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The proposed revisions came primarily from the right-wing while social movements and peace activists around the country were left outside of the renegotiation, says Professor Mario Murillo

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KIM BROWN, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Kim Brown in Baltimore. The government of Colombia and the rebel group known as the FARC the revolutionary armed forces of Colombia reached an agreement about revising the eace agreement that Colombians had narrowly rejected in a referendum back on October the 2nd. The announcement was made last week. Now here’s what the Colombian government’s chief negotiator Humberto De La Calle had to say. HUMBERTO DE LA CALLE: This is the final accord. It is the definitive accord. I would like to add something, a personal consideration. There’s really no room for more negotiation. BROWN: But a few days later on November the 16th, the government and FARC forces clashed in Colombia and 2 FARC fighters were actually killed. Now both sides tried to minimize the incident out of concern that the peace agreement could fall apart. Now joining us to give us some analysis about what exactly is happening and about the revised Colombian peace agreement, we’re joined with Mario Murillo. Mario is a Colombian activist. He’s also a professor of communications at Hofstra University. He has covered Colombia for over 25 years. He is also the author of the book titled, Colombia and the United States: War, Unrest, and Destabilization. He joins us today from New York. Thanks for being on the Real News, Mario. MARIO MURILLO: It’s great to be with you Kim. Thanks for having me. BROWN: So, first of all, give us an idea as to how this revised agreement was changed from the original one. Were the changes made – are they significant? MURILLO: There is considerable changes about the original accord’s about 297 pages and the new accord is about 310 pages. So, you do the math. They say there’s somewhere about 500 additions, amendments and changes from the original draft that was announced on the 26th of September and eventually signed and there was big fan fare that the agreement finally had after 4 years of negotiation, by October 2nd they had a plebiscite referendum that was allowing the public, the Colombian people, to essentially vote yes or no. As we know they voted no. As a result of that horrific referendum on the standpoint of supporting the peace, the FARC and the Colombian government said they were committed to continuing the negotiations and then there as a series of proposals being put forward. The problem there was that it was primarily from the right wing. The people who opposed the agreement, many who opposed any kind of concessions to the FARC were the ones who had the upper hand in those additions and those amendments. A lot of the social movements and peace activists and community organizations around the country who were clamoring for peace were more or less kind of still left outside of that renegotiation. Anyway, they went back to the table, the FARC and the Colombian government where pretty disciplined and pretty responsible if you ask me, in trying to hammer out some of these revisions and they ended up coming out with some pretty substantial ones that hopefully will be the final accord that will finally move the country forward in demobilizing the FARC in this process. BROWN: So, tell us, I mean because both the government and the FARC leaders are insisting that no more changes will be made. However, the main opponent to the agreement is former president Alvaro Uribe. He has not yet made a decision or established himself on the revisions. So, do you think that the political forces that opposed this agreement will now be allowing it go forward? MURILLO: I think there was – Uribe’s reasons for being against the accord, they’re so complicated and in many ways contradictory and hypocritical considering his long track record and in fact his role in having a negotiation with right wing paramilitaries when he was president almost 10 years ago where he negotiated the demobilization of right wing paramilitary forces that were responsible for the vast majority of atrocities that were carried out in the countryside in Colombia for a good 20 years. So, his opposition to the FARC is well known. He’s the poster boy of anti-guerilla rhetoric in the country and he does have a political base. But I think as these changes have been made public, his political legs are weakened because there was other opposition forces that were directly involved in terms of putting forward the proposals. There are some substantial proposals dealing with provisional justice, dealing with the special jurisdiction of the courts that were supposed to be examining the war crimes carried out during the course of the insurgency. Dealing with issues around the constitutional mandate that the peace accord had. I mean there’s a lot of opposition, perhaps rightfully so, but the accords were going to be kind of a fast track as constitutional amendments in the Colombian constitution and there were concerns that that wasn’t viable. That was kind of sneaking things in that perhaps would have had a detrimental effect. The FARC were arguing that they needed to do that because they needed to have guarantees that the government was going to respect the provisions of the accord. So, a lot of that was left out of the new accords. There’s issues around land restitution that were softened and weakened. Issues about the amount of money and resources and the period of time in which the government was supposed to be in investing and developing the rural countryside, the part of the country where the FARC have had a strong hold but the years have been underdeveloped and have had a lack of state presence. So there’s been a lot of concessions that the FARC have made in this latest round, in this latest series of negotiations, the last 4 weeks or so and it would be really hard for them to come back and say well we need to do some more. So the question is how are the popular movements, the social movements, going to play an active role in demanding that this peace accord does indeed go through and that the mobilization process begins. Because as you pointed out earlier this week, there was kind of a verified, still not clear what exactly happened. There’s investigations going on into what happened. Two guerilla fighters were killed and that’s the first sign of conflict once again in the last years and a half or two years and certainly since the peace accord was signed. So this concern that this very fragile ceasefire may unravel if there’s no movement forward on this current peace accord. BROWN: So, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos just announced that the revised agreement will not be presented to the public in a referendum. How do you think that this is going to play with the Colombian public? How are people going to receive the new deal? MURILLO: Well from my perspective and a lot of people’s perspective, the first round going into the public and taking it to the public was a mistake. There was really no need for it. Constitutionally the president had every right to do it in other words, in negotiating a peace agreement and bringing it forward to the congress to approve it form the congressional standpoint. Unfortunately, Santos tried to give the public a voice in this very controversial peace accord. He thought and there was very indication that the Colombian people were going to vote in favor of it. But it opened the doors for all sorts of manipulation, media manipulation, misinformation and lies that was really on the anti-FARC opposition to the peace accord sector. The opposition to the peace accord used everything in their power and they had a substantial echo in the mainstream media in Colombia to create this campaign of fear that made ultimately the people vote against it. It was a very slight margin we should say. It was less than 1% of a difference, 54 thousand votes overall in a country of 55 million people. So, opening it up to the public like that was a mistake. Then now – at this point the argument could be made that when we gave you the shot we came back, we made revisions, now here it is. Take it or leave it. I think the congress now has to take it up and I think that’s what Santos is proposing. Letting the congress approve it and then ultimately see where the demobilization and hopefully the demobilization process can begin. BROWN: Mario you know touching on what you just mentioned, I mean, many Colombians seemed to have voted against the original agreement, back in October, because as you said it was a a large disinformation campaign against it. So, in your opinion, has enough time passed to inform the public about what this agreement really means? MURILLO: Yea but I also think one of the problems and this is something that people in the social justice movement, people certainly in the solidarity movement here in New York have been doing working around Colombia for a long time, have been pointing out is that, when the very narrow margin of victory for the no vote, the oppositions to the peace accord won back on October 2nd, it opened the door for a renegotiation that nobody wanted. Many people were against it, against renegotiating. Saying that we should just support the peace. But if we were going to renegotiate it, the problem was that they only allowed, and it was only the right wing, the extreme right the Uribistas, the people who were under the rubric of the former president Alvaro Uribe who got the number one say. They were the ones who were kind of dictating what was happening. The very broad cross section of social movements, indigenous sectors, the popular movements and the peasantry and the countryside, the trade union movement, you know human rights workers. Their voices were less heard. Their voices did not have the echo affect even when they were perhaps concerned with some of the provisions of the accord as well. So it became a situation where the right had the ultimate say even though their margin of victory was so narrow in the plebiscite. I think now the people who support peace, the people who want an end to the conflict between the FARC and the government, I think they’re very mobilized. We’ve seen street protests. We’ve seen occupy style encampments throughout the country in cities all around the country. Again in a broad cross section of these sectors are mobilizing and demanding an end to this conflict between the FARC and the government. The argument that they say is this accord is not a peace accord. It’s not going to bring peace to Colombia. It’s a first step towards bringing peace because by ending the conflict between the FARC and the government by silencing those weapons and beginning a demobilization process and beginning the insertion of the FARC into a political system, into a political party, rather than to allow the social movements to flourish and to work alongside other sectors to woo demand transformation, social, economic, political transformation in the countryside. But as long as that war is going on, it won’t happen. So I think now is the time and I think the social movements are pretty clear but they’re going to continue to push for peace. Regardless of how vocal and how much weight the Uribistas and the right wing continues to get both internally and in the political debate but also in terms of the mainstream media in Colombia and that this information that continues coming out about the peace accord. BROWN: Mario was speaking of war. There was a clash, as I mentioned earlier, between the FARC and the military days ago which left two FARC fighters killed. Now, the FARC says that it was a government ambush while they were traveling to a demilitarization zone. So, explain the situation to us and what it means for conflicts in that area. Are we still going to see these types of skirmishes between the government and the FARC? MURILLO: That’s the biggest concern and I think as the longer we prolong, the more the discussion about finalizing the peace accord and beginning the demobilization process, the more time it takes between that happens, the more chances for this kind of skirmish, this kind of violence to unfold. We see the FARC, a committed at least every indication that the FARC had committed to the ceasefire and we generally get a sense that the government forces as well are committed to the ceasefire and you also have UN forces and kind of the guarantor forces that are still very present to try to make sure that in the zones of concentration where they’re supposed to be mobilized that they’re going to respect this ceasefire however fragile it may be. The bigger danger beyond the traditional actors, the FARC and the army are other armed groups that perhaps might want to instigate including remaining paramilitary groups, the so called right wing groups that were adamantly opposed to the accords who are very present in many regions where the FARC had and continue to have presence who will stop at nothing at creating this sense of tension and violence once again. If those kind of skirmishes happen, we’ve already seen a lot of social justice activists and human rights activists getting killed over the last couple of months, specifically targeted because of their support for the peace process. The same thing will happen as the demobilization process gets prolonged and the chances of targeting specifically guerillas, clearly the guerillas are going to fight back. They’re not going to stay there and let themselves be cannon fodder for the military or the paramilitary or other armed groups in the region that they operate. So this is a very scary, very tense situation and that’s why everybody is right now clamoring for a push for to make this accord kind of stick politically and begin the implementation of the accords. The main opposition is once again Alvaro Uribe and the democratic center, right wing, the extreme right wing in Colombia who seem to be comfortable with kind of kicking the can down the road indefinitely. BROWN: Author, Colombian activist and communications professor at Hofstra University. We’ve been speaking with Mario Murillo about the ongoing negotiations and perhaps inevitable peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC rebel group. Mario we appreciate your time and your analysis today. Thanks a lot. MURILLO: Thank you Kim, it was great to be with you. BROWN: And thanks for watching the Real News Network.


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Mario A. Murillo is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Radio, Television, Film department at Hofstra University. He is also co-director of Hofstra's Center for Civic Engagement.

In 2008-2009, Mario spent six months in Colombia, as a Fulbright Scholar, working in the Communication Department of the Universidad Pontif'cia La Javeriana in Bogot', alongside its radio station Javeriana Estereo. His research work was carried out in close collaboration with the Communication Committee of the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca, ACIN, and focused on the strategic uses of communication of the indigenous movement. He is currently finishing a book about ACIN's role in the broader indigenous movement of Colombia, which is expected to be published in 2012.

He is the author of Colombia and the United States: War, Unrest and Destabilization (Seven Stories, 2004), and Islands of Resistance: Puerto Rico, Vieques and U.S. Policy (Seven Stories, 2001). Mario has studied and written about community radio, both in the United States and Latin America for many years, his articles and essays published in academic journals and collected essays in the U.S. and abroad.