In Colombia, a spate of killings has been going on amid the Covid-19 pandemic. On 13 August, 2020, Colombian armed forces killed two Indigenous people and injured two community members during an eviction operation in El Berraco village in the Cauca department. Journalists Abelardo Liz and Johel Rivera, part of the “Liberation of Mother Earth” movement, were two of the people murdered. On 11 August, 2020, the Afro-Colombian social leader Patrocinio Bonilla was assassinated by paramilitaries in the community of Santa Rita, in the municipality of Alto Baudo, Chocó. On 18 August, 2020, Jaime Monge, a 62-year old environmental leader, was assassinated in the village of Villacarmelo, rural area of Cali. Jaime Monge was recognized in the area for leading the Pachamama Foundation, dedicated to environmental issues in Villacarmelo. He was also a member of a peasant organization in the region. Another social leader named Fabio Andrés Gómez Grande-who carried out agro-ecological work with different communities and was the president of the Community Action Board of the village of La Cristalina-was murdered on 19 August, 2020, in the municipality of Argelia, department of Cauca. Besides these killings, two school-goers, five Afro-Colombian minors, eight people, aged between 19 and 26, and three Awa indigenous youths have been murdered.
The present-day killings belong to a larger framework of post-peace repressive aggression wherein social leaders are being systematically targeted. The Institute of Studies for Development and Peace estimates that 185 social leaders and human rights defenders have been assassinated in 2020 and 36 ex-FARC-EP – EP (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army) combatants have been assassinated in 2020. From the signing of the Peace Agreement (November 24, 2016) to July 15, 2020, 71 Afro-Colombians have been killed, highlighting the social matrix in which the recent killings have taken place. Under Ivan Duque Marquez, the current president of Colombia, the killing of social leaders and ex-FARC-EP guerrillas has accelerated. Since Ivan Duque’s election to power in 2018, 573 social leaders and 85 ex-FARC-EP guerrillas have been killed. This carnage in Colombia vehemently belies the existence of the 2016 peace treaty which promised to bring an end to violence in the country.
Strategically orchestrated murders in Colombia have neatly coincided with the consolidation of capital accumulation. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Colombia increased in 2019 to $14.5 billion, compared to $11.5 billion in 2018 (+25.6%). 32% of the investment went to the oil and mining industries with flows to the oil industry increasing by 11% to $2.8 billion and FDI in the mining industry increasing by 29% to USD 1.8 billion. Suitable investment climate for foreign investments has been provided by Ivan Duque Marquez who has univocally proclaimed his support for neoliberal brutality. In his 2018 presidential campaign, Ivan Duque Marquez had declared that, unlike his political opponent Gustavo Petro, an ex-M-19 guerrillas member, he did not “preach class hatred but brotherhood between workers and employers”. His program sought to “generate…a vigorous harmony between the agroindustry and the small producer”. According to Duque, this harmony was endangered by the left-wing “Castro-Chavista” threat that emphasized class struggle and proposed socialist-redistributive reforms which implied “unnatural” measures such as expropriations. Duque explicitly rejected the idea of socialist reforms for the oppressed masses and said: “the agenda that the Colombian countryside needs is not inciting hatred, is not pointing to expropriations talking about seizing land from someone or other. We are going to seek an equitable land policy in Colombia starting always from the respect for the private property and ownership in good faith.”
Duque’s proposal of establishing harmony between two permanently antagonistic classes and respecting private property has turned out to be a thinly veiled proclamation of a low-intensity war against the oppressed masses. In order to advance the economic interests of the transnational capitalist class and mining magnates, Colombia’s government has engaged in a ruthless battle against social leaders and organic intellectuals who raise the class consciousness of the masses and help in actualizing revolutionary praxis. Rejection of redistributive reforms and expropriations has meant the continuation of a highly unequal rural economy where “82 percent of the country’s productive land is in the hands of only 10 percent of the total owners, while 68 percent of the farms have less than 5 hectares, and only 50 percent of the land is formalized”. In a nutshell, Duque’s government has instituted a full-blown, neoliberal regime of violence in response to a perceived “Castro-Chavista” threat.
As a result of the disintegration of peace by blood-tainted capital accumulation, FARC-EP, in 2019, issued a statement saying, “We were forced to go back to the mountains. We were never beaten or defeated ideologically. This is why our struggle continues. It will be recorded in history that we were forced to take up arms again”. This re-mobilization is propelled by various factors and according to the organization, the betrayal of the peace promise has shattered any hopes for a just transition away from neoliberalism:
Since the signing of the Peace Agreement in Havana, and the naive disarmament of the guerrillas in exchange for nothing, the killing has not stopped. In two years, more than 500 leaders of the social movement have been assassinated, and there are already 150 guerrillas killed amid the indifference and indolence of a state. When we signed the Havana Agreement, we did so with the conviction that it was possible to change the lives of the humble and the dispossessed. But the State has not fulfilled even the most important of its obligations, which is to guarantee the lives of its citizens, and particularly to avoid murder for political reasons.
True to FARC-EP’s statements, the Peace Accord has reneged on the majority of its promises and the example of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) clarifies the patent injustice being done with the organization. The Peace Accord had created the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) to deal with the crimes committed by FARC-EP, Colombian armed forces and paramilitaries. The court was supposed to deal equitably with all security actors and had to refrain from solely targeting the FARC-EP. This promise of judicial equity has been torn apart by the current government of Ivan Duque Marquez which has steamrollered an amendment to the JEP disallowing it from investigating the crimes committed by the Colombian armed forces for 18 months and establishing a special commission to do so. Moreover, JEP is no longer capable of considering evidence related to petitions for extradition, primarily involving requests by USA to extradite top FARC-EP members falsely implicated in drug trafficking. This allows the USA to exercise overarching influence on Colombian judicial power.
The Political Philosophy of FARC-EP
Apart from the procedural inadequacies of the peace process, the dialectical interaction of FARC-EP’s political philosophy with deep-seated social factors is likely to facilitate the guerrillas’ continued existence as a politico-military force in the near future. Through this political philosophy, FARC-EP has successfully engaged with oppressive economic conditions and accentuated them with the help of combative class organization and revolutionary mobilization.
In “Guerrilla Warfare: A Method”, Che Guevara criticized “those who want to undertake guerrilla warfare…forgetting mass struggle, implying that guerrilla warfare and mass struggle are opposed to each other. We reject this implication, for guerrilla warfare is a people’s war; to attempt to carry out this type of war without the population’s support is the prelude to inevitable disaster. The guerrilla is the combat vanguard of the people…supported by the peasant and worker masses of the region and of the whole territory in which it acts. Without these prerequisites, guerrilla warfare is not possible.” For guerrillas operating in rural regions, peasants, therefore, act as the “heart of the guerrilla struggle”, providing armed fighters with the experiential knowledge of the territory and key information regarding the mode of existence in rural areas.
FARC-EP has followed a Guevarist strategy of socially embedded guerrilla warfare wherein it has listened to the practical necessities of rural people and worked with them to help in the revolutionary culmination of class contradictions. Firstly, the guerrillas foregrounded the highly unequal rural political economy in which the majority of the rural people are agricultural laborers or precarious owners of extremely small plots facing the threat of displacement by rich agro-export farmers. Displacement in Colombia is a large-scale phenomenon and it is estimated that the displaced farmers were forced to abandon approximately 10 million hectares of land.
In addition to small-scale subsistence farmers, cocaleros (coca farmers) represent another section of oppressed people who are constantly exploited by drug-traffickers and assaulted by paramilitaries financed by narco-dollars. Many a times, small-scale farmers are coerced into cultivating coca by the nexus of drug traffickers-paramilitaries and testimonies from Puerto Lleras, Department of Meta, indicate that when the paramilitaries arrived in the region they declared that those who wished to remain living must cultivate coca.
By combating paramilitary violence and instituting social welfare projects, FARC-EP was able gain a foothold in the rural regions of Colombia. In Putumayo, for instance, FARC-EP’s daily activities “made them social actors who could intervene in the civic strikes, help the campesinos, and magnify the impact of the marches by organising the campesinos to stay mobilised for months at a time. By lending this logistical support to the cocalero movement, FARC-EP helped strengthen the movement leaders’ negotiating position vis-a-vis the state, and its own position vis-a-vis the campesinos as a defender of their rights.” On the top of providing logistical support, FARC-EP guerrillas also helped in combating parainstitutional violence and existentially stabilizing the lives of cocaleros. According to a farmer living in the coco-producing region of Puerto Asis, “The FARC-EP are no drug traffickers. What they do is some control. They control the trade in base [coca] paste in the region, and that’s for a reason. If they didn’t do that control, the paramilitaries would come into our territory to buy the paste and the peasants would face a bigger threat, there would be even more dead people. The paramilitaries don’t care if they have to kill to steal the product.” From this statement, we can observe that the FARC-EP utilizes its cohesive “mobile warfare” strategy and Marxist-Leninist ideological unity to resist the onslaught of paramilitaries-narco-bourgeoisie and guarantee a minimal level of existential security to coca growers.
Contrary to narratives peddling that FARC-EP’s leadership became depoliticized and rich due to the coca trade, there is no evidence about the organization’s fighters having become rich during the war. In the aftermath of the signing of the peace accord, the bank accounts of FARC individuals were subject to careful scrutiny and no proof was found indicating that the organization’s top brass used it for self-enrichment. Instead of investing the money received from the coca trade in the enrichment of certain individuals, FARC-EP utilized it to fund social infrastructures. Manuel, the commander of the 48th Front in Putumayo, recognized that out of the tax they charged on coca paste base production, 50% was invested in infrastructure work, something also done in other areas with illicit crops. Besides regulating the coca trade, FARC-EP guerrillas also encouraged cocaleros to plant food crops and attain a certain level of food security. In Pinuna Blanco, for example, a farmer said: “the decision to plant food [crops] was an orientation given by the social organizations and a plan that the 48th Front [of FARC-EP] promoted [they said] there shouldn’t be total dependence on coca because a crisis could come. Now on coca farms there is also yucca and plantain; it wasn’t like that before.”
FARC-EP’s activities are not restricted to coca growers and include the installment of social welfare projects among small-scale, subsistence farmers. This is part of the overall strategic directionality of FARC-EP which emphasizes the construction of a substitute state through the bottom-up building of insurgent institutions. Instead of seizing state central apparatuses and major institutions, FARC-EP guerrillas deconstructed state power at the regional levels, moved upward through molecular changes and filled the hegemonic-institutional void left by the state. Therefore, in regions where the FARC-EP maintained stable control, and where the national government never had a presence, the rebels functioned as a de-facto government, implanting redistributive projects. In southern Meta, Caquetá and Putumayo, for instance, FARC-EP broke up almost a dozen ranches and redistributed the smaller parcels of land to subsistence farmers.
FARC-EP’s social welfare activities include education, health and various types of other support. Since their 8th Conference in 1993, the FARC-EP organization has developed
an internal health policy so as to avoid having to take their wounded and sick to health centres, where they were vulnerable. Among other things, this policy included the need for the Blocs and Fronts to develop their own health facilities and resources. Although most of the guerrillas who practiced surgeries or treated the sick had experiential knowledge only, there were also a handful of individuals with actual training as professional doctors and surgeons, who were a most valuable asset for the organisation. Not only they could perform complex procedures, but also they could train other guerrillas.
Hermes Aguilar, a commander of FARC-EP, frames the health care activities of the guerrillas as a “principle of solidarity” which requires the ideological rooting of the combatants in the everyday lives of rural people:
I think one of the principles of the organization is solidarity. Solidarity because we are dealing with the unprotected population of the country. As I know myself, all the history of the guerrilla’s life has been one of work with communities where one of the topics we support the most is healthcare. Support the community with healthcare. There are a lot of places where the state does not go and the guerrilla has to go. For viruses, illnesses, small surgeries, family planning, and in serious cases to help them be transported to the hospital.
FARC-EP places enormous importance on education and the flag of the organization itself contains two crossed rifles and an open book on top of a map of Colombia – designating the intermixing of praxological pedagogy with revolutionary struggle. The guerrilla organization has built myriad cultural centers where both civilians and FARC-EP members work as instructors. James Jeremiah Brittain, in his book “Revolutionary Social Change in Colombia: The Origin and Direction of the FARC-EP-EP”, describesthese cultural centers as the following:
Within these public spaces, courses were offered in a wide variety of subjects, and varied in level of difficulty. While the buildings were primitive in structure, the educational material provided was not, ranging from basic math skills to complex social and political debates. During the sessions, students were occasionally subdivided into groups based on their education levels. Some groups worked on the alphabet and letter recognition, number identification, and elementary writing skills. More developed groups had classes in advanced politics, economics, and history.
The armed organization has also carried out educational and skill-raising works outside these cultural centers and Camila Cienfuegos, a FARC-EP guerrilla fighter, explains how the organization works with different communities as creative co-participators and helps them enhance their own agency:
I had the opportunity to work in an area for 4 years and it was an enriching experience. I started working with children, approaching them to teach them how to create things with paper, making cards… How to make crops in the school’s garden, in the houses’ backyards. How to make subsistence crops, how to make it with better techniques. Then with the things they have within their reach, to make organic compost…we also made hand crafts with coffee seeds, and chocho…seeds. Their parents made a micro company and they used to sell those products in close-by villages.
The Re-emergence of FARC-EP
As Ivan Duque Marquez’s administration intensifies the onslaught of neoliberalism, the agrarian conflict is slated to aggravate and consequently, FARC-EP is poised to re-emerge. By establishing “a vigorous harmony between the agroindustry and the small producer”, Duque’s government has implicitly aimed at the destruction of small-scale cultivation of food crops for the entrenchment of an agro-export rural economy. The conversion of Colombia into an export oriented agro-industrial powerhouse is undermining domestic food production capabilities, causing a “hunger pandemic” and allowing agri-business elites to exploit small farmers. Resistance to this unsustainable economic policy is being led by subsistence farmers and many organizations have called for the annulment of Trade Ministry’s Decree 523 which removed the import tariffs for at least three month. According to farmers’ spokeswoman Velma Echavarria, the decree “finishes off domestic food production and deepens the food crisis of rural communities.”
In a situation of widespread hunger, oppressed rural communities will welcome FARC-EP which has the capability to organize resistance, confront violence against social activists and foreground the demands of the peasant. Another factor which will help in the re-emergence of the guerrilla organization among the rural masses is the stable ideological identity espoused by it. During the peace process, it had emphatically showed its support for the demands of the peasants by enunciating the following main points of an integrated rural program:
- Making the right to food sovereignty and nutrition as a fundamental human right.
- Creating Production Zones for Peasant Food which will be economically insulated from mining activities.
- Creating a hunger eradication program which will require a percentage of GDP to be spent on food subsidies.
- Creating a Land Fund responsible for redistributing lands to landless farmers by expropriating latifundia (large land holdings) and lands owned by drug-traffickers.
- Helping small and medium-scale farmers by developing transport infrastructures and reducing the role of exploitative intermediaries.
- Improving domestic food production by encouraging peasant agriculture and putting a halt to the growing dominance of agri-business interests.
- Respecting and recognizing the cultural identities of indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities.
- Establishing peasant organizations such as a National Council of Food and Nutrition.
- Protecting native seeds and promoting their proper development.
Now, when the agrarian crisis exacerbates, peasants will further identify with the revolutionary demands of FARC-EP.
The suffering of coca growers, too, has increased under the Duque’s government, potentially providing FARC-EP guerrillas with another pocket of support. Duque has frantically pursued a policy of forced eradication with 13,000 hectares of coca fields being eradicated in the month of June, more than any month since 2016, when the government and the FARC guerrillas signed a peace accord. Forced eradication is directly correlated with a loss of state hegemony “as cocaleros object to having the state there interfering with their way of life. Even when they cannot prevent the physical establishment of the state presence, they will not trust the state’s officials and positively interact with them, thus preventing the state from building up its authority and legitimacy in the countryside.” While cocaleros are already feeling betrayed by, and alienated from, the state due to forced eradication, Duque’s decision of resuming aerial fumigation will intensify the fragmentation of state hegemony among coca growers. Aerial fumigation leaves
irreparable damage to the soil. There are genetic malformations; there are children with skin afflictions, women and elder people with asthma, water contamination, and death of cattle. After an aerial spraying with glyphosate, those communities suffer a catastrophe, because everything dries. It becomes like a desert, the glyphosate is the worst thing that can happen in a community, and it kills everything.
Exploiting the deep disaffection of coca growers with state-sponsored military offensives and glyphosate fumigations in the cocalero regions, FARC-EP is likely to establish bases in the coca-producing regions. Whereas FARC-EP proposed a regulated program of illicit crop substitution and comprehensive rural development during the peace process, the current government has used overtly militaristic, repressive and violent tactics to stop coca production. Comprehending the contrast between those two approaches, cocaleros will lend support to the guerrillas as the state uses repressive tactics for coca eradication and converts myriad regions into new theaters of large-scale military operations.
Escalation of Class Struggle
With the initiation of intensified capital accumulation through the use of violence, Colombia is entering a new period of class struggle. The 2016 Peace Agreement has been used by the Colombian bourgeoisie as a passive revolution. A passive revolution is characterized by two major features. Firstly, it is a ruling class counter-movement that marks important but limited changes, oriented toward guaranteeing the stability of the relations of domination. Secondly, it acts as a “conservative antidote to the path of revolution from below, in the face of an insufficient but significant pressure from the subaltern classes.” It is useful to analyze the 2016 Colombian Peace Agreement in light of the aforementioned two features of a passive revolution.
Firstly, the Peace Agreement constructed new symbolic structures of hope and stable existence, thereby instituting significant politico-cultural changes. While the agreement did propagate the aspirations of peace, it prevented the hopes from materializing in the forms of concrete redistributive policies and thus, preserved the fundamental relations of domination. In fact, the Peace Agreement, as we have seen, increased the intensity of neoliberal and extractive policies through the abrupt destabilization of counter-hegemonic forces.
Secondly, the Peace Agreement came as a response to a military stalemate where FARC-EP had been forced to negotiate with the state due to insufficient but significant subaltern pressure from below. Through a US-aided counter-insurgency war, the Colombian state was able to bring the guerrillas’ struggle to a military deadlock. In the 1990s, Colombia began receivingexponential amounts of aid from USA: “Colombia received $30 million in 1995, $98 million in 1998 and an increase to $294 million in 1999. In total, from 1999 to 2002, the United States gave Colombia $2.04 billion in aid, 81% of which was for guns.” Through this funding, the Colombian state was able to professionalize the army, improve intelligence gathering, adopt a more proactive, mobile and offensive military strategy, create mobile brigades with airborne troops, strengthen the marine infantry and the air force capacity for night combat, and modernize of communications.
As FARC-EP’s combative capacity was gradually weakened, it was forced to enter negotiations. But while its military organization proved to be insufficient, its ideological appeal among the oppressed masses proved to be substantial. This is because of the simple fact that support for guerrillas emanates from rural terror and the ceaseless killings of social activists, and not from “narcotrafficking” and “forced recruitment”. As long as these oppressive objective conditions exist, the revolutionary praxis of FARC-EP guerrillas will also exist.
In the current conjuncture, class struggle in Colombia will escalate as the hopes of the peace deal are continuously shattered by the blood and gore of political killings. Without any material policies, the guarantees of the Peace Agreement have turned out to be hollow words without any concrete content. As a growing realization of the need to create a true peace dawns upon the Colombian masses, revolutionary warfare is set to accelerate.