There are many fabrications and false
assumptions underlying the Colombia peace negotiations between the Santos
regime and FARC – EP (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – Peoples Army). The
first and most egregious is that Colombia is a democracy. The second is that
the Santos regime pursues policies that enhance non-violent social and
political activity conducive to integrating the armed insurgency into the
There is sufficient evidence to call
into question both assumptions. Over the past two decades and a half nearly
three thousand trade union leaders and activists have been murdered; over 4.5
million peasants have been dispossessed and displaced by the military and
paramilitary forces; and over nine thousand political prisoners are being held
indefinitely for engaging in non-violent socio-political activity. In addition
scores of human rights lawyers, activists and advocates have been assassinated.
The vast majority of the victims are a
result of regime directed military and police repression or paramilitary death
squads allied with the military and leading pro-government politicians.
The scale and scope of regime violence
against social opposition precludes any notion that Colombia is a democracy: elections
conducted under widespread terror and whose perpetrators are allied with the
state and act with impunity, have no legitimacy.
The re-election of President Santos and
the convocation of peace negotiations with the FARC to end Latin America’s
longest civil war is certainly a welcome step toward ending the bloodshed and
providing the basis for a transition to democracy.
While the Santos regime has put a stop
to the massive state terror regime of his predecessor, the US backed Alvaro
Uribe regime, political assassinations still occur and the perpetrators
continue to act with impunity.
For any peace process to culminate with
success, the peace accords, agreed to by both parties, must be effectively
implemented. Previous agreements ended in state massacres of demobilized
guerrillas turned civil society activists and elected political
The peace negotiations have proceeded
for two years and major accords have been reached on a series of vital areas of
mutual concern. In particular both sides have signed off on 3 of 5 points on
the peace agenda: rural developments, guerrilla participation in politics,
policy on drug trafficking. Current negotiations focus on the contentious
“transitional justice” for victims of the conflict. Most human rights groups and
experts agree that the vast majority of victims are a result of military and
paramilitary repression. However, the Santos regime and its backers in the
media claim otherwise – blaming the FARC.
Is There a “Peace Process”?
The Santos regime has thrice rejected
ceasefire offers by the FARC who have gone ahead and unilaterally implemented
them. The regime has chosen to continue the war in Colombia while negotiating
in Havana. The two-year time span of the peace negotiations provides deep
insights into the viability of the peace accords signed in Havana. International
and Colombian human rights groups and social movements provide timely reports
on the scope and depth of ongoing violations of political and human rights in
Colombia during the peace negotiations.
Based on data compiled by human rights
attorneys and experts affiliated with the Marcha Patriotica (Patriotic March),
an alliance of scores of neighborhood, peasant, trade union and human rights
organizations, between April 2012 and January 2014, it is clear that the reign
of state and paramilitary terror continues parallel to the peace negotiations.
During this 21-month period,
twenty-nine Patriotic March (PM) activists were killed and three others were “disappeared”
– and presumed murdered. Scores of others have received death threats.
The class background of the victims
points to the vulnerability of the peace agreement. Twenty-three of the
murdered members of the PM were peasant leaders and activists promoting
agrarian reform, the repossession of land under the regime’s Land Restitution
Law or engaged in other peaceful civil society activity. Four of the victims
were active in social movements supporting a “peace with social justice”
agenda; two were human rights lawyers; two were community and neighborhood
organizers and one was a leader of a local youth movement.
None of the assailants were arrested.
Military and police officials, who had previous notice of death threats, took
no precautions. Nor were any investigations undertaken, even when family and
neighbors were privy to relevant evidence.
In the face of the Santos’ government’s
unwillingness to curtail military, police and death squad complicity in the
murder of peasant activists during the peace negotiations, can the regime be
trusted to implement the accord on “rural development”? Can the government
guarantee the security of disarmed guerrillas as they enter the political system
when over one hundred human rights activists received death threats in
According to Amnesty International,
during 2013, seventy human rights defenders were killed, including indigenous
and Afro-Colombian leaders and twenty-seven members of trade unions. At least
forty-eight homicides were committed by military units. Military commanders
engaged in “false positives”, meaning murdered civilians were falsely labelled
by the military as “armed insurgents”. Extra judicial killings by the military
continue under the Santos regime.
Equally ominous, Santos has failed to
disband the paramilitary death squads. As a result, the regime fails to protect
land claimants. Dispossessed peasants and farmers attempting to resettle their
land under Santos’ “Land Restitution Law” have been threatened or murdered by
paramilitary gangs. As a result the Law has virtually no impact on resettling
peasants because of landlord retaliations.
In fact the number of dispossessed has
increased according to the United Nations: 55,157, mostly rural, Colombians
fled their homes between January and October 2013, because warfare between and
among drug and paramilitary gangs.
Presidential Santos War on
The pervasive insecurity that rules the
countryside, the murders, disappearances and jailing of social activists,
accompanying the peace negotiations, call into question the “accords” thus far
reached between the FARC and the Santos regime. Supporters of the regime argue
that the number of state murders has declined over the past three years. Critics
counter that relative fewer assassination have the same effect in generating
fear, undermining citizen participation and the transition to a democratic
The entire conception of a successful
peace process rests on the assumption that the accords will result in
constitutional guarantees of free and democratic citizen participation. Yet
throughout the two-year period, the regime has not demonstrated a clear and
consequential commitment to elementary rights. If that is the case during the
negotiations with the popular insurgency, still active and armed, how much
worse will conditions become once the military, police and paramilitary are
free of any retaliation, when they will have a free hand to intimidate and
strike down disarmed political dissidents attempting to compete in local or
The Santos regime appears to have
adopted a two-prong strategy: combining violent repression of the social
movements in Colombia while adopting the language of peace, justice and
reconciliation at the peace table in Havana.
The Santos regime can promise to accept
many democratic changes but its practice over the past two years speaks to an
authoritarian, lawless regime, content with maintaining the status quo.
The Santos regime has three strategic
goals: to disarm the popular insurgency; to regain control over the territory
under insurgent control; and to weaken and undermine the popular social
movements and human rights groups which are likely to form political alliances
with the insurgents when and if they become part of the political system.
It is doubtful that the FARC will
surrender their arms in a political climate in which paramilitary killers
operate with impunity; military commanders still engage in ‘false positives’;
and rural development projects are inoperative because of landowners’ terror
Unless the peace accords are
accompanied by fundamental changes in the military; unless the paramilitary
forces are effectively demobilized; unless the government recognizes the
legitimacy of the demands of the mass social movements and human rights group
for a freely elected constituent assembly is accepted, the peace process will
end in failure.
Conclusion: Four Hypotheses on
Santos Strategy for War and Peace
There are several hypotheses regarding
why the Santos regime negotiates a peace accord while gross violations of human
rights continue on a daily basis.
(1) The Santos regime is divided, with
one sector in favor of peace and another opposed. This hypothesis lacks any
credible basis as these are no visible signs of internal conflict and the
regime acts with a unified command. While some state violence may be a result
of local military commanders, at no point have national leaders reprimanded the
(2) The Santos regime actively pursues
violent acts against the social movements to strengthen its bargaining position
in the peace negotiations to secure a more favorable settlement – in other
words, to make the minimum of social concessions in order to placate oligarchs
critical of any negotiations. This hypothesis explains the ‘dual strategy’
approach advocated by the regime with regard to the FARC, talking peace in
Havana and rejecting a cease-fire in Colombia; continuing the war while
negotiating peace. But it also undermines the regime’s claim that Santos seeks
to incorporate combatant groups into the political system.
3) The regime is in a tacit pact with
former death squad – President Alvaro Uribe. As a result the government’s
military apparatus is still tied to paramilitary gangs, working with
landowners, drug traffickers and businesspeople. There is no doubt that Santos
has long-standing ties to Uribe – he was his Defense Minister. Moreover, after
Santos defeated Uribe’s candidate for the Presidency by a narrow margin he has
sought a political accommodation with Uribe’s Congressional and business
supporters. On the other hand, Santos recognizes that his economic strategy,
especially his focus on promoting trade with Latin America and especially
Venezuela, and his big push to exploit the energy and mining sector depends on
reaching a peace agreement with the FARC, which controls substantial mineral
rich regions. Hence Santos signs
“paper agreements’ with the FARC, while applying a ‘hard fist’ (‘mano duro’)
policy to the social movements.
(4) The upsurge of the mass social
movements, including the Marcha Patriotica, demanding the effective
implementation of the ‘rural development’ reforms and repossession of land to
3.5 million displaced families and the increasing role of the human rights
groups in monitoring the ongoing violations of human rights, means that the
Santos regime cannot secure ‘peace’ solely through an agreement with the FARC
in Havana. If the Santos regime’s goal in the peace negotiations is to disarm
the guerrillas and incorporate them into the electoral system, without dealing
with the root socio-economic structural reforms, it must weaken the civil
society popular movements.
This is the most plausible hypothesis. President
Santos is capable of promising the FARC any sort of ‘democratic reforms’ and is
willing to sign off on anti-drug agreements and even ‘agrarian development’. But
what he is unwilling to accept is the emergence of mass peasant movements
actively engaged in changing land tenure, repossessing their farms and
reclaiming millions of acres of land granted to big foreign owned mining
Santos will not ‘demobilize’ the
paramilitary gangs because they are instruments of the big landowners and
protect the state grants to the big mining companies. But he will try to limit
death squad targets to specific activists and organizations in contentious
Santos has not even curtailed the cross
border attacks by Colombian paramilitary groups. Assassinations continue, the latest,
the assassination of a Venezuelan Congressional leader. He has expanded
military ties with the US by pursuing agreements to collaborate with NATO –
offering combat units for the Middle East wars.
What is abundantly clear is that the Santos
regime has not complied with the most elementary conditions necessary to
implement any of the five point reform agenda set forth in Havana. Military
impunity, rampaging death squads, scores of daily death threats to human rights
activists, over nine thousand political prisoners and dozens of unsolved
killings of peasant leaders is not compatible with a transition to a democratic
peace. They are compatible with the continuity of an authoritarian oligarchical
regime. A democratic transition and a peace agreement requires a fundamental
change in the political culture and institutions of the Colombian state.
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