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Vol. 74/No. 34      September 6, 2010

Colombian guerrillas call
for talks to end fighting
(feature article)
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which has carried out a guerrilla struggle since the 1960s, has called for talks to find a peaceful settlement of the conflict. The July 30 statement by FARC leader Alfonso Cano said, “Between all of us, we have to find common ground and, with the input of a majority of Colombians, we have to … create perspectives and a way out of the armed conflict.”

The door to talks is not locked, newly elected Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos said August 17. “But until we see clear, irrefutable proof that the conditions we have given are adhered to, there is no possibility for dialogue.” The conditions he listed were that the FARC give up “weapons, kidnapping, and drug trafficking.”

Santos had been defense minister in the previous administration of Alvaro Uribe and an architect of the U.S.-backed war against the FARC. He directed the attack in 2008 on a FARC base in Ecuador in which the guerrilla group’s second in command, Raúl Reyes, was killed. Santos was elected president in June.

Tens of thousands of Colombians have been killed in the armed struggle, which has raged in Colombia for decades. Bogotá mobilized 14,000 paramilitaries, in addition to the army, to terrorize the population, disappearing and assassinating peasants and trade unionists as well as other opponents of the regime.

The U.S. government offered troops, equipment, and funds to help the government combat “drug trafficking” and “terrorism.” In a program begun under the William Clinton administration, Washington stations up to 800 troops and 600 “contractors” in Colombia.

The guerrilla struggle was initiated by Manuel Marulanda, a peasant, in response to the massacres of peasants by Colombian oligarchs in the 1960s. He joined the Colombian Communist Party, which looked to Moscow for political guidance, and left that party in 1993, taking over the leadership of the guerrilla group. Marulanda died in 2008.  
Blows dealt to FARC
At one point the FARC numbered well over 10,000 fighters and controlled significant territory. The group also took government soldiers, police, and civilians hostage, and still hold some. With U.S. aid, the Colombian government has dealt blows to the FARC. The number of FARC combatants is about half what they were at their peak, and the amount of territory they hold has declined.

In 2008 the Colombian military freed 15 hostages held by the FARC, including Ingrid Betancourt, who had been campaigning for president when the guerrillas kidnapped her six years earlier.

Cuban leader Fidel Castro took the occasion to write two articles on lessons learned in the revolutionary armed struggle in Cuba and their relevance for the struggle in Colombia.

Castro said, “The civilians should have never been kidnapped, nor should the soldiers have been kept as prisoners in jungle conditions. These were objectively cruel actions.” The Cuban leader urged the FARC to release all its remaining hostages and prisoners.

Unlike the revolutionary leadership in Cuba, which sought to lead the workers and peasants to power as rapidly as possible and did so in two years, Castro said, “The Colombian Communist Party never planned to conquer power through the armed struggle. The guerrilla was a resistance front and not the essential instrument for conquering revolutionary power.”  
Point of contention with Venezuela
The FARC’s guerrilla operations and the Colombian army’s war against them were a point of contention between Colombian president Alvaro Uribe and Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez.

In July 2009 the Venezuelan government froze much of the country’s trade with Colombia to protest accusations by Uribe that Caracas was supplying the FARC with weapons. Chávez was also opposed to a treaty signed by Uribe that increased Washington’s access to Colombian military bases. Trade with Venezuela, Colombia’s second largest trading partner, dropped by more than 70 percent in the first five months of this year compared to the same period in 2009.

In mid-July this year, Colombia’s ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS) gave a presentation to OAS delegates in which he said the Venezuelan government was harboring FARC guerrillas. He called for an international investigation on Venezuelan territory of sites he claimed were guerrilla camps. Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez broke diplomatic relations with Colombia, saying that Bogotá’s charges were a pretext for a U.S.-backed invasion of Venezuela that would start a “100-year war.”

But with Uribe on the way out, the heightened tensions dissipated.

In early August, Chávez took up the question of peace talks. “The Colombian guerrillas do not have a future through the armed struggle,” the Venezuelan president said. “Just as one proposes that Colombia’s government seek the path to peace, the guerrillas must also do it.”

On August 10 Chávez met with Santos and the two restored full diplomatic and trade relations.

Colombia’s foreign minister and ministers of defense and commerce flew to Caracas August 19 to meet with their counterparts and Chávez to discuss advancing cooperation. Venezuelan foreign minister Nicolas Maduro announced that Venezuela will immediately begin paying back Colombian exporters millions they are owed over the last year.

A Colombian court suspended the U.S.-Colombia military base treaty August 17, saying the pact must first be ratified by the Colombian Congress. Santos said the court ruling “will not affect at all” joint U.S.-Colombia military operations. “The fight against terrorism has no truce and this court’s decision in no way affects what we’ve been receiving from the United States,” he said. U.S. troops retain their access to other Colombian bases they already use.

Bogotá could use the delay in opening up the bases as a bargaining chip to get Washington to approve a free-trade pact with Colombia that has been stalled in the U.S. Congress since 2006.  
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