FARC Members Ready for Peace, But Tensions Remain
While the final peace agreement between the FARC and the Colombian government must be ratified by a national referendum, prospects for ending almost 6 decades of civil war in a country with an extensive history of human rights violations and political crimes.
Writer/Producer: Oscar Leon
Camera: Ernesto Mercado
Narrator: Kayla Rivara
NARRATOR: Peace has been declared in Colombia, Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces or FARC’s’ commander Timoleón Jiménez, (a.k.a. ‘Timochenko’) and President Juan Manuel Santos both ordered their respective parties to cease all hostilities starting Monday August 29, 2016.
The historic announcement comes after a long process. Formal negotiations began in Havana, Cuba in February 2012. And now, four years later, people celebrated on the streets of Bogota and the rest of the country, as the world’s longest-running civil war comes to an end, following 52 years of continuous conflict.
In the context of the Peace Process, The Real News Network gained exclusive access to a [FARC] rebel camp in the Colombian jungle, where we’ll take a look at why the conflict existed in the first place.
It’s early in the morning, deep in the Colombian forest. Leftist guerrilla fighters train in formation. Countrywide, many thousands of them control patches of the forest, patrolling, building camps, and moving on.
The FARC guerrillas stay under the trees, hiding from helicopters patrolling overhead. They are constantly on the move in a battle they have been fighting for more than 52 years.
We are somewhere in the North West of Colombia. This a rare sight that very few outsiders have gotten to see, that is without being in a firefight or having a gun pointed at their head.
Traditionally defending leftist activists and peasant farmers, or in Spanish, “campesinos” from wealthy landowners – the FARC is the oldest insurgent army in the world.
What started as a political witch hunt turned into civil war, waged by many factions for control of territory, people, mineral resources–and eventually, drugs.
It has also been the cause of an often-overlooked refugee crisis.
According to a 2013 study by Colombia’s National Centre for Historical Memory, as many as 220,000 people have lost their lives to this conflict.
By 2014, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees announced that more than 6 million civilians have been forced from their homes.
This is one of the largest refugee populations in the world, second only to Syria’s 7.6 million displaced people.
Comandante Mauricio Jaramillo
Member of FARC’s Political Bureau
If we compare the possibilities [for peace], that we’ve had since the beginning of our fight, this is a great step forward.
I think we’ve improved tremendously, we now have a real projection that a step towards peace is possible.
Commander Mauricio Jaramillo is one of six members of the “Political Bureau”, FARC’s top brass and also a part of the negotiation commission.
COMANDANTE MAURICIO JARAMILLO, MEMBER OF FARC’S POLITICAL BUREAU: Never, in all our history of negotiating with the government, had we passed the first point of discussion.
Now at the peace talks, so far we have been able to discuss and review all of our demands.
NARRATOR: Issues of land reform, justice for the victims of the conflict, and notably the involvement of the guerrillas with drug trafficking allegedly as way to fund its fight, have all been discussed at the negotiating table. President Santos promised “there will be no impunity for those [in the FARC] who committed crimes.”
In Havana, the Colombian government released information about the location of the approximately 100,000 bodies of people extrajudicially executed by state or paramilitary forces, who, according to three official inquiries, often did the dirty work for army and government officials.
There is now an ongoing national effort to try and identify the victims that in some cases were buried in unmarked graves near the places they were found and in other cases were piled up in hidden mass graves; those bodies are being exhumed and returned to their families.
The discovery of most of the graves is not new; it’s the result of confessions obtained by the government in previous official investigations; this information was just recently released as part of the peace process.
The origin of these killings often lies in the use of so called “false positives”: when farmers and civilians were murdered and disguised as guerrilla members by state army officials seeking to advance their careers by producing more enemy kills.
Semana, a weekly political magazine that has been publishing for over 30 years, documented cases of Army officials accepting money to act in alliance with the paramilitary forces, killing civilians and then using the bodies to produce higher dead enemy counts.
In this context President Juan Manuel Santos denied any kind of amnesty for any Colombian Military individual or unit that was accused of violating human rights during this conflict.
JUAN M. SANTOS, PRESIDENT OF COLOMBIA (February 16, 2016): There can’t be any amnesty for the members of our armed forces, that is clearly stipulated by many court rulings; like the one of the Inter-American Court for Human Rights.”
NARRATOR: The rest of these bodies were produced by the traditional enemy of the FARC known as the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, or AUC, which killed civilians whom they accused of collaborating with the guerrillas.
With at least 11 massacres on record, during the second half of the 1980’s, the AUC unleashed terror, torture, and rape upon civilians, kidnapping and killing them by the thousands, often whole towns at a time.
Eventually the AUC became infamous for cutting off limbs with chainsaws and cannibalizing their victims, spreading fear all across the country.
Many times they used murder and rape to scare farmers from their homes, others acting in collaboration with the Army to commit massacres. All of these horrors have been extensively documented over the years.
The AUC established a brutal language of death: executing and mutilating anyone accused of being a leftist or a community organizer, leaving their bodies to carry a message for everyone else.
These are the bodies that are being exhumed all over the country.
On July 15, 2003, over 31,000 members of the paramilitary group Autodefensas Unidas met with the Colombian government, under then-president Alvaro Uribe.
They signed a widely criticized agreement to surrender their weapons, confess their crimes, and submit to justice with reductions on prison terms.
The final document was authorized by the Colombian Congress in 2005 under pressure by President Uribe, and was revised a year later to provide more strict regulations; it’s been over ten years since then, but much remains the same.
The FARC leaders were also pressed by the government to surrender their weapons, but expressed concern that disarming would leave them vulnerable to assassination by Paramilitary Bands. This was the main concern to be resolved as the insurgent’s brass needed to trust that the Colombian Government would control the “BA-CRIM”, short for “Criminal Bands”, or what Neo-paramilitary groups are now referred to as.
After years of massacres, there is a deep fear that paramilitary bands have instilled on guerrilla fighters and their sympathizers. Coupled with the distrust towards the Colombian Army, it can be understood why some fighters resist the idea of surrendering their weapons up to the very end.
On July 6, 2016 the “Armando Rios” front within the FARC issued a statement in which they communicated their decision to continue the fight and not surrender their weapons; a similar situation happened with the Autodefensas Unidas’ Peace Process when some armed bands refused to surrender and stayed armed and mobilized, eventually becoming the BACRIM or Criminal bands.
President Santos responded with a warning: “This is your last chance [to surrender]; you’ll end up dead or in a cell.”
While is unclear if Commander Isabela San Roque will join those rebel cells, at the time of the interview she echoed this sentiment:
“COMANDANTE ISABELA” SAN ROQUE: What we are saying in fact is that we’ll cease hostilities if there are proper security warranties. We have never said that we will surrender our weapons, which we never will. That would be in fact throwing more than 51 years of struggle into a trash can.
NARRATOR: Some say the conflict’s roots go back more than 51 years, and may also go far beyond the country’s borders.
Many experts, such as Mario Murillo in his book: “Colombia and the United States: War Unrest and Destabilization”, consider this conflict to be part of the Cold War, where class repression supported by US foreign policy, re-started a previous 10-year bloody conflict among the same historical “liberal vs. conservative & rich vs. poor” factions, spelling the end of several years of a fragile but consensual peace.
Murillo describes how acting in synchrony with the local oligarchy, the US intervened in Colombia’s asymmetric war, supporting and arming special military units, giving military aid and training army officials at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia.
These forces then conducted so-called “strong anti-communist repression” on rural farmlands, murdering, torturing and displacing hundreds of thousands.
COMANDANTE MAURICIO JARAMILLO: Politically speaking we are now taking the same steps that back in 1964. These are different times, but we were looking for peace since the beginning.
Initially we looked for a way to dialogue with the country, we sent letters to everyone, universities, intellectuals–we were not heard and then the state started a 16,000 soldiers strong ground offensive.
NARRATOR: This is reflected in the declaration made by the founders of the insurgent group–made on Colombia’s Independence Day, July 20, 1964.
COMANDANTE MAURICIO JARAMILLO: So what were we trying to achieve then is the same thing that we do now. A solution for the problems that affect our people. And since back then, they refused. From that moment on we believe that the government has a very different perspective on how to solution the country’s problems. Their solution has always involved violence.
NARRATOR: The persecution in the ’60s were repeated in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Many of the main political figures of the left were hunted down and murdered, including a whole political party called “Union Patriotica”, and an unknown number of people were disappeared, tortured and murdered as an example for the rest.
Many fear history can repeat itself again, because the BACRIM could hunt down the FARC members when they re-enter civilian life.
Initially the Colombian government argued that the BACRIM would pose no such threat once the FARC takes up a political role in society, arguing that these new paramilitary groups are motivated by profit, not politics.
But the numbers and the facts tell a different story. According to a 2014 report by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the BACRIM are the main groups responsible for the great majority of Human Right violations in modern Colombia, in many cases lead and operated by former AUC paramilitary leaders who gravitate around the drug business.
Todd Howland from the UNHCR confirmed what seems to be a play straight out of the book by the “Autodefensas Unidas”: that the BACRIM almost regularly use terror to inflict “Social control that continues to affect the full range of human rights of the population, in particular those of the defenders of human rights, community leaders, public officials, police and land claimants.”
Semana Magazine writes that the “BACRIM” are interested in sabotaging the peace process with the FARC so that the government “can’t concentrate the might of the Army on the Criminal Bands or BACRIM.”
But while the Colombian government ignores any political component and classifies the New Paramilitary Groups as plain “Criminal Bands”; the UN now recognizes that the BACRIMS often dispossess farmers from their lands or silence opposition to mining projects and intimidate unions, journalists and even local authorities, who sometimes have to choose between “silver or lead” – between paying protection money or being killed.
The daily Newspaper “El Tiempo” reports that since 2012, there are a total 332,000 victims, counting extortion, rape, kidnapping, torture and land theft; 8,194 assassinations and 560 disappeared, who are likely to have been murdered as well.
Like William Oime, an indigenous governor of a rainforest reserve who opposed a mining project in the jungle, or (name) the 14 year old daughter of a community leader. These cases are just two examples of a broader pattern of terror.
XIOMARA MARTINEZ, GUERRILLA COMMANDER: There are many reasons why not only women but poor and people from vulnerable backgrounds join the insurgency. But the main reason is not that we are poor but rather social conditions we have here in Colombia.
There are no other avenues to rebel against the state; in Colombia if you become a human rights defender, union member or work in a social organization, you know that you’ll be murdered for sure.
Historically this “lack of legal mechanisms to struggle for political power” is what motivated many to pick up the arms; but others were simply trying to defend themselves and some communities, from paramilitary forces and military units raiding their towns at night and disappearing people.
GUERRILLERO ARLEY BIJO: I am in the FARC because I come from a Communist Guerrilla bloodline, in the context of Paramilitary persecution, because my dad was a “guerrillero.” So I enlisted to save my life.
In the 80’s [my dad] was persecuted by the paramilitary, back when many workers unions and the Union Patriotica Party were exterminated. So since they couldn’t catch him, they went after his family.
NARRATOR: This trend of violence and massacres continues to this day, leaving Colombia a traumatized country, with war scars that turn into more violence as generations succeed each other.
30 years ago the Union Patriotica members were hunted and executed. Now it’s the members of Marcha Patriotica, a similar party, who are the ones being kidnapped, tortured and killed.
XIOMARA MARTINEZ: Take the example of Marcha Patriotica, many of their leaders have been murdered. And that is not a class-centered organization; it’s broad and open for anybody to voice their demands. And [despite that] … how many of them have been assassinated?”
NARRATOR: After decades of conflict and three peace processes (“Frente Nacional in 1958, the AUC in 2005 and the FARC in 2016), the alarming trend goes on, there are hundreds if not thousands of new cases that can be read about in Colombian literature and press–and many more nobody will ever know about.
XIOMARA MARTINEZ: Many social leaders are currently being persecuted and murdered by alleged criminal bands, which in reality are the paramilitary.
[They are persecuted] by police agents and soldiers; you should have seen how they abused people in the last Farmers’ strike. Policemen holding automatic machine guns going against guys with rocks… at least here in the FARC we have our guns.
NARRATOR: An important step before the implementation of the peace agreement can take place is the referendum vote by Colombia’s citizens which is set to take place on October 2nd. On July 18th, Colombia’s Constitutional Court declared that the result of the referendum will be binding, forcing any government to recognize it. According to the nation’s top Constitutional authority, it would take another referendum to void or change the result of the peace agreement once approved by the country’s voters.
But there are many who have suffered trauma at the hands of the FARC and could vote against the agreement.
SPEAKER: Please daddy! Get me out of here!
NARRATOR: The FARC’s tactics are both militaristic and unconventional, and have included civilian targets and the widespread use of kidnappings, even children who were either abducted for ransom or forcibly recruited. The best known case is that of Senator Ingrid Betancourt, who, after being kept captive for 6 years, was rescued by the army in 2008 along with 3 American contractors and 11 Colombian army soldiers.
All of this has antagonized a large segment of the population who disapprove such actions by the FARC, especially among the upper and middle class. Additionally, the Colombian right has already started to campaign against the agreement ratification, as it was established by President Juan Manuel Santos since the beginning of the negotiations.
In August 2015 there were marches to show opposition to the peace process; former ring-wing President Uribe gathered thousands of alleged victims of violence by the FARC
Commander Isabela San Roque dismisses this as an expression of the ultra-right.
“COMANDANTE ISABELA” SAN ROQUE: Uribe marches are a show of force by the ultra right. To show force and also give the impression that there are people that rejects the peace treaty. We believe that the peace process is not possible if there are still paramilitary factions operating. So we believe that Uribe is using those landowners and the paramilitary to boycott the peace process.
NARRATOR: A highly organized army, the Farc by July 2016 had become a key player in the country with an estimated 10,000 + mobilized soldiers covering the south east and north west of the country.
COMANDANTE MAURICIO JARAMILLO: So we have our cells, which in turn are also military units, we have squads, guerrillas, columns, fronts, then we have the blocks and finally the Political Bureau and Chiefs of Staff. We are a political-military structure that is really in tune with what goes on in the country, there are no secrets.
And all of our fellows understand in detail what is happening, which will be our next step, which are our ongoing discussions and what are our perspectives.
NARRATOR: The FARC’s power has declined since it peaked in 2007 with around 18,000 armed guerrillas who dominated entire parts of the country. But by the end of the peace process it still possesses a profound influence on the countryside.
The peace agreement that was signed on August 24th, 2016 could be a key part of Colombia’s future development; replacing internal armed conflict with the construction of political relations between the members of the now antagonistic social groups, which in turn could contribute to the creation of a more inclusive and just society.
XIOMARA MARTINEZ: I say: let there be democracy, but with guarantees so people won’t be murdered, so people can get access to [produce their own] mass media as the political power does. Make the government finance the political parties; because if it’s like now, where poor people’s parties have to finance themselves… that doesn’t work. They also ask for extra signatures, trying and prevent people from voting, which is [the political] way to struggle.
If you compare, there is a big income gap in almost all Latin American countries. But they have a more organized democracy, where people can voice their grievances with the government. Democratically they can even show their unconformity. But in Colombia liberals cannot do this. Here even those working with the government are persecuted.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a
recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.