The War Foretold

Most of the victims of the perpetual war in Colombia are unarmed poor civilians. For every military casualty there are six civilian deaths. In the words of one peasant leader, the Colombian war ‘is not a civil war. It’s a war against civilians’. Paul Valery put it another way when he said “war is a massacre between people who don’t know each other, for the benefit of people who do know -but do not massacre- each other.”

Most of the victims of the perpetual war in Colombia are unarmed poor civilians. For every military casualty there are six civilian deaths. In the words of one peasant leader, the Colombian war ‘is not a civil war. It’s a war against civilians’. Paul Valery put it another way when he said “war is a massacre between people who don’t know each other, for the benefit of people who do know -but do not massacre- each other.”

The people of the country, then, have no interest in this war, to which they contribute the dead and get nothing in return. They have everything to gain from a negotiated solution and everything to lose from an intensification of war. And yet, starting in late February of 2002, they got an end to negotiations and an intensification of war.

For people trying to sort out the situation in Colombia, several questions about peace processes arise. Why do peace negotiations recurrently fail in a country whose people want them to succeed? Why do those who benefit from war recurrently talk peace? What will result from the break-up of peace processes and who benefits from this? Who orchestrates the systematic and recurrent break-up of peace processes?

This article seeks to open a discussion on these questions. We present some of the obstacles to the current peace process and show how these are neither the ones that are constantly presented, nor are they particularly new. We will also present some thoughts on the kind of peace process Colombia needs.

The doctrine of ‘the last straw’

The Colombian Government’s line about the recent break-up of negotiations is that the kidnapping of senator Turbay was the ‘last straw’, final proof of the FARC’s unwillingness to negotiate, and reason for the government to attack the demilitarized zone and escalate the war.

Kidnapping is a crime. But didn’t the murders of unionists Aury Sara Marrugo and Enrique Arellano in December by the paramilitaries qualify as a straw, if not the last straw? Why wasn’t escalation announced against them? Why, when the paramilitaries commit far more atrocities than the guerrillas, is the escalation of the war against the FARC alone?

The answer is that the kidnapping was not the last straw but the event that the government was waiting for in order to do the escalation they were preparing to do all along. The impulse for war is not coming from the guerrillas. The impulse is coming from a war machine, whose local agents are paramilitaries with support from the government that is in turn supported from outside. These interests in war were preparing for escalation over a period of several years with Plan Colombia (1). By February the billions of dollars of military aid money of Plan Colombia was disbursed. The US-made helicopters were ready to fly. The ‘anti-narcotics’ battalions were trained and ready to go. All that was needed was an incident, and the FARC supplied it.

The war machine: obstacles to peace

William Avilés describes the war machine’s logic like this:

” On a regional level through paramilitary networks and on a national level through public lobbying and direct representation in key state positions, domestic economic elites have been a source of support for militarist solutions and political repression. Internationally, the United States and transnational capital, through the financial support of the armed forces and the promotion of the drug war, have effectively strengthened coercive sectors and strategies within Colombia.”

There are different parts to this war machine. There are the local economic elites, with their links to international economic elites, who have a vision of turning the coasts into tourist traps, the rivers into canals carrying natural resources and commodities from agriculture produced in the interior on cleared land by cheap un-unionized labour out to international markets, and the cities into pools of cheap un-unionized labour for maquila-style manufacturing. There is the Colombian government, and the US government, who share this vision and seek to expand and deepen their control over territories and people. There are the paramilitaries, supported and trained and armed by the armed forces and the governments, who have their own ideas about what Colombia should be and how to murder, torture, and massacre their way into power.

These interlocking interests are the greatest obstacles to peace in Colombia, and over the years they have established a pattern of action that is as predictable as it is terrible.

Previous failed peace processes and ‘incidents’

This is not the first peace process to have happened in Colombia’s history. It’s not the first time a peace process has failed. And it’s not the first time that the failure of a peace process is blamed on a particular spectacular event -like the kidnapping of a senator (Turbay) on February 20th 2002. Finding and using an ‘incident’ to dismantle a peace negotiation is not unprecedented in Colombian history. It is, rather, part of the war machine’s logic, as some historical examples show. The experience of the M-19 guerrillas is one example. The Union Patriotica’s experience is another.

The “Movimiento 19 de Abril” (April 19th Movement) took its name from that date in 1970, when a populist political party (ANAPO, the National Popular Alliance), was set to defeat Misael Pastrana (the current President’s father and the official liberal-conservative elite candidate). Pastrana stole the election, using a winning combination: manipulation of electoral results on the one hand, and tanks occupying the streets of Colombia’s major cities, the imposition of a curfew, the death and disappearance of thousands of protestors and a cover-up of these murders on the other. M-19 interpreted this the way many groups in Colombia and elsewhere in the world have interpreted brutal repression of attempts at political change: as a sign that they would not be heard without guns.

M-19 became the most popular guerrilla in Colombia’s history in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. It mobilized the urban masses, and had sympathy even in the middle and upper classes. Through spectacular actions, it made statements against the establishment. Its strategy was not prolonged guerrilla warfare, but a mass movement to force the government to negotiate with the people for a profound social, political and economic transformation of the country. Economic elites, foreign interests, corrupt government officials and the armed forces were their targets.

The Turbay government (1978-1982) followed the Pastrana (I) administration, and reacted by implementing the Colombian version of the US recipe for Latin America at the time: the “Estatuto de Seguridad” (Security Statute). This approach, taught at the US Army School of the Americas, trained military officials to implement the brutal military dictatorships in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and other Latin American countries. It used state terror, assassinations, torture, and forced disappearances to impose World Bank, IMF and US State Department policy. The protection and promotion of national elites and the imposition of massive foreign debt helped to establish the dependency of Latin American countries on US and Northern banks.

In Colombia, under the semblance of a civilian government, the Turbay regime gave all real power to General Luis Carlos Camacho Leyva, through the Estatuto de Seguridad. Thousands were murdered, disappeared, jailed, and tortured. As the government repressed, M-19 gained popularity and grew in numbers. The armed conflict extended throughout the country, threatening both the elites and the stability of the regime. Under this pressure, the 1982 Presidential elections gave a victory to the Social Conservative Belisario Betancur who was committed to a negotiated solution and responded to the demands of M-19.

Despite major opposition from the Colombian military, the US, and Colombian elites, Betancur met with M-19 leaders and launched a dialogue. The process met with massive popular support. At the time, drug mafias were establishing their financial and political power from the local to the national levels with the complicity of traditional rural and urban elites. The articulation between these mafias, the landowner elites, members of the armed forces, and recipients of covert funding and training organized in illegal armies led to the establishment of the today’s paramilitary. These mercenaries, linked to the drug trade, elite interests, and the Colombian army took on the brutal repressive role that had been the prerogative of the armed forces during the Estatuto de Seguridad.

Fidel Castaño and his brother Carlos, both members of the Medellín drug cartel, became the commanders of these forces, whose goal was (and continues to be) to maintain the status quo, repress and victimize civilians, destroy the peace process and fight against armed insurgency through a combination of “dirty war”, propaganda, legal manipulations, and political manipulations by parliament and government officials. The strategy intensified when M-19 signed a ceasefire with Betancur’s Government in 1985. The ceasefire included an entire ‘Dialogo Nacional’, where groups other than the armed ones should have had a chance to make their proposals at a national dialogue by region.

The “Dialogo Nacional” was opposed and dismantled in attacks by congress, national and regional elites, the armed forces, the media and the paramilitaries. These groups lied, paid, and terrorized the country out of the Dialogo National. In the process, they protected the country from peace, and they protected their own positions from any social change. And they, too, used an ‘incident’.

During the ceasefire, the M-19 were constantly raising cries that the army was engaging in harassment, attacks, threats, assassinations, trying to provoke an armed response from them so they could end the ceasefire and get back to the business of a war that was serving elite interests perfectly well. The M-19’s appeals were ignored– they, like the recurrent acts of terror and horror against thousands of Colombian people – such as the recent disappearance of oil workers’ unionist Gilberto Torres Martinez in Barrancabermeja by paramilitaries on February 25 2002, or the assassination of the indigenous leader Samuel Fernandez Dizu by paramilitaries on March 4 2002, just didn’t make the news.

But in mid 1985, El Tiempo (2) showed a spectacular photo supported by a story of a downed police helicopter. The note told Colombians how M-19 guerrillas shot the helicopter down in spite of the ceasefire and murdered its occupants and in cold blood – This story made the news, and spectacularly so– like the kidnappings by the FARC of Colombian politicians. The FARC’s kidnapping of the senator was real. This particular attack by M-19 was a total fabrication. No matter. The incident served its purpose. It got the government out of that pesky ceasefire, and provided a “legitimate” argument to get back to the business of war. Then -and now- the argument used to justify war was that “the President’s goodwill and patience had been abused beyond reason by the terrorists”. Later, while M-19 was preparing to lay down their arms after signing a peace agreement with President Barco, the armed forces tried to kill M-19 commander Carlos Pizarro -injuring his partner- and launched a large military offensive against the M-19 headquarters in Santo Domingo, Cauca. Instead of fighting back, M-19 became a political party. A few of its members survived the murderous campaign against them, though Carlos Pizarro was eventually murdered inside an aircraft just as he became a front-runner presidential candidate in the following elections. Antonio Navarro and other M-19 leaders were also attacked, and many killed, in a systematic campaign against them.

M-19 is only one case. The FARC had a very similar experience, as Chomsky reports in ‘The Colombia Plan’:

Hailed as a leading democracy by Clinton and other U.S. leaders and political commentators, Colombia did at last permit an independent party (UP, Patriotic Union) to challenge the elite system of power-sharing. The UP party, drawing in part from constituencies of the FARC guerrillas, faced certain difficulties, however, including the rapid assassination of about 3,000 activists, including presidential candidates, mayors, and legislators. The results taught lessons to the guerrillas about the prospects for entering the political system. Washington also drew lessons from these and other events of the same period. (1)

There was another peace process in the 1990s (Tlaxcala and Caracas), involving the FARC and the ELN, which President Cesar Gaviria unilaterally broke off in favour of a brutal counterinsurgency strategy. Gaviria promised that his particular brand of escalation would defeat the guerrillas within 6 months, and he did not even wait for an ‘incident’ to start it. Gaviria claimed he broke off negotiations with the FARC and ELN because of their indiscriminate use of terror. He did negotiate, however, with leaders of drug cartels, offering them extraordinary personal benefits and treating them better than any politically motivated insurgency movement. It is ironic, then, that in the Colombian government’s new mythology, the drug traffickers, with whom Gaviria found it in his heart to negotiate, have been ‘re-demonized’ so that they can be compared to the guerrillas.(3)

The declaration of war was one of the fundamental measures announced by the Government to create the confidence required by multinational corporate interests during a period of aggressive economic liberalization aimed at providing these investors with comparative economic advantage (and for which former President Gaviria was rewarded with the position of General Secretariat of the OAS, which he still holds).

The economic liberalization policy deepened social disparities, dismantled an already fragile social support infrastructure, increased unemployment and marginality and so helped promote social and political violence. Drug production and the drug trade, insurgency and paramilitary forces expanded as a result. The media did not remind Colombians and the world that Gaviria’s war -and economic liberalization- were spectacular failures leading to a dramatic rise of inequity, death and destruction.

For Colombian elites, the pattern is clear: negotiate when there is enough pressure. Use the negotiations to prepare for the next round of war. When you have prepared, militarily and ideologically for the next round, go back to war and renege on the promises made during negotiations.

The latest failed round of negotiations

Returning to the present, it is easy to see that this pattern has unfolded again. Colombia’s most recently failed peace process was started during the presidency of Ernesto Samper under the leadership of the Peace Commissioner Daniel Garcia-Peña after Gaviria failed to defeat the insurgency but succeeded in opening the economy and making it more investor-friendly.

Samper had a problem though. His presidential campaign had obtained funds from the Cali Drug Cartel, which turned him into a pariah for US foreign policy. He lacked credibility with the United States, with a large number of Colombians and with the insurgents. The US severed ties with his government and “decertified” the country for its lack of commitment to the “war on drugs”, restricting investment, aid and urgently needed loans. It worked. President Samper militarized the approach to the “drug problem” attempting to regain credibility and legitimacy. The “war on drugs” took precedence over the economic, social, and political issues that had led to the crisis in Colombia. In the meantime, the peace process Samper had started became incredibly popular in the country. Peace through negotiations became the priority for Colombians. There was an unprecedented swell of popular support for peace. Ten million people voted in a plebiscite against war and in favour of a negotiated solution.

The elections in the late 1990s were about peace, with all the candidates competing to present themselves as more committed to negotiations than the others. Serpa and Pastrana (II), the two front-runners, fought for the ‘peace candidate’ position. Pastrana ended up winning this award, and won the elections as well.

In 1998 he developed a peace plan and stated that drug production had to be addressed by means of a “Marshall Plan for Colombia.” He met with Bill Clinton to push a wider agenda for the relations between the US and Colombia that would encompass not only drugs but paramilitarism, institutional relations, and the social implications of any drug policies. Crop substitution was clearly the way to go, the peace candidate turned President argued. The US liked Pastrana’s government. The Samper narco-era was over and Colombia was, once again, the strongest US ally in the “war on drugs”.

In the mid-December 1998, high officials of the US government met with FARC representatives in Costa Rica, where they discussed both the kidnapping of US citizens for ransom and the drug problem. They came to an agreement. FARC would commit its efforts towards coca crop substitution in Putumayo, Caquetá and Guaviare where 80% of the National production existed.

In summary, both Pastrana and FARC, representing two factions at war, stated their commitment to engage in a peace process for a negotiated solution, one that would address social injustice, the underlying causes of political violence and of the production of crops for illegal use emphasizing a crop substitution approach. The new approach was summed up very nicely by Pastrana himself in 1998 when he said: “Colombia is involved in two very distinct wars: the war of drug trade against the country and the world, and the confrontation of the guerrilla against an economic, political and social model which they consider unjust, corrupt and which promotes privilege”.

Does that sound like a different tune than the one Pastrana sang in late February of 2002? “Today, the guerrillas have been unmasked and have shown their true face, the face of senseless violence”. That’s because it is a different tune. Between the two statements, Pastrana would have found that his original approach faced overwhelming obstacles, having to do with the war machinery discussed above. First, there was the opening of the economy and the structural adjustment that it entailed. Economic elites would not allow economic reform on to the agenda, meaning that the negotiations wouldn’t deal with the burning social problems and the root causes of insurgency (4). Second, there was the US and Colombian elite and army’s emphasis on repression, criminalization and dismantling of social movements, the “war on drugs” and the counter-insurgency war -including the expanding paramilitary-lead “dirty war” against civilians (5). As the IMF imposed structural adjustment and privatization programs advanced increasing unemployment and poverty, social protest was repressed and criminalized. Popular and labour leaders, peasants, indigenous people and afro-Colombians were systematically targeted for extermination by the establishment and paramilitary, who justified these actions as ‘counter-terror’ against the insurgency. Whether these sectors had any connections with the insurgency was irrelevant. What was relevant was their opposition to the elite agenda. In any case neither the economic agenda nor the organizations of violence were going to allow the government to make the concessions that were necessary for peace. The negotiations were, therefore, empty.

President Pastrana and the guerrilla commanders had agreed to negotiate without reaching a cease-fire. War actions from both sides escalated as peace talks failed to advance into productive negotiations. Both sides were involved in an arms race as well as in a propaganda battle to prove the lack of commitment to peace of the enemy (here the establishment had the advantage). Both sides committed acts of horror against unarmed civilians (and here, too, the establishment outdid the FARC).

The crop substitution approach to drug production was soon to be replaced by a military-air spraying approach. In August of 1999, Thomas Pickering, the third most powerful person at the State Department, paid a visit to Colombia and expressed his government’s concern about the demilitarized zone provided to FARC during the negotiation processes. In his view, President Pastrana was too “soft” in dealing with FARC, which could lead to a loss of US support to his government. Pickering announced, however, that the US was willing to provide “new aid” to Colombia if the country would “design a comprehensive Plan for a war on drugs”. And there the US planted the seed for Plan Colombia (6). The Unites States had decided that it didn’t like these negotiations. So even as the peace candidates were competing for the best peace plan, the US was preparing its plan for war.

As Pastrana and the FARC negotiated and set up the demilitarized zone (which is now just as militarized as every other place in the country), the US was working to undermine the peace process. And the whole time, Plan Colombia was sending helicopters, training, and supplies to the Colombian military and its paramilitary auxiliaries. It took a few years for the gains from Plan Colombia to be fully realized, and for Colombia to reach its current status as the Number 1 recipient of military aid (Israel and Egypt, it should be pointed out, receive more, but are in a whole different category). In fact, it took until about the beginning of 2002. It’s not coincidental that the peace talks ended and hostilities re-started at the same time. And while the Colombian and US governments prepared their military machine for the end of the ceasefire, they were also priming their propaganda machines to prepare the ground for a renewal of war.

Poll after poll in the daily newspapers told Colombians that they actually wanted war. The daily newspapers insisted on the label ‘narco-guerrillas’, even when the paramilitaries had confessed publicly to be the bigger ‘narcos’ by far. In September of 2000 an ‘incident’ was found when a guerrilla commander hijacked a plane and escaped from the armed forces. At that point, parts of the media and the economic elites put pressure on the government to break off the peace talks. The FARC argued that if a commander of the armed forces escaped from the guerrillas, he would be hailed as a hero throughout the country. They argued that there should be a special commission at the dialogue table to deal with crises, so that no crisis could derail the dialogue. That was set up– and then, in 2002, when it was time to declare war, the crisis commission was ignored. There were attempts to turn every ‘crisis’ initiated by the FARC into an end of the peace process (and to minimize the massacres, threats, and harassment done by the paramilitary AUC, which the FARC doesn’t even approach in brutality and criminality).

In short, the war machine acted exactly as it has in the past, to sabotage the prospects for a real peace from the beginning.

The FARC and peace negotiations

But in addition to the war machinery, the consequences of FARC’s permanent, expanding, and expensive insurgency war effort have become another obstacle to peace. The logic of war, the internal power and command structure, the practical needs growing an army, the historical experience of a movement that has disarmed and seen others disarm only to be decimated, has made the FARC a war machine in its own right, one that is abusive towards the people it claims to be fighting for and totally distrustful of a negotiated solution.

We have shown that the establishment is more than capable of manufacturing ‘incidents’ in order to destroy peace negotiations. The FARC, however, has provided plenty of real atrocities for the warmongers to work with. They murdered three North American indigenous activists in 1999, allies of the U’wa who were resisting multinational oil corporation’s incursions on their land. They have kidnapped of civilians, destroyed infrastructure to extort money from corporations, and murdered of independent afro-Colombian, peasant and indigenous activists. These actions are definitely part of a systematic pattern. There are three hypotheses that could explain this pattern.

The first hypothesis is that the FARC is waging a popular revolutionary struggle. The roots of the FARC are in such struggle. They arose out of the earlier Liberal guerrilla movements of peasant self-defence. The areas of FARC strength have been, and still are, areas where the state is absent. In these areas, the FARC has functioned as a state, protecting peasants from the depredations of landlords and mercenaries, collecting taxes, dispensing justice, and coexisting with peasants. The Liberal guerrillas from which the FARC grew eventually disarmed. The FARC, conscious of the class struggle, did not trust the authorities enough to do so. The authorities proved them right, time and time again, by systematically murdering the guerrilla members that disarmed and the social leaders who attempted to participate politically. Instead of disarming in the 1960s, FARC formed a communal enclave in Marquetalia. They were bombed out of that enclave in 1964. They attempted political struggle again, working for years as an armed branch of the Colombian Communist Party, and later in the 1980s, when they formed the Union Patriotica, whose fate was discussed above.

The counter-evidence to the hypothesis that the FARC is waging a popular revolutionary struggle is its murders of indigenous and afro-Colombian activists. The murders of the North American indigenous activists in 1999 are one example; the more recent murders of afro-Colombian activists in 2002 are another. These were not paramilitary or military collaborators, but people who were fighting against oppression and militarism.

This leads to the second possibility: that the revolutionary struggle has been subordinated to the logic and needs of war. The tactics that are successful in winning control of territory and people (the needs of war) and the tactics that are successful in winning political support and solidarity are different. Is there any revolutionary value, for example, in occupying a territory, waiting for the enemy to attack, and then leaving the people of the area to suffer the reprisals (a common tactic used by every party in this war)? There is certainly a military value– the reprisals that prove to the population that they have to join the war, on one side or the other. What about the murder of independent activists? This, too, has a war logic. It’s true, the FARC could argue that history has shown that political struggle doesn’t work. The natural reaction then would be for the FARC to reluctantly watch while the naive Afro-Colombians and indigenous get killed for failing to join the guerrilla war. But why should the FARC kill these groups themselves? It could be because the FARC isn’t afraid that the indigenous and afro-colombians will fail, but that they will succeed. In a context where the guerrillas need to recruit more people, gather more funds and arms, and control territory, anyone trying to organize outside of the insurgency for what are ostensibly the same goals as the insurgency is the competition. If the situation isn’t truly polarized, if it isn’t truly only the state on one side and the people’s insurgency on the other, then that insurgency has a more difficult time justifying their actions–from kidnapping civilians to failing to protect the people from reprisals to murdering ideological rivals.

A third hypothesis is that the FARC is struggling primarily for state power, with the revolution to follow that. In the leninist model of social change, the vanguard seizes the state and then makes the changes the people need. Attempts to make change outside of the vanguard or directly, without seizing the state first, are, again, competition. An armed struggle for state power is never a pretty thing, and can make it all too easy for military commanders to compromise their principles. But the FARC, at least, has principles to compromise. The paramilitary AUC, which is understood to take its orders from the state, which is understood to take its orders from North America, doesn’t have principles. The AUC has been trying to present itself as a legitimate political actor with a political position, rather than a group of murderous thugs and war criminals. It has done this so that it can take a seat at any future negotiations, and from there ensure that its members do not get punished for the faithful service they have done to elites, that any future peace deal does not end up including fundamental social change, and to prevent the impunity that has served them so well from ending.

Peace by Region: the peace process Colombia needs

From the current situation, there are two possibilities for Colombia. One is military victory for one or the other side. The success of the coordinated assault of paramilitaries, military, and US intervention in destroying not only the insurgency but also the social organizations, the indigenous and afro-Colombian populations, the unions, the political opposition and culminating in some sort of long, nightmarish dictatorship. That is a possibility if the state-paramilitary nexus wins. If the insurgency were to win state power on the battlefield, they might make some economic reforms and try to avoid being annihilated by the US.

The second possibility is a negotiated solution. Negotiations have just failed, yes. This means they can either be tried again, or we can wait for one of the military solutions. If they’re tried again, there are a few things that could be done differently.

One thing that should not be done differently is that the paramilitary cannot be included at the table. They have every intention of trying to turn themselves into a political force, and they shouldn’t be allowed to. Their reason for being is to commit the massacres and assassinations that governments want to deny is their work. They do not have an independent political position, and they do have a horrific record of war crimes for which they must be made to answer. The impunity and lack of institutional legitimacy that feeds and is fed by the paramilitaries must be overcome. Dismantling paramilitarism is something that the state has the power to do. Doing so would raise many uncomfortable questions and expose many people in positions of power. But, again, the alternative is more war.

The reconstruction of institutional legitimacy is not just a matter of a judicial process to punish murderers. It is also a matter of protecting and rehabilitating the guerrillas so that they are not systematically murdered when they disarm, the way so many guerrillas have been in the past. And it is a matter of bringing to the negotiating table the unarmed social movements who have been fighting for peace and social justice through the years. This point cannot be emphasized enough: the Colombian reality is not one of two armed actors (a US-military-paramilitary alliance against an armed insurgency) with a confused, harried population trapped in between them. That population has its own ideas about peace and about social transformation in the country. The solution for Colombia is for the armed actors to stop shooting and then step aside and let the people do the work of rebuilding the country. They know how. They have proven that over decades of work in spite of being repressed, displaced, and murdered. Imagine what they could do without those constraints.

The National Indigenous Organization, ONIC, has suggested a peace process by territorial autonomy ( The war is about controlling territory, resource-rich or strategically located territory. What follows massacres is displacement, and what follows displacement is often a change in the ownership of land, from the community that was on the land to some new owner. One or two ownership switches later, and the land is in the hands of a major capitalist, ready to develop some megaproject. To win even a real ceasefire in Colombia it will be necessary to find a way to interrupt this logic. The pressure and the interests are where the money is being made, and the money is being made in North America (and in Europe).

General Speer of the US Southern Command’s own words suggest that beyond even the territorial interests of international capital, the US wants to increase its military presence throughout the region, to ‘discipline’ Venezuela, and to recolonize Latin America. Speer’s frankness (7) makes things easier for North American activists to know what they need to be working against: the economic and military interests that are feeding the conflict from outside. If North American movements were strong enough to prevent those interests from feeding the conflict, Colombians could create a workable peace through a ceasefire. The peace would feature social transformations that brought the people forward. Guarantees of labour rights and human rights would allow working people, women, youth, to advance their agendas for social transformation. Decentralization would allow the indigenous, afro-Colombians, and peasants to develop their own structures of self-government. The relationship they built to each other, and to the central government, and to the wider world, would be on their terms.

This doesn’t mean development would have to stop, nor does it mean that there is no role for outsiders. It means that the autonomy of the people would be respected in any decisions on development, land or resources, and that the people who make decisions about those things are the people who are affected by the decisions. The FARC could then take its place as the army of the people, perhaps merging with the Colombian army that could also take that place. The criminals from the ranks of both armies would have to be punished, as would the creators, financers, and leaders of the fundamentally criminal paramilitary AUC. The task for those interested in peace and justice is to build a political force strong enough that it can get the armed actors, starting with the biggest and most bloodthirsty (the US-Colombia-paramilitary nexus) to step aside and let the Colombian people solve the problems that they did not create.


(1) Hector Mondragon has an excellent piece on Plan Colombia, called ‘Gasoline on the Fire’: Noam Chomsky talks about US motives, in his ‘Plan Colombia’:

(2) El Tiempo is Colombia’s largest National paper, owned by one of Colombia’s wealthiest families. One of the members of this family is now running for Vice-President under Uribe Velez, called ‘Colombia’s Narco-Candidate’ by Al Giordano in the Narco News for his links to narcotrafficking and paramilitarism. Uribe Velez, in addition to having links to paramilitaries and drug trafficking, promotes a ‘hardline’ stance against the insurgency and wants to escalate the war. For more about Uribe, see:

(3) Fanny Kertzmann’s March 22, 2002 article in the Globe and Mail says: . ‘And this is not the first time that the drug trade has financed terror in Colombia. We suffered horrible attacks masterminded by the late cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar as he tried to avoid extradition to the United States. He targeted civilians, government officials and members of the National Police in a terror strategy that shattered the foundations of our democratic system.’ The CCSC actually responded to this at (

(4) For an excellent and well-documented review see: Avilés, W. Institutions, Military Policy and Human Rights in Colombia. Latin American Perspectives, Issue 116, Vol 28 No 1, January 2001 31-55. The following fragment is taken from pp 37 of this paper:

“The interests of the economic elites are directly connected to the state of political order and stability in the country. The ability to accumulate capital in land without the threat of kidnapping, the image of the nation in terms of foreign investment, and policy pressures from the United States (whose market is vital to Colombian exports) present important incentives for the involvement of economic actors in ostensibly military policies.

Richani(1997) finds that the heads of the major groups representing the rural bourgeoisies (ranching, bananas, coffee) share opinions opposed to negotiated solutions that might result in substantial agrarian reform. There is a consensus among representatives of industry, finance and banking that any agreement that could impact upon neoliberal economic model should be avoided. Thus, as Richani (1997: 64-65) concludes, “the position of the dominant economic groups therefore coincides with that of the military, the drug traffickers, and the hawks within the Liberal party and Conservative party,” key members of the ruling coalition.
The economic elite is not a homogeneous bloc. Economic conglomerates and capital that priorizes foreign investment, such as the petroleum industry or banking, have been the biggest promoters of a negotiated solution (Tate, 1999: García Durán, 1992). However, a recent poll of Colombian business leaders found 84 percent in support of peace efforts but only 24 percent willing to make any economic sacrifice in the process. Finally, 65 percent said that if the talks failed they would support authoritarian tactics to end the threats from insurgents (Tate, 1999).”

5) “Finally, the chiefs of security for 65 of the biggest multinational corporations in Colombia are retired military officers who maintain daily contact with the Colombian military (Colombia Labour Monitor, August 21, 1998; Colombia Bulletin, 1999: 11-13; Medina Gallego, 1990; Dudley and Murillo, 1998: 42-44). In short, international actors such as the United States and transnational interests have helped strengthen the repressive actors within civil society and the state. Ibid, pp 40.

6) LeoGrande, W. Sharpe, K. “Two Wars or One? Drugs, Guerrillas and Colombia’s New Violencia”, New World Policy Journal, Fall 2000, pp 1-11. Reprint

(7) “An area rich in natural resources, 35 percent of us oil comes from Latin America and the Caribbean, more than all me countries combined. Latin America is critical to the global environment as the amazon basin produces 20 % of the world’s freshwater runoff and 25% of the world’s oxygen. Also, 25 percent of US pharmaceuticals are derived from sources in this same area.” Report to the US Senate of the US Armed Forces Southern Command.

Justin Podur

Author: Justin Podur

Author of Siegebreakers. Ecology. Environmental Science. Political Science. Anti-imperialism. Political fiction. Teach at York U's FES. Author. Writer at ZNet, TeleSUR, AlterNet, Ricochet, and the Independent Media Institute.