The landed bourgeoisie got rich off coffee, but with the fall in its price, cocaine became its number one export. In the 1970s, the FARC wound up accommodating itself to the increased development of coca growing, which the narco-traffickers, allies of the big landowners, transformed into cocaine. The FARC began by levying a tax on the peasants who grew this crop in regions under their control, in exchange for providing different public services, like building roads and water purification. They acted in their zones like the state might have, but the Colombian state wasn't capable of it. But 30 years later, the FARC had become one of the intermediaries in the drug trade, even if they weren't the main beneficiaries.
Up to now, those who govern Colombia prohibited the FARC leaders from returning to traditional politics. In the 1980s, the FARC launched the Patriotic Union with the Communist Party, which ran in several elections. It obtained good results, particularly at the local level. But this return to electoral politics resulted in a campaign of assassinations against them carried out by right-wing paramilitary groups. Three thousand leaders and militants were assassinated. The FARC returned to the jungle to survive.
The wealthy have continued to drive the peasants from their land. This policy of monopolizing land helped the FARC to grow. Expelled peasants sought their protection. Unemployed youth joined their ranks. In the 1990s, the FARC became much larger.
President Uribe proposed in 2002 to crack down on "insecurity." For the ruling classes, "insecurity" means the FARC, unlike the lawlessness of the paramilitary groups of the right, which permitted the wealthy to prosper. A wholehearted supporter of Bush, Uribe made use of September 11, 2001 to label the FARC as "terrorists." He benefitted from the support of the United States, in its "Colombia Plan," which is supposed to attack drugs but which, in practice, has attacked few narco-traffickers but many small peasants and the FARC.
The guerillas today seem weakened. They have suffered military reversals. However, they maintain ties with the peasantry, even if corruption has shown up among the leaders of the FARC. While some of the guerillas have defected in reaction to what they consider to be a betrayal of their ideals, others, less scrupulous, chose to change militias by joining the paramilitaries.
In her declarations, Ingrid Betancourt praised the merits of "Colombian democracy." Certainly, people have voted for a long time in Colombia, but when candidates for president displease the wealthy, they are assassinated, as has happened several times. And it's the same when the peasants don't leave their land quickly enough or with workers who defend their rights. In the past 20 years, 2,600 unionists have been assassinated. Not only do these crimes go unpunished, but Uribe has cleared the paramilitaries of all responsibility for the mass killings they carried out.
Obviously, we don't agree with the methods of the FARC. But the success of Uribe certainly doesn't indicate a better future for the poor population of Colombia.