Workers World May 11, 2000
The United States government is preparing a massive escalation of its military intervention in Colombia.
Colombia is already the third-biggest recipient of U.S. military aid in the world. The Pentagon is pushing a $1.7 billion military-aid package through Congress right now. This aid is clearly aimed at the country’s two main insurgencies: the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-Peoples Army (FARC-EP) and the National Liberation Army (ELN).
At the same time, the FARC-EP has been conducting high-level talks with the government of Colombian President Andrés Pastrana in a demilitarized zone of five municipalities. Pastrana recently announced plans to demilitarize three more municipalities in order to hold talks there with the ELN.
This dynamic situation of revolution and U.S. military intervention makes the publication of “FARC-EP: Historical Outline” by the International Commis sion of the FARC-EP extremely timely. The book is an essential tool for activists wishing to understand the unfolding struggle in Colombia.
The book, first published in Spanish in 1999 and now translated into English, contains an historical account of the development of the FARC-EP as well as political documents relevant to the struggle. It is an antidote to the campaign of lies and slander against the FARC-EP emanating from the Pentagon.
Besides being a fascinating account of the Colombian struggle for a new social order, the book covers three main points.
First, it explains how the FARC-EP developed from an organization of 48 fighters for peasant land rights to a national military-political organization with 60 fronts in seven main blocs.
Second, it provides a clear view of the group’s political orientation and view of the world–the result of applying communist theory to the characteristic features of the Colombian history and struggle.
Third, the book devotes considerable attention to the FARC-EP’s experience in carrying out talks with various Colombian governments in the past. This experience weighs on the FARC-EP’s current round of talks with the Pastrana regime far more heavily than the recent experiences in other Latin American countries with “peace talks”–processes held up by both Pastrana’s government and its Washington backers as models for “successful” negotiations.
Origins of the FARC-EP
The book traces the origins of the FARC-EP to the violent struggles within the Colombian ruling class after the end of World War II. As part of those struggles, the Liberal Party embraced a program of land reform to generate popular support against the rival Conservative Party.
Liberal supporters organized peasant militias to fight for the land reform. A state of near civil war gripped the countryside. Among the leaders of those militias was Pedro Antonio Marín, future leader of the FARC-EP.
That sharp phase of ruling-class struggle came to an end in 1952. Liberal guerrillas demobilized, turning in their weapons. But peasants who were serious about pursuing the land struggle grouped around the communists, including Marín and Arenas, and continued the struggle.
During this period, Marín changed his name to Manuel Marulanda Vélez to commemorate a communist militant killed by police in Bogotá while protesting sending Colombian troops to Korea.
After the Liberals and Conservatives closed ranks, communist guerrillas helped the peasants set up organizations to defend their land. The ruling class demonized them as “independent communist republics.”
The Colombian government–by this time completely under the sway of U.S.-led anti-communist alliances–launched an attack against the peasants at Marquetalia in 1964.
Marulanda led the resistance to “Operation Marquetalia.” It was in the wake of this attack that Marulanda and his 47 comrades formed what would become the FARC-EP.
The “Historical Outline” describes the evolution of the FARC-EP’s organization and political development. Particular attention is paid to the group’s eight conferences–meetings where overall strategy and political perspective were evaluated and modified.
At the 1966 Second Conference, the group formally adopted the name FARC. This was revised to the FARC-EP at the 1982 Seventh Conference, based on a change in the conception of the guerrilla organization.
The 1993 Eighth Conference adopted the “Platform for a Government of National Reconciliation and Reconstruction,” the main programmatic document guiding the FARC-EP’s current talks with the Pastrana government.
“Building a New Colombia”
What is the FARC-EP fighting for?
The Pentagon and its paid pundits slander the group as “narco-guerrillas” without an ideology or vision of the future. The documents presented in “FARC-EP: Historical Outline” show that this is hardly the case.
The group’s political perspective is outlined in the form of six anniversary greetings, written from 1994 to 1999. All the documents were written by Marulanda, the FARC-EP’s commander-in-chief.
What emerges from these documents is a clear political vision of the “New Colombia” that the FARC-EP is fighting for. In particular, in the revolutionary struggle that it is carrying out, “massive and conscious popular participation is indispensable.”
“This is not a confrontation of military machines, but rather of classes contending over the political leadership of the country,” Marulanda writes. “War has been the consequence of the implacable aggression by the oligarchy against the people rising up in struggle for its liberty.” (May 1996)
The FARC-EP openly expresses its goal as a socialist society “without exploiters or exploited.”
The immediate aims expressed in the 1993 “Platform” (and in the 1964 “Agrarian Program of the Guerrillas of the FARC-EP”) are concrete steps toward that goal: reorient the economy toward national social needs; genuine and thorough land reform; completely restructure the Armed Forces; a sovereign foreign policy independent of the demands of U.S. imperialism.
This policy is described as “Bolivarian”–in the spirit of Simón Bolívar, the great Latin American national-liberation leader of the 19th century. The FARC-EP uses the term in the sense of national unity in the face of imperialism.
Armed struggle and dialog
Another important feature of the “Historical Outline” is a detailed account of the FARC-EP’s experience in dialogs with various national governments. From the very first years, when Liberal guerrilla leaders who negotiated an end to their armed struggle faced assassination, a “historical doubt as to the government’s offers of peace and possible truces” emerged.
This experience was enriched by the Uribe Accords of 1984. After these agreements, the FARC declared a truce and launched the Patriotic Union (UP) to participate in legal political activity. Three years later, the government openly broke the truce.
Over 4,000 UP leaders and activists, including many people who had been elected to local office, were murdered.
Similar events unfolded after a round of talks in 1991-92. Several other guerrilla groups adopted the government’s offer for amnesty in exchange for laying down arms. Many in these groups have since been assassinated or given up their political struggle.
The FARC-EP and the ELN, at that time united in the Simón Bolívar Guerrilla Coordination, retained the armed struggle after it was clear that the government refused to discuss fundamental changes in the armed forces.
The book presents documents to show that in each case, it has been the government’s duplicity that has caused the collapse of agreements. It presents several exchanges of letters showing the government’s intransigence on key points during past talks.
Documents directly addressing the current talks include a speech by Secretariat member Raul Reyes at the opening of the talks in San Vicente de Caguan in January 1999, along with news releases on matters of importance.
The FARC-EP says that in the current talks: “Disarmament and demobilization are not matters being discussed. Our arms will be the only worthwhile guarantees for the carrying out of the accords and, in the case they are carried out, these arms will lose their importance and be kept in the hands of the Colombian people.”
The U.S. government has shown that it is preparing a massive military campaign against the FARC-EP and the ELN. The unfolding revolutionary struggle in Colombia against the backdrop of U.S. intervention makes “FARC-EP: Historical Outline” necessary reading for anti-imperialist activists, especially in the United States.