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Vol. 80/No. 40      October 24, 2016

(front page)

Colombia ‘no’ vote reflects discontent with gov’t, FARC

Voters in an Oct. 2 referendum in Colombia narrowly rejected a peace pact that had been signed just days earlier between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Opposition parties had campaigned against the deal, appealing to resentment at concessions granted to the FARC. The majority of those eligible did not vote.

“People saw the agreement as a done deal,” Ever Causada, a spokesperson for Sintramienergética, a union of miners and other energy workers, told the Militant by phone from Barranquilla Oct. 11. “In the areas most affected by the confrontation between the government and the FARC, the vote was overwhelming for yes.”

Tens of thousands joined student-led marches in the capital, Bogotá, and other cities Oct. 5 urging continued support for a negotiated end to decades-long fighting between the government and the guerrillas. The country’s union federations have issued similar appeals.

Former President Álvaro Uribe, who led the “vote no” campaign, met with President Juan Manuel Santos Oct. 5 to propose “adjustments” to the agreement. A joint statement by government and FARC representatives two days later said they were holding talks to “promptly find a solution.” They said an Aug. 29 cease-fire would continue.

Some 220,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed over five decades in fighting by soldiers, cops and government-backed paramilitary groups with the FARC and other guerrilla groups. Another 92,000 disappeared, and 7 million have been displaced, mainly peasants who fled the countryside to escape bombings, land mines, kidnappings and murders by both sides.

“In the zones most affected by the war, some people resent what the FARC has done, but the majority say forgive and start over,” César Pachón told the Militant Oct. 10 from Boyacá. Pachón is a leader of Potato Growers Dignity and other peasant organizations.

The 297-page peace accord was signed by Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño, also known as Timochenko, at a televised ceremony in Cartagena Sept. 26. Those attending included 12 Latin American heads of state and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Timochenko asked for “forgiveness for all the pain that we have caused.”

The agreement followed four years of negotiations hosted in Cuba, whose revolutionary government was instrumental in promoting an end to the conflict. The FARC agreed to surrender its weapons to United Nations monitors and reconstitute itself as a political party. It also agreed to collaborate to end the production and trafficking of drug crops, which it had taxed in areas it controlled.

The opposition campaign led by Uribe attacked a guarantee for the new party of 10 unelected seats in the Congress for two legislative terms. It also condemned the amnesty granted to FARC leaders charged with major crimes, who would be eligible for reduced terms of community work, and financial benefits granted to FARC members.

In the plebiscite, which asked, “Do you support the final agreement to end the conflict and construct a stable and enduring peace?” 50.2 percent voted no and 49.8 percent yes. It had been forecast to pass by a two-to-one margin. Only 37 percent of voters turned out.

Discontent among workers, peasants

“There’s a lot of discontent with President Santos and Uribe took advantage of that,” noted Pachón, pointing to attacks by police and paramilitary groups on recent strikes. “The Santos government held negotiations with the guerrillas over the question of land in the countryside” without involving the peasants. “He and Uribe have the same policies,” he added.

“The situation for working people is getting worse,” said Causada. “Santos is raising the sales tax and imposing anti-worker labor laws. For every worker directly employed, there are now nine contract workers.”

Formed in 1964, the FARC became the largest of several guerrilla groups that grew out of peasant struggles for land and resistance to repression. It was linked to the Communist Party of Colombia, which looked to the Stalinist regime in Moscow. Its methods included kidnapping for ransom.

The FARC is estimated to have numbered 20,000 in 2002 when Uribe became president and launched a major military offensive, backed by Washington. Today it is said to number 7,000. Santos, who was Uribe’s defense minister, opened negotiations when he became president in 2010.

The FARC’s course was the opposite of the movement led by Fidel Castro in Cuba, who organized working people there to overthrow the Fulgencio Batista dictatorship on Jan. 1, 1959. Those who launched the revolutionary struggle in 1953 “had a clear idea of our objectives, and this remained constant,” wrote Castro in the 2008 book La paz en Colombia (Peace in Colombia). But the FARC “never planned to conquer power through the armed struggle,” he said.

Castro also criticized the FARC’s methods. “Civilians should have never been kidnapped, nor should the soldiers have been kept as prisoners in jungle conditions,” he said. “These were objectively cruel actions. No revolutionary aim could justify them.”

In Cuba the Rebel Army led by Castro began organizing working people to carry out land reform, literacy campaigns and other revolutionary measures in areas under rebel control. The FARC left capitalist economic and social relations intact in the areas they controlled.  
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