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Issue #1760      December 7, 2016

Colombia

To stop the killings

December 1 marked officially the first day of Colombia’s future without civil war, following parliamentary approval of a new Final Peace Agreement between the FARC liberation movement (Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia) and the government.

FARC commander Timoleon “Timochenko” Jimenez.

The previous agreement was marginally rejected in an October referendum after a campaign by former president Alvaro Uribe and his supporters in the right-wing media. Rural areas that bore the brunt of 52 years of warfare voted heavily for peace in the referendum.

FARC demanded from the outset that President Juan Manuel Santos’s government and both houses of Congress should measure up to their own responsibility to ratify the peace agreement rather than shunting the onus onto the electorate.

Having seen just 38 percent of voters cast a ballot in the referendum, the president stepped up to the mark second time around. No votes against were registered in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, after Uribe, whose family is deeply implicated in the activities of far-right death squads over decades, boycotted the sittings.

Negotiators agreed on around 50 amendments to the original peace deal, including the transfer of FARC assets to compensate victims of its military campaign and rejection of overseas legal authority to investigate alleged crimes committed by either side in the conflict.

Two demands by the anti-peace camp – that FARC leaders should face jail for war crimes and that there be limitations on their right to full political participation – were rejected.

Both these points represent a rearguard action to criminalise the FARC struggle as an illegitimate recourse to violence to overthrow democracy or as drug-traffickers’ muscle.

In reality, whereas FARC was set up by the Colombian Communist Party, it was based on self-defence units that sprang up to counter repression by large landowners against poor peasants (campesinos) and agricultural wage labourers.

FARC was the response to an already existing climate of unrestrained violence deployed by those too powerful to fear the law. Campesinos were regularly driven from their smallholdings by paramilitary groups, which met resistance with massacres and other atrocities.

FARC was all that stood between dispossession or annihilation for the rural population. Despite frequent allegations, FARC was never involved in producing, transporting or trafficking cocaine. Its relation to the trade was to “tax” producers operating in areas where it was active.

It has maintained that the only way to end the cocaine trade – apart from reducing demand for the drug in North America and Europe – is to ensure a living for small farmers producing alternative crops. The predicament faced by, for instance, Colombia’s coffee farmers, does not augur well for such a scenario, but the peace agreement does at least provide for political initiatives.

If the peace process, which will be monitored by the UN, takes its course, FARC units will move to 20 rural concentration areas, disarm according to an incremental formula and set up a political vehicle to represent those whose interests they have defended militarily.

A note of caution must also be sounded.

A previous peace deal in 1985, following which FARC halted military operations and established Patriotic Union (UP) to contest elections, was drowned in blood as thousands of UP members were killed by government-sanctioned death squads.

Over 70 supporters of land reform and human rights have been murdered already this year, which demands firmer action to end this scourge.

As FARC commander Timoleon “Timochenko” Jimenez puts it, “The first national demand is to end the use of weapons in politics” and to stop the killings of “trade unionists, civil leaders, community activists.”

Morning Star

Next article – International Palestinian Solidarity Day

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