Working people in Colombia have been hard hit by the world capitalist crisis. As the economy contracts for a second year, they face stepped-up attacks by the bosses and government of President Juan Manuel Santos. The minimum wage is less than $1 an hour, one of the lowest in Latin America. Official unemployment is 9 percent.
When over 50,000 truck drivers struck in June and July, the government used soldiers and cops to help break the strike, killing one strike supporter.
Some 63 percent of farmland in Colombia is owned by 0.4 percent of landowners, while 60 percent of farmers have no title to their farms. Income inequality is among the highest in the world. Economic life is further distorted by imperialist domination. The foreign debt tops $100 billion.
Workers and farmers also confront the legacy of five decades of war by the Washington-backed government and paramilitaries and the FARC and other leftist guerrilla groups. Working people have borne the brunt of the conflict. At least 220,000 people have been killed, over 80 percent of them civilians, and another 7 million displaced, mainly peasants fleeing the countryside.
Ending the war can help open space for workers and farmers to organize. For more than 30 years, Cuba’s revolutionary leadership has advocated an end to the armed conflict, and taken important initiatives to bring it about.
Far from advancing struggles by workers or farmers, the actions of the FARC have damaged the ability of working people to organize and gain confidence on a road to taking political power. Fidel Castro, drawing on the experience of the leadership of the Cuban Revolution, sharply criticized the FARC’s methods in his 2008 book La paz en Colombia (Peace in Colombia).
Damaging course of FARCThe FARC began in the 1960s as a rural guerrilla group linked to the Stalinist Communist Party of Colombia. Its perspective was to exert pressure and win concessions from the landlords and government through bombings, assassinations and kidnappings as part of a “prolonged war.” At best, this relegated working people to the role of spectators.
This course gave the government and landlords a pretext for assaults on unionists and farmers and to clamp down on political rights. The regime mobilized thousands of paramilitaries to terrorize the population. As the FARC gained territory in the 1990s, Washington sent Bogotá troops, arms and funds, claiming to wage war on drugs and terrorism. Plan Colombia, signed by President Bill Clinton in 2000, allocated $10 billion to this.
Following the election of President Álvaro Uribe in 2002, a military offensive dealt major blows to the FARC and its leadership. Faced with these setbacks, and growing international discussion, including Castro’s contributions, on what way forward for working people in Colombia, the FARC entered peace talks with the Santos government, which took office in 2010.
The Cuban government was instrumental in facilitating the negotiations, which opened in Havana in 2012. A peace accord was signed in September and put to a referendum Oct. 2. Polls had projected it would pass with a big majority, but 50.2 percent voted against.
An Oct. 4 statement by the Communist Youth of Colombia reflected a common response on the left. It described the vote as a victory for “ultra-right, conservative and religious sectors,” saying the “voter population” had been “confused with the lying and hatred of the far right campaign.” Similar explanations appeared in much of the capitalist media.
The Oct. 24 Militant article “Colombia ‘No’ Vote Reflects Discontent with Gov’t, FARC,” didn’t answer this line. It referred to classless “discontent” and stressed the “vote no” campaign led by Uribe and the low 37 percent turnout, suggesting the vote showed a shift to the right and working-class apathy.
But the reason many working people voted “no” or abstained was because of deep hostility toward the FARC. Many felt the terms were too generous toward FARC leaders responsible for death and destruction, including guaranteed seats in Congress and amnesty for leaders accused of major crimes.
In the territories it occupied, the FARC used violence to impose its rule over working people. It extorted taxes, including on the production and transport of illegal drugs, and carried out thousands of kidnappings for ransom. It imposed curfews and strict social controls on residents, expelling violators from their homes and land. Thousands of peasants were killed or maimed by land mines laid by the FARC.
Opposite of Cuban RevolutionWhen a raid by the Colombian military in 2008 freed 15 hostages held by the FARC, Fidel Castro took the opportunity to speak out. Those released included Ingrid Betancourt, who had been kidnapped six years earlier while campaigning for president, 11 soldiers and three U.S. citizens.
“We rejoiced at the news” that the “captives had been released,” 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. No revolutionary aim could justify them.”
From its very beginning, Castro said, the course followed by the FARC was the opposite of that followed by the revolutionary movement that led workers and farmers to power in Cuba. The Communist Party of Colombia “was under the influence of the Communist Party of the USSR, not of Cuba,” he said. It “never planned to conquer power.”
In Cuba the Rebel Army led by Castro looked to the working class and exploited farmers as the agents of revolutionary change. They organized land reform, literacy campaigns and other revolutionary measures in areas under rebel control.
When they fought battles with the dictatorship’s troops, they sought to keep civilians from harms way. Soldiers they captured were treated with dignity and released at the first opportunity. This course and conduct reflected the working-class morality of Cuba’s revolutionary leaders.
Havana is now hosting a new round of talks between Colombian officials and the FARC leadership. A cease-fire has been extended through the end of the year. The Cuban and Ecuadoran governments are also facilitating peace talks between Bogotá and the National Liberation Army (ELN), a smaller Colombian guerrilla organization.
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