FARC-EP salutes National Forum for Victims
August 3, 2014
“In Havana, we are waiting to welcome the victims of the conflict, with absolute willingnes to dialogue respectfully, to listen, to correct ourselves, to heal and to construct the foundations of a new country in democracy”
Havana, Cuba – The FARC insurgency released a communique, accompanied by a video, in which Andrés París and Jesús Santrich talk to the participants of the Forum for Victims which starts today in Cali, Colombia.
Until now, the FARC has not been heard, states the communique, while the public powers and retired military are actively participating in the discussions. According to the guerrilla, “it is simply a question of balance“, for it is part of the conflict and part of the population, which has suffered a war imposed by the state for more than 50 years.
The FARC starts saying that while the main demand made by an enormous majority of the victims is a bilateral ceasefire, this hasn’t been appropriately reported by the mainstream media.
Moreover, the tendency of the media to change members of the security forces into victims and heroes is “inappropriate and unbecoming, if we consider the fact that we’re talking about members of one of the parts of the military contest“.
There is a reality of massacres, dirty war, displacement, arrests-disappearances, tortures and other measures taken against the social movement in Colombia. This reality shouldn’t be manipulated now with concepts or numbers and issues like paramilitarism or “false positives” shouldn’t be evaded.
Under the pretext of a supposed “equilibrium”, the fundamental responsibility of the regime is tried to be hidden. Decades of rigurous investigation show a reality in which “more than 85% of IHL violations and human rights violations can be attributed to the representation of the Colombian state, while approximately 15% would correspond to other actors, among those the insurgency“. Moreover, the FARC specifies that “the actions of the insurgency have generally been a reaction to state terrorism an to the abuses of the elites in power“. The numbers are based on long-term reports made by the United Nations, CINEP and other organizations.
The guerrilla denounces the existence of “first-class victims and second-class victims”, because the victims that are in the interest of the state are highlighted (like ACORE) and others, like the thousands of children who have died undernourished in countryside and cities are unknown. The FARC-EP reiterates the urgent need for the Historical Commission of the Conflict and its Victims.
It also denounces the governmental communique of July 29, in which the government unilaterally decided that members of the public force will be received in Havana, for they are “victims of the conflict”. If so, states the FARC, then it would be fair to receive also the representatives of the guerrilla fighters who are imprisoned, several of them wounded, mutilated and with serious health problems, as well as representatives of people like Alfonso Cano, who would also become a victim of the conflict.
The insurgency was born in the heart of the victims’ community, as a consequence of the persecution against the social and popular movement, concludes the communique. The FARC-EP continues optimistic at the peace talks, to reach social justice, which would be “the real guarantee of non-repetition and compensation“.
In Havana – concludes Andrés París – we are waiting for the victims of the conflict, with absolute willingness to dialogue respectfully, to listen, to correct ourselves, to heal and to construct the foundations of a new country in democracy.
Last modified on Sunday, 03 August 2014 23:21
Colombian peace talks will fail without government concessions, FARC warns
In exclusive interview, FARC leaders say hopes for peace will be lost unless government accepts democratic and social reform
Hopes of ending Colombia’s civil war, one of the longest-running and bloodiest conflicts in the world, will be dashed unless the Colombian government accepts genuine democratic and social reform, leaders of the Farc, the country’s main guerrilla group, have told the Guardian.
Talks to settle the 50-year conflict between the government of Juan Manuel Santos, re-elected last month on a peace ticket, and the leftwing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – regarded as “narco-terrorists” by the US government – have already reached a series of agreements since they opened in Cuba in 2012.
But in their first interview with the British press since the start of the talks, Farc leaders warned that the process risked breakdown if the US-backed Colombian government believed it could achieve the guerrillas’ surrender, refused to guarantee the rights and security of the opposition or continued to kill guerrilla commanders in the field.
Their concern at the direction of the negotiations was echoed this week by a cross-party group of Northern Ireland MPs and peace agreement veterans, who have held discussions with both sides and called for a bilateral ceasefire and a more open and even-handed process.
“They want peace for free, but that’s not going to happen,” senior Farc negotiator Marco Leon Calarcá told the Guardian in Havana. “A pantomime of peace won’t address the roots of the conflict.
“We are committed to peace and we’ve shown that through many gestures, including three unilateral ceasefires. We’re not looking for revolution at the negotiating table, but peace with social justice. We are a response to conflict, not its cause.”
“We will not be the ones that break the talks,” Calarcá insisted. “But they’re playing with fire when they try to eliminate our leaders with bombings. That could make us leave the table, because it would be clear they had no political will to reach agreement. It’s not as simple as we hand in our arms and we can enter politics – because they will kill us.”
President Santos used the same “playing with fire” phrase about the rebels this week when he blamed the Farc for an attack on an electricity tower in the paramilitary violence-wracked city of Buenaventura, which left hundreds of thousands without power. He said he would end the peace talks unless the guerrillas stopped “targeting civilians”.
The conflict in Colombia has claimed around 250,000 lives and forced over 5 million people from their homes. The large majority of killings have been carried out by army, police and state-linked rightwing paramilitary groups. When the Farc last attempted to take part in electoral politics, several thousand members and elected officials were murdered.
Large-scale human rights abuses have continued and in some cases increased despite the peace process, including the jailing and assassination of trade unionists, human rights and political activists.
Farc has gained notoriety for its involvement in the drugs trade – used to justify large-scale US backing for the Colombian military – its now mostly abandoned use of kidnapping, the recruitment of teenage soldiers and the killing of civilians.
The government has been upbeat about the peace talks, which follow a series of failed negotiations in the past. But the Farc team in Havana said although “a lot has been achieved, we’re not even a quarter of the way through the process”.
Fighting between the Colombian military and the 10,000-strong Farc guerrilla force has continued in rural areas throughout the negotiations. The government insists the human rights situation is improving in the country and prosecutions of those responsible for extra-judicial killings have started to deliver convictions, but it will not negotiate either economic policy or military strategy.
Juanita Goebertus Estrada, of the government’s peace high commission, said a bilateral ceasefire was out of the question because the military and police “still need to protect civil society from a bunch of threats”. But officials insist they have carried out “confidence building measures”.
“We don’t know what gestures they’re talking about,” the Farc negotiator Jesús Santrich responded. Speaking in a secluded Havana villa that once belonged to the son of the pre-revolutionary Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, he added: “We see no gestures except bombardments.”
The Northern Ireland MPs and former ministers – Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy, Jeffrey Donaldson from Democratic Unionist party and Mark Durkan of the Social Democratic and Labour party – discussed their own experience this week with Farc negotiators, including decommissioning, victims’ justice – now the focus of the Colombian talks – and the need to involve civil society.
The DUP’s Donaldson said the MPs had “no intention of taking sides. But I’m more and more convinced they are committed to the peace process and not a narrow political agenda. The agenda they’re pursuing is about transforming the lives of ordinary Colombians for the better.”
Murphy said the government clearly held “most of the cards” and the isolation of the talks from Colombian society, intimidation of those who wanted to take part, and refusal to respond to Farc ceasefires were among the factors that risked leading to failure of the peace process.
Partial agreement has been reached on land reform, political participation and drug trafficking. But a large number of controversial issues have been put “in the freezer” to be considered later.
Farc leaders insisted the organisation only “taxes” coca growers, along with other economic activity in the areas it controls, that teenagers can only join over the age of 15 – younger children with the guerrillas were usually orphans – and that they never deliberately attack the civilian population.
Asked whether the Farc could envisage any guerrillas going to jail as a result of a peace agreement, Leon replied: “No peace process or dialogue in the world ended with people from the parties in prison.” Santrich added that any punitive measures would have to be taken by an independent tribunal, not the state or its “corrupt and venal judiciary”.
Last modified on Wednesday, 30 July 2014 20:18
Reconciliation cannot be achieved by decree
The leader of the FARC-EP sets out the vision of the guerrilla on the most thorny issue of the negotiations; ie victims. Here is how they prepare for the negotiations.
A few days before finishing my most recent visit to Havana, where I enjoyed a unique World Cup amid Caribbean baseball players and finished a couple of book projects, I contacted Pablo Catatumbo to discuss the next issue on the agenda agreed between the government and the FARC: victims of the conflict. The guerrilla leader did not shirk the issue and we met for breakfast at a hotel in the Cuban capital, some hours before Colombia beat Uruguay in that memorable match that served James Rodríguez to appear in the history of World Cups.
By: Jorge Enrique Botero
Catatumbo was accompanied by his partner, Camila Cienfuegos, and he was clear and sincere, like all the times I’ve talked to him before. However, he did not allow me to turn the recorder on. Instead, he offered me to respond the questionnaire I had prepared by mail. A couple of weeks before the round of talks on victims starts in Havana, among the storms unleashed by the latest news on the war, the FARC puts its cards on the matter of victims on the table.
Jorge Enrique Botero – Within a few days the government and the FARC will begin the discussion of the topic “victims”. How has the FARC prepared to address this point?
Pablo Catatumbo– From the exploratory phase of the talks we are preparing this issue. The consultation of experts, the collection of proposals and ideas from social and victims’ organizations and the exchanges of experiences with other peace processes have been very important.
We believe we have the essential, necessary and appropriate tools for addressing the issue, for which objectivity is required. It also should be taken into account that, according to UN statistics, more than 80 percent of victimizations are responsibility of the state and its paramilitaries.
JEB – According to the General Agreement for the Termination of the conflict, “to compensate victims is at the center of the agreement”, now what do you understand by “compensate”?
PC – To compensate is to overcome the root causes of the conflict, of which victimization derives. The starting point for compensation is that state and society as a whole assume the topic of peace and reconciliation, starting from the recognition of the existence of the conflict. The reprehensible damage and pain caused to victims should be repaired, too. This implies their recognition and visibility within the collective consciousness of the nation. It is a complex, lengthy process and it represents huge challenges for all Colombia, for which we must all put our two cents.
It also means that victims can fully trust that in the new country, the structural changes in economic, political and social order will be materialized to ensure non-repetition. That is, we could say, the only guarantee for victims that events such as those won’t be repeated. That is what we mean when we say that the final agreement should mean a never again.
Therefore, the victims must logically know the real, concrete origin and dynamics of the situations in which their rights were violated.
JEB – Why did the FARC insist so much on the creation of a commission to clarify the truth, origins and causes of the war?
PC – This is directly connected with the last thing I wrote in the previous response: reconciliation is not possible without knowledge of the origin and causes of the war, a war that began decades before the formation of the current guerrilla organizations, FARC-EP and ELN. Definitely, we cannot speak of millions of victims as if they had fallen out of the sky, as if they were produced spontaneously, or because of perverse individual behavior. We insist that the state, the traditional two-party system, the business class and the ruling and dominant political class in general have a huge responsibility in everything that happened. There are a few concrete and historical origins of the social and armed conflict, which have a fundamental responsibility within political parties and institutions. That is something that should not be ignored and must be perfectly clarified, if we are really talking about the truth.
JEB – What will be the role of this committee and how will it be conformed?
PC – On June 7, the parties agreed the creation of the “historical commission of the conflict”. Our proposal is that it has to consist of academics and experts, chosen by both parties on equal terms. Regarding its operation, I believe that I shouldn’t say anything about the consensus that we are building with the counterparty, so we will inform about it when the moment has come.
JEB – Without recognizing that the Colombian government and paramilitaries are responsible for a large percentage of the cruel and inhuman actions that degraded the conflict, does the FARC EP recognize to have caused serious damage and suffering to civilians in the context of the war?
PC – The insurgency is not the perpetrator of the Colombian conflict, as some institutional sectors and agents of Colombian society would like everybody to believe, ignoring the reality shown by the statistics on victims. We have never had a strategy of attacking the civil population. It’s exactly the other way around: we emerge as guerrilla organization precisely in order to defend the peasantry and other Colombian popular sectors that were being massacred by the establishment for a long time. Possibly, in the context and development of the war, events may have been produced that have affected civilians that didn’t have to do anything directly with the confrontation. These are regrettable facts, but they were not calculated, and as revolutionaries we deplore them, of course. In the next item of “victims” to be discussed at the peace talks, we will precisely address the treatment and clarification of all these problems.
JEB – Let’s talk about specific cases: the deputies and the fallen from Bojayá, for example… what would you say if you had the families of the deputies in front of you?
PC – We are willing to talk to all these people, to clarify what happened and to express our regret for any suffering we may have caused. We are sorry, we share their pain and we know we can count on them for the reconstruction of the country. Through the media, some people have wanted to stoke hatred and create infinite chains of personal revenge, but we know well that that is not the position of the victims. Those who behave like this are the ones who want the war to be eternal, the ones who manipulate things, or the ones who try to get benefit out of the pain of the victims. The media hide the suffering, the damage and all the pain caused to the families and friends of those who have embraced the revolutionary cause, those who think in a different way than those who defend the current political regime.
JEB – Do you accept that the practice of kidnapping constituted a violation of human rights?
PC – To speak with complete objectivity and honesty about such a painful, sensitive and manipulated subject, we must analyze it the context of the whole complex social and armed conflict. We shouldn’t overlook the serious phenomenon of enforced disappearance which is a systematic practice which the state is still carrying out.
In the past, we practiced three types of detentions that are usually labeled as kidnapping.
The first is the capture in combat of enemy soldiers. This is a fully valid proceeding under the law of war and recognized by international conventions, for the captured soldiers were armed, uniformed and properly identified as enemy units and were captured in combat, in the context of a confrontation recognized by the state. Labeling them as “hostages” or “victims” is nothing more than a fallacy, because they are enemy soldiers who have been made prisoners of war.
Under these conditions, the release of prisoners of war was subject to what the parties to the conflict agreed within the framework of a humanitarian agreement and the establishment showed no will to do so. Remember that in prisons in Colombia there are hundreds of our combatants; if we stick to the language used by the state, they would also have been “kidnapped”.
The financial detentions were done solely to finance our rebellion against an unjust and criminal state, and always on the basis of our insurgent legality.
This practice was motivated by war itself and has been practiced by almost every insurgent army in conflicts of various countries, given the asymmetry imposed by the reality of waging a guerrilla warfare, as expression of a rebellion, which because of its very nature acts illegally and requires resources. We acted protected under law 002 of the rising insurgent state, but now on the way to peace and as an effective gesture of reconciliation, we have modified it to avoid this kind of deprivation of liberty.
The third is the retention of personalities and leaders of the state against which we are fighting, for primarily political reasons, not financial ones. This is a valid action from an insurgent point of view, subject to a humanitarian exchange of political prisoners held by the counterpart, in many cases arbitrarily arrested. You see, there is also a responsibility of the State in systematically victimizing the popular sectors and in refusing to pact humanitarian agreements. It is not only our responsibility; we acted based on our autonomy, legality and rebel legitimacy.
I reiterate that when we started these peace talks, as a unilateral goodwill gesture, we have suspended all financially motivated detentions. We have complied with this, but this fact is permanently hidden by the mainstream media and the government, while the state has continued its systematic practice of arbitrary detention for political reasons of social and popular leaders and peasants.
JEB – Would the FARC ask for forgiveness from the victims? What role do you attribute to forgiveness regarding this topic?
PC – From the start, it has been the FARC-EP who said that victims’ rights are not negotiable and that we haven’t come to Havana to negotiate impunity.
That’s not an argument of the government, it is one of our principles. It is a subject in which we are seeking consensus, both with the counterpart as with the victims and their organizations.We have insisted that the reconstruction of the truth, the whole truth, about the origin, causes, the perpetrators and the conflict in general is necessary. We are building something, keeping in mind the special conditions of a conflict like ours. We have made public our proposal of a “national day of contrition”, according to which we insist that all those involved should acknowledge responsibility, but considering that we cannot establish a kind of equidistance here, because the creation of the war and more than 85% of its victimization has been led by the state and the dominant power block. That cannot be ignored or overlooked. That what we think and certainly with the development of the discussion on “Victims” we will advance significantly for everybody’s sake.
And about forgiveness, which is a matter of inner consciousness, we would like it to be taken away from media manipulation in order to avoid it becoming a farce of hypocritical appearances.
We welcome all the proposals and views that citizens wish to make, we know that is an issue that arouses interest in the entire population.
JEB – Some voices of people and organizations that declare themselves victims of the FARC-EP consider that you should provide material compensation for the damaged infrastructure you caused in development of military actions…
PC – The best that both parties can do to avoid situations like these, is to reach a final agreement that will stop war once and for all. We know there is a public outcry for it, and this has been expressed by different forums on victims, held throughout the country. The first request of a majority of the victims was an immediate Bilateral Ceasefire, so that no more victims will be produced by the conflict. We work on that every day.
According to common sense, the compensation for the ravages of war must be assumed by the new institutions we agree.
JEB – If there will be a peace agreement, where is the guarantee of non-repetition?
PC – In a demilitarized society, in the abolition of paramilitarism, in reaching full guarantees for the exercise of political opposition and in the opening towards a genuine and inclusive democracy, through a National Constituent Assembly. Otherwise it will be impossible to stop the armed expressions of the social conflict.
JEB – What are, in your view, the mechanisms that should be created to cure the deep wounds left by more than six decades of confrontation?
PC – Reconciliation is not built overnight, it’s not something that can be achieved by decree. The ideal is a collective construction, in which all sectors of the real country participate, where all voices are heard and where we can be confident that the war won’t be the horizon of our country which has so many possibilities, so much potential, resources and capabilities.