The most recent victim in Colombia’s conflict, in spite of ongoing conversations between the government and the FARC-EP guerrillas that began last year, seems to be common sense itself. With the government declining to enter a two-part truce at the conclusion of the insurgency’s unilaterally assumed ceasefire on January 20, the war naturally resumed its course. Yet now acts of war on the part of the insurgency — recent attacks on the police, the taking of war prisoners, and the destruction of infrastructure — are declared “attempts against the peace process” or “provocations.” These are terms which the FARC never applied to the Colombian Air Force’s bombing of its camps and assassination of its combatants during its Christmas ceasefire.
In fact, the government’s puzzling outcry about a situation that is essentially of its own making (“dialogue in the middle of the war” is the very formula advanced by President Juan Manuel Santos) only makes sense in two possible circumstances: either (1) the insurgency is not a belligerent political force, but rather a group of lawless bandits with no right to engage in war; or (2) the peace process is simply a logistical matter of organizing the guerrillas’ surrender. Yet both of these possibilities are belied by the government’s own decision to sit down at the negotiating table with the insurgency, as it is now doing in La Habana.
Of course the real issue is that a sizable dose of “mediatic irrationality” and what Latin Americans call “politiquería” interferes with the minimal political intelligence that the government manages. The government’s situation is a complicated and contradictory one; it confects a solution of the same order. That is to say, pressured by mass movements and business sectors that would benefit from peace, yet also answerable to the semi-fascist position of Uribism (position the Colombian establishment has long fueled through mediatic intoxication), the essentially bonapartist regime of Santos employs a “knuckleball” policy of contradictory impulses and spins.
In contrast, the FARC has shown much steadfastness and political maturity: a conception of politics that includes respect for collective processes and democratic decision-making (to say nothing of its Clausewitzian conduct of the war which works in consonance with rather than against long-term political objectives). Hence it has dutifully updated its historical program based on inputs from the United Nations-sponsored Agricultural Development Forum held in Bogotá last December, which was one of the few concrete results of the dialogues last year.
The result is a rich series of new documents from the FARC including the Agrarian Decalog1 and Eight minimal proposals2. The latter document’s focus on “territorial reordering” is something like a cross between a traditional land reform directed against nonproductive estates and a strong environmentalist project based on producing for real human needs and rationally managing natural resources. This repeats a surprising dynamic that is now seen worldwide: only the so-called extreme left — Fidel Castro, the Basque Izquierda Abertzale, the Sem Terra movement in Brazil, and the FARC-EP — is able to operate with a coherent vision of planetary survival and sustainability.
Lenin once said that anyone not willing to fight barbarism with barbaric means deserved what was coming to him. In Colombia, faced with one of history’s most ruthless oligarchies and a longstanding state terrorism financed and armed in a great measure by the United States, one could easily understand an insurgent force assuming the same attitude. Yet the FARC has chosen another route: a route based on dialogue, along with petitions for ceasefire and regularization of the conflict. Upcoming months will tell us whether this route — together with popular mobilization and international pressure — can succeed in cutting barbarism’s wings in a country where it has ruled for many decades.
2 La Delegación de las FARC-EP, “Ocho propuestas mínimas,” February 6, 2013, <pazfarc-ep.blogspot.com/2013/02/ocho-propuetas-minimas-reordemaniento-uso-territorial-paz.html>.
Chris Gilbert is professor of Political Science in the Universidad Bolivariana de Venezuela.