Colombia: Peace, Land and Rights
By: Raúl Zibechi
The social climate has changed. What was said before in a whisper is now pronounced openly in the streets, plazas and markets. The historic fears, which increased exponentially during the eight years of the Alvaro Uribe government, are slowly receding, although they are far from having disappeared. In the cities is lived a situation very different than that in the rural areas, where one is made to feel the armed power of the narcos and the big landholders.
The peace process is felt as something irreversible by a good part of the population. Hope is a sign of this time in which almost 80 percent support the negotiations between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, their initials in Spanish) and the government headed by President Juan Manuel Santos. Hopeful lights and shadows exist that can once again abort the path to peace. Anyway, the current scenario is very different from the one we were familiar with decades ago.
The first difference is that the guerrilla comes to the negotiations very beaten up. The last conversations, initiated in 1999, were a consequence of hard tactical blows inflicted by the FARC on the armed forces, which took advantage of the detente to recompose and equip themselves with air capability and new technology contributed by Plan Colombia. Members of the Colombian Army, like a good part of the dominant class, continue aspiring to annihilate the insurgency, an old dream that now feels wounded in the realized conditions.
Within the country it is speculated that one of the military command’s objectives is to provoke a division within the guerrilla among those who would be added to the demobilization and a sector that would continue the conflict. It is also possible that they might launch a powerful attack to kill several commanders in the midst of the negotiations, as a way of pressuring for concessions.
The second question that differentiates these negotiations from the previous ones is that the so-called cacaos, the economic power elite, agree with Santos on the need to arrive at a negotiated end with the guerrilla. This sector, composed of an urban bourgeoisie linked to finance and industry, bet on international business and modernization as a way of consolidating power and profits. The image of a country in conflict does not usually seduce the capitalists.
Nevertheless, the archaic class of landholding ranchers, whose interests appear interlaced with drug traffickers and paramilitaries, do not seem happy with the negotiations. The recent massacre of 10 campesinos in a municipio to the north of Antioquia can be the beginning of an escalation impelled by this sector, which would lose power with the end of the conflict.
The key to peace is land for the campesinos. The class war that began towards the end of the 1940s turned around land: big landholders that grabbed it from campesinos armed in order to defender it. What began as a struggle for survival, for which they created campesino self defense, was prolonged into a four-decade war that was consumed in a real narco-landholder agrarian counter-reform,Alvaro Uribe is the incarnation of this sector.
The third difference is the international and regional reality. The victory of Barack Obama benefits the peace plans of Santos and prejudices the obstructionism of Uribe. In any case, the White House does not have a defined policy towards Latin America, except for the persistence of military pressure through the Southern Command. But the changes that continue to be produced in the region push towards the end of the Colombian war.
The consolidation of the Bolivarian process after the victory of Hugo Chávez implies that for a long period Colombian diplomacy will have to choose between conflict or cooperation with its neighbor. It’s clear that Santos opted for the second. In Ecuador, after four years Brasil once again has a decisive weight. These days the BNDES signs the first of a series of loans for big public infrastructure works that was won by Odebrecht, the same company that had been expelled in 2008.
The government of Rafael Correa had approached China in search of loans for public works, but the interest rates are very high and the Asian country demands oil to guaranty the loans. The government of Ecuador offered Brazilian companies that have BNDES credit a package of public works for 2,500,000 dollars (Valor, November12). The repositioning of Brazil in Ecuador represents another inflection in favor of regional integration, of the Unasur and of the South American Defense Council.
The fourth aspect is the difficult situations that pierce the social movements. They are what could weigh on the negotiating table in decisive themes like land, the working group that began this November 15 in Havana. Nevertheless, after some advances, a situation of stagnation and recession exists, above all in the cities, where the cultural and political hegemony of the right is overwhelming.
On October 12, the three principal groupings, the Patriotic March, the Congress of the Peoples and the Coalition of Movements and Social Organizations of Colombia, called a day of struggle collecting the principal demands of society. The response was scarce and they basically mobilized the universities. A political culture of a patriarchal, hierarchal and masculine cut, anchored in the disputes for spaces of power, continues dominating inside the movements and blocks being open to differences.
New times are open in Colombia. The end of the conflict is one possibility among others. All the actors have a “Plan B” faced with the eventuality of reinforcements for armed confrontation; all except the indigenous peoples, the Afro-descendants and the urban and rural popular sectors. As has been happening to the Nasa (tribe) in Cauca, they only win with peace, unlike multinational mining companies and armed combatants.
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
English Translation: Chiapas Support Committee
Friday, November 16, 2012