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Colombian activist Manuel Rozental explains that the flawed 2016 peace agreement with the FARC rebels was an important step forward, but now FARC dissidents are giving in to the government’s push for more war

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GREG WILPERT: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Greg Wilpert in Baltimore.

It looks like the Colombian peace agreement, which was signed two and a half years ago between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, also known as the FARC, is on the verge of collapsing. On Thursday, two of the FARC’s top leaders, known as Ivan Marquez and Jesus Santrich, released a YouTube video in which Marquez explained that they are returning to the Colombian jungle to relaunch their guerrilla struggle against the government. Here’s what Marquez had to say.

IVAN MARQUEZ, FARC LEADER: We announce to the world that the second Marquetalia has begun under the protection of the universal right that assists all the peoples of the world to rise in arms against oppression. This is the continuation of the rebel fight in answer to the betrayal of the state of the Havana Peace Accords. When we signed the agreement of Havana, we did it 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 the obligations. That is, to guarantee the life of its citizens and particularly, to prevent their murder for political reasons.

GREG WILPERT: Colombia’s President, Ivan Duque, responded quickly, calling the two FARC leaders “narco-terrorists,” and accusing them of “hiding behind false ideological clothing to sustain their criminal structures.” The FARC’s top leader, known as Timoshenko, however, rejected his former colleague’s appeal, saying that he would continue to respect the 2016 Peace Agreement. Former FARC fighters, human rights groups, and social movements have long criticized the government of Ivan Duque for failing to fulfill its side of the peace agreement. Since the accords were signed, over 150 former FARC fighters and over 400 social leaders have been assassinated in Colombia.

The agreement covered a wide range of issues; such as, land restitution, demilitarization and reincorporation, a transitional justice plan, and political participation. In 2017, then President Juan Manuel Santos, received the Nobel Peace Prize for signing the agreement. However, current President Ivan Duque, who is a protegee of far-right former President Alvaro Uribe, never really accepted the agreement.

Joining me now to discuss the FARC commanders’ abandonment of the peace agreement is Manuel Rozental. He is a Colombian activist, physician and practicing surgeon, and has more than 40 years of involvement in grassroots political organizing in Colombia. Thanks again for joining us, Manuel.

MANUEL ROZENTAL: Thank you, Greg.

GREG WILPERT: The civil war in Colombia lasted over 50 years and cost over 200,000 lives in Colombia. Now, the 2016 Peace Agreement with the FARC was far from perfect, but it generally was recognized as an important step towards peace in Colombia. Now, what do you think this latest announcement from Ivan Marquez means for Colombia?

MANUEL ROZENTAL: Well, it is devastating news. It is—First and foremost, it is what the government wants. This government wanted war, and wanted a declaration of war as a pretext to deepen war. The war never really stopped in Colombia, but there was a peace agreement between FARC and the government that could have opened space for the development of peace eventually. It wasn’t peace, but this announcement, first and foremost from our prospective, allows the government or gives the government the pretext to launch a war throughout the country. And as you pointed out in your introduction, it immediately labeled the former FARC commanders, current FARC dissidents, labeled them as narco-terrorists.

That’s part of their strategy. They are narco-terrorists, they’re legitimate targets and President Duque announced that he would launch a war throughout the Colombian terrorists—I’m sorry, throughout the Colombian country— against these narco-terrorists. It really means the war against the people for natural resources, and for the accumulation of capital, which is the very reason for the war, is being launched again after this announcement as a pretext.

GREG WILPERT: Now you’re saying, Ivan Duque,  President Duque, wants this war. But why do you think they want the civil war to continue? Do they really believe that they can win it now, after 50 years of continuous fighting? I mean, what has changed? What makes them believe that they will finally be able to defeat the guerrilla movement?

MANUEL ROZENTAL: Well, I think the rhetoric is that they want to defeat them. I think, in fact, what they really want is the war itself. Whether they defeat them or capture them or not, doesn’t really matter as much. This is the geopolitics and the economics of war. As we’re seeing in the Middle East with Syria, and as we saw with the war in Colombia, or with the ongoing war in Mexico, war itself is the prize. War allows to eliminate and dispossess populations from territories where there’s wealth, and interest of corporate extractivism. War allows the destruction of competitive capital and concentrates resources. And then war, as well, allows the access to scarce resources or resources made scarce by capital. War itself is an investment and it produces a huge amount of profit, so the war is needed.

Our feeling, and our reading of the situation from ground is it’s the installment of war that matters— the war against narco-trafficking, the war against the FARC dissidents. A permanent state of war is needed for capital accumulation and Colombia has never stopped war, and it is deepening it now.

GREG WILPERT: Now, you’re saying the demise of the peace agreement was a long time in the making. I mean, already from the start it was troubled, two and a half years ago, and basically fell apart gradually. Give us an idea as to what were the parts that were least fulfilled, and what you think motivated the dissident FARC faction to take up arms again.

MANUEL ROZENTAL: Now, the first thing I’ll say is former President Santos, and even President Duque and many people in Colombia, state that this is a marginal group and that it will not affect the peace agreement, that one can still carry out with the peace agreement under current circumstances. We think it will not happen if this war is launched, which we’re trying to stop, but we’ll talk about that I hope later. The main thing here is what you asked me, what happened? Nothing was fulfilled from the peace agreement. For example, the special jurisdiction for peace has been under attack by the government, which is more or less a peace and reconciliation commission, or a truth and reconciliation commission. The government doesn’t want any truth to be exposed from their side of the conflict. They only want the truth from the side of FARC to be exposed.

The FARC has been allowed political participation, but every trick and every manipulation has been used to close down their participation. Agrarian reform, which is the essential point of the peace agreement and the key component of peace in Colombia, has not been kept. Legislation was passed even before the peace agreement was signed to make it impossible for this agrarian reform take place. Land has actually been transferred to corporate interests, to fracking and other interests. Then the media is completely controlled by the government and now the far-right, so everything in the peace agreement was closed, but key issues.

It’s not just any people who – any two commanders who are announcing the war. The chief negotiator, Ivan Marquez, the man who was there throughout the process, leading the negotiation with the government, the man who’s sat with former Secretary of State of the US, is the one that announced that he cannot sign the peace agreement. That cannot be ignored. But it’s also Santrich who was next to him, another negotiator who was accused of being a drug trafficker without any proof. And he was going to be extradited to the United States, except that the Supreme Court of Justice in Colombia demonstrated that no proof had been given of his crime.

The persecution against FARC, the assassination of 150 FARC members and the recent assassination at the hands of an army battalion of a former FARC now peasant, not only assassinated, but tortured in a most brutal way. Then denial by the Minister of Defense that it has happened, and the assassination of more than 600 leaders of social movements in the country, proves that there is no intention from the government to keep this peace agreement, which is a poor peace agreement to begin with because it doesn’t address any of the structural problems that lead to the revolutionary war in the country.

But even that, as you said, was a beginning. But when in every corner of Colombia, as we discussed before, the leaders of social movements and processes are being threatened and murdered, what peace agreement? What peace can be achieved? That’s the situation the way we see it now. That’s why they couldn’t trust anymore of the government, and then they divided themselves. Part of FARC remains in government and is still in place, even accusing those that launched this announcement as betraying the process and betraying FARC. And Marquez and the ones you showed are showing that there is no way to trust this government, and that the peace agreement is over. That’s the current situation.

GREG WILPERT: Now, there’s a statement circulating in [Valle del] Cauca, in the area where you are, that is going to be signed by social movements and Indigenous organizations, calling on Marquez and Santrich to reverse their decision. The statement says, “We call on you to declare an immediate indefinite ceasefire, during which you commit yourselves to listen to the voice and the decision of the social movements, and of all actors who wish to organize themselves, to decide during a defined term, one year, the path to follow in order to rise against the establishment and to commit ourselves to a consensual path to achieve peace and autonomy with dignity.” And then it goes on to say, “Listen to the people. Do not respond to war with more war.” I’m wondering who is probably signing this statement, and why are they signing it?

MANUEL ROZENTAL: Well, the first thing I should say is underscore the fact that people who have lived under war in Colombia have told both the government and FARC that we do not want any more war, that war will not achieve any social change, that war is actually an instrument of the state that will only serve the purpose of the state and capital and corporate capital to dispossess people and accumulate wealth, so war will not solve any problem. But war belongs to capital and it belongs to the state— in the long history of Colombia and in the most recent history of Colombia.

The peace agreement was actually a demand by people affected by war. People wanted peace in order to mobilize— sorry, people wanted a peace agreement, an accord, a ceasefire— in order to mobilize, to construct peace from below, so the agreement is not peace .The agreement was an opening of space to actually counter the concentration of wealth, resources and power in the hands of the few wealthy in Colombia, and of transnational corporate interests. That’s what peace was for. That’s what we expected would happen. That’s exactly what a war, and a continuing war, would stop. Launching war now, first denies the decision made by most people in this county affected by war, that we don’t want war anymore. It is not a decision consulted with people, so it replaces and supplants the popular will and then it allows the government the pretext to attack the social movements and organizations. If it has killed has more than 600 leaders of social movements throughout the country with the peace agreement in place, throughout the country, imagine what it will do now that it has a pretext to attack everybody.

This is what’s behind this. What happens is it’s a sentiment that people have expressed to FARC, to those launching this decision, and to the government. That without violence, this establishment will not remain and cannot achieve its interest, and that stopping violence will allow people to express themselves and construct something else. Although those signing this statement understand the right expressed by these former FARC or FARC commanders to defend themselves and to rearm themselves, it’s understandable, it is a mistake in every way. They are playing into the government and the establishment’s interests. And the war launched will be, and is, a war against the people, not for the people. Just to quote a number that appears in that statement, seven out of every ten people that died during the 50 yearlong conflict were civilians not involved in war. This is a war against the people from the state and with the pretext of it being a war against the revolutionary faction.

This is why that statement asks for a period of time where people can organize themselves without war. A period of time where actually FARC and those FARC commanders who have been forced to go into hiding and go into protecting their own lives, to actually articulate themselves with the social movements who want to find a way out of war in a peaceful way, not playing into the government. That’s the situation.

GREG WILPERT: Okay. Well, we’re going to leave it there for now. I was speaking to Manual Rozental, activist and founder of Pueblos en Camino. We’ll of course continue to follow this. Thanks again, Manual, for having joined us today.

MANUEL ROZENTAL: Thank you, Greg. Thanks and we hope we can achieve this, that people are listened to finally.

GREG WILPERT: Right. And thank you for joining The Real News Network.

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Manuel Rozental

Emmanuel Rozental is a Colombian activist, physician, and practicing surgeon with more than 40 years' involvement in grassroots political organizing with youth, indigenous peoples, and urban and rural movements. He has been exiled several times to Canada for political activities. Academic in social and political sciences, strategist with social movements throughout the Americas and beyond.