Wednesday, June 7, 2017

How the FARC Missed Its Initial Goals - a Sad Story

These days - May 27th 2017 - the world's oldest guerrilla group FARC-EP was 'celebrating' its 53rd anniversary. While anyone else would think that a sober memorial of the FARC's founding in 1964  would be more appropriate, las FARC still see themselves as victors and bringers of  peace and social justice in Colombia, something that should be celebrated. Let's look into that and see how true that is.

Following the decade of civil war from 1948 to 1958, known as La Violencia, Colombian Communist Party (PCC) members  led groups of individuals, who felt neglected by the Colombian government, to settle throughout the countryside and create their own communities. Manuel Marulanda together with Jacobo Arenas led a group to settle in Marquetalia, Tolima with the goal of creating a society in which the needs and concerns of the rural population would be addressed. Marulanda’s group later became the FARC.
On May 27, 1964 the Colombian military attacked Marquetalia and other surrounding communities. Marulanda’s forty-eight guerrilla fighters fought back. Following the attack, on July 20th 1964, the guerrillas from Marquetalia met with other communities, organized, and unified in what they called the First Guerrilla Conference. During this conference, in which some 350 guerrillas participated, they formally declared themselves a guerrilla group, taking on the name the Southern Bloc. This Southern Bloc called for land reform, better conditions for those in the countryside, and vowed to defend the communities of followers in the countryside from the Colombian government. The Southern Bloc met again in May 1966 for its Second Guerrilla Conference and renamed itself the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the FARC.

When 'The Way' to Achieve The Original Goal Becomes The New Goal

Has the FARC contributed to a more social, juster and less unequal Colombia after 53 years of conflict? Probably not. The result of 53 years of 'struggle' is exactly the opposite of what the FARC once wanted to achieve at the beginning of its existence. Colombia has become a country with a higher inequality, where social justice is still often absent and where organized crime,  violence, impunity and corruption still celebrate.
The triumph of the 1959 Cuban Revolution, filled the minds of many worldwide with revolutionary fervor and put the guerrilla and peasant struggle in Marquetalia in context. Che Guevara and Fidel Castro became icons in the sixties and seventies. The atrocities of Cuba and other communist states were not commonly known then, nor the 250 executions of 'enemies of the revolution' that were carried out by Che single-handed. The black Book of Communism and Archie Brown's The Rise and Fall of Communism had still to be written...
While in the 53 years of FARC insurgency almost every communist state fell or had to adapt its communist policies because of difficult economic conditions and a stronger need to suppress the population, the FARC secretariat in the Colombian jungle continued on its Marxist-Leninist path, 'fighting' for revolution. While in the beginning the FARC was funded and supported by the communities it protected and only fought against the Colombian army and paramilitaries that attacked them, this path was soon left and exchanged for a more terrorist path that should lead to a communist revolution in Colombia and a communist state. The initial goal of social justice, land reform, better conditions of campesinos and less inequality was exchanged for the goal of a communist revolution and state. The FARC became its own captive on a self-chosen path without sideways or any possibility to reverse. A path  that was leading inevitably to more violence, more innocent victims, more impunity, more injustice, more corruption, more inequality and more land grab. It took the FARC secretariat 48 years, a death toll of 250,000 and millions of civilian victims to realize they were on the wrong course and to finally decide to participate in peace negotiations with an agenda that was achievable and with a FARC leader (Timochenko) who was acceptable and reasonable in the eyes of the government delegation. Former FARC leader Alfonso Cano was involved in the preparatory talks for the negotiations, but was hunted down in the Colombian jungle and executed by the Colombian military, probably because he was too dogmatic and therefore not acceptable as negotiating partner. The negotiations started in Havana, Cuba September 2012.

The FARC Strategies That Backfired:


Public Opinion ?
Somewhere in the seventies the FARC chose to commit terrorist actions as a strategy to pressurize the government. Innocent civilian victims were considered to be "the price of the revolution". Extortion of farmers and entrepreneurs, who would be taken hostage or killed if they couldn't or wouldn't pay the "revolution tax"; bomb and fire-bomb attacks on infrastructure, buildings, police-stations, buses; taking hostages for ransom; plain murders. However, some prisoners that were taken 'hostage' by the FARC and were meant to exchange, can be seen as POW's according to the Geneva convention. After all the Colombian government was prisoning FARC-guerrilleros and left-wing politicians as well. No prisoner exchange was ever conducted, because the government always refused. Eventually the FARC had to kill most of its prisoners. All these acts of terror were highlighted in the biased Colombian Main Stream Media (MSM) for years. While the United Nations has estimated that 12% of all killings of civilians in Colombian conflict were committed by FARC and ELN guerrillas (with 80% committed by right-wing paramilitaries, and the remaining 8% committed by security forces), the FARC has been strategically demonized in the Col. MSM for a very long time. Because of the terrorist actions against civilians, the public opinion on the FARC could not have become worse. If ever an attempt for a revolution would have happened, there would be very little support and sympathy from the Colombian people. The continuous terrorist actions also prolonged the legal status of paramilitaries, which was granted already in 1964. Paramilitary organizations would become an ally of the Colombian army and were often hired to do all kind of dirty jobs. The intensification of the conflict and political polarization enabled a neo-liberal hardliner with a criminal background like Alvaro Uribe to become president for 8 years.

Land Reform ?
One of the FARC's initial goals was to reform and redistribute the farmland in such a way that each small farmer was able to earn a decent existence from his land. That meant large landowners had to give up their land, whether it would be confiscated or compensated. Already during Pablo Escobar's era, drugs barons invested  cocaine monies in farmland, but during president Uribe's terms, a huge neo-liberal land reform was carried out to the advantage of agri-business companies that often were financed with cocaine monies. The procedure worked as follows. Often a large territory was declared as a war-zone by the military and all inhabitants were asked to leave. The campesinos who refused were intimidated by paramilitary dead squads.  Land titles based on customary law or even official land titles of the abandoned land were declared invalid, stolen or bought cheaply. Notaries and corrupt land officials worked closely together to register new titles for agribusiness companies and large landholders. Mostly during president Uribe's terms, the total size of 26,000 sq. miles (15% of Colombia's territory) was 'reformed' into agribusiness or mining, resulting in over 7 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDP's), who lost most of their possessions and had to flee to the slums of the big cities and live their miserable lives.

Better Conditions for Campesinos ?
In 48 years the FARC could have done quite a lot for campesinos. For instance they could have made it possible for all campesinos living in remote areas to be able to vote in elections in an easy way and without travel or ID expenses. Or they could have organized the construction of new roads; organize campesinos into agrarian collectives; organize trainings for cheap and sustainable home-building; organize agrarian skills and knowledge; organize advanced agrarian product development; organize micro-financing and so on. However, the FARC didn't do all of this, instead the FARC persuaded campesinos in FARC controlled areas to grow coca, making campesinos complicit to the FARC's drug trade.  Initially the FARC worked with a tax-system called "gramaje", imposed on the different links of the drug chain in their areas of control, including:
  • A tax on the growers (the cocaleros) -- which usually does not exceed $50 per kilo of cocapaste
  • A tax on the buyers -- up to $200 on a kilo of cocapaste
  • A tax on production in laboratories in their areas of control -- up to $100 for every kilo of cocaine produced
  • A tax on airstrips and flights that leave from their territory -- again another $100 per kilo.
This means the rebels earn up to $450 from each kilo of drugs produced and moving through their territory. Even if this were their only involvement in the drug trade, it would earn them a minimum of $50 million a year just on the coca base trade alone in their areas of influence. The FARC involvement in drugs is far more extensive and is not restricted to cocaine. It also includes heroin, and a recent and increasingly lucrative development, marijuana. Total earnings in drugs could be well over $200 million a year. 
However, campesinos secretly began to sell coca-paste to buyers who evaded the FARC tax. Because the FARC-fronts and blocs were quite autonomous in their methods to fund their operations, the gramaje system ended up slightly different in the field. Campesinos in the FARC controlled areas were obliged to sell their cocapaste only to the FARC. The FARC sold the cocapaste to traffickers of their choice or - sometimes - transported the cocapaste to their own cocaine-laboratories. While most Colombian cocaine ends up in the USA or Europe, more and more cocapaste ends up as Bazuco (cheap crack, only USD 1-2 for one dose) for addicted Colombians and South-Americans, mostly the poor (los estratos 1 y 2) trying to escape their misery. The average profit/risk ratio that is made  by the buyers of cocapaste nowadays is about equal, whether it is transported to cocaine labs or to bazuco-markets. There are no effective programs known to counteract the abuse of bazuco or for the rehabilitation of bazuco addicts.
Bazuco Addict Necessities - Courtesy of El Tiempo

Less Inequality ?  
Colombia has traditionally been one of Latin America’s most unequal countries with the highest poverty and inequality rates in the region. Probably the FARC's insurgency only made it worse. 

GINI-Index Colombia 1980-2015 - 100% is maximum inequality -
Courtesy of Knoema

The FARC's insurgency and drug trafficking, the paramilitary organizations and the kind of continuous state of emergency the country was in, made it possible that both the number of rich and poor people grew rapidly thanks to the drugs monies. Drugs monies also increased corruption to high levels, meaning that even politicians were bribed in high numbers to vote in congress in favor for neo-liberal and anti-social legislation. Paramilitaries killed (and are still killing) numerous social leaders, human rights workers and politicians. The BACRIM's - criminal successors of the paramilitary organizations - were able to develop themselves into powerful organized crime networks.

Social Justice ?
The high numbers of kidnappings and extortions by the FARC, necessary to finance FARC operations,  resulted in the authorities being powerless to solve or prevent all of these cases and caused increasing impunity. As a consequence (then legal, but illegal since 1990) paramilitary organizations boomed because initially farmers, entrepreneurs and companies wanted to defend and protect themselves, because the authorities couldn't.  During its existence between 1997-2007, the (then illegal, but still tolerated) Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) had 30,000 armed members at its peak. Paramilitary death squads became responsible for social cleansing and massive killings. AUC operations were 70% funded through cocaine-related earnings, according to AUC founder Carlos Castaño. The massive killing of civilians by the paramilitaries and bribing of police-officers and judges contributed to even more impunity in Colombia. It  can't be refuted that the FARC insurgency and its modi operandii were for a big part responsible for a chain of foreseeable reactions taken by right wing opportunists and profiteers that benefited from the powerless authorities. This caused high violence-, high impunity- and high corruption-levels and higher social injustice in Colombia.

The FARC's victims !
The FARC had no problem targeting the Colombian civil population with terrorist attacks. Most times  the rich elite became the target, because in the FARC's Marxist Leninist view they were were guilty of the social injustice in Colombia and of the possession of some "means of production" and of course money. Sometimes even the poor population that was suffering from social injustice already, was targeted and had to pay "the price of the revolution". During the the FARC's years of insurgency the FARC committed lots of attacks on the innocent civil population.

Car bomb Attack Club El Nogal Bogotá - February 7, 2003 -
36 people killed, 200+ injured

For instance the numerous bomb-attacks on police-stations with often lots of innocent civilian victims. Or the major car bomb attack on club El Nogal. Or the massacre (17 killed) of the defenseless indigenous Awá people including 2 pregnant women in Nariño, which were suspected to collaborate with the enemy. 
In the early years, the FARC kidnapped for ransom, primarily targeting the suspected rich, like entrepreneurs, farmers, foreigners and employees of large corporations. They did so to pay for the camps and social service provision (schools and field hospitals). However the family of the hostages were often already financially indebted and couldn't pay the ransom. Eventually lots of hostages were killed because ransoms weren't paid.
If the FARC fought against the Col. army it was often from an ambush. The Colombian soldiers that were killed or injured were often poor campesinos that were unable to buy off their military conscription. Conscripted soldiers and unemployed farm workers were also frequently used to manually eradicate coca fields. Coca fields in FARC zones, that were often protected with anti personel mines and frequently caused injuries.
Oil pipelines and power-lines were another favorite target of the FARC. These bomb-attacks continued even during the peace negotiations. They thought these actions were affecting the government and were not causing any victims. Of course this isn't true. Attacks on oil pipelines cause massive pollution of the environment; fish and drinking water from rivers gets polluted and isn't usable for long periods. Power outages causes food supplies to rot, patient care in hospitals to suspend, all communications in cities to abort and so on. So, as a result  lots of damage to the civilian population and even indirect deaths.
Another categorie of the FARC's victims are the ranks of the FARC themselves. Within the ranks of the FARC important human rights have been categorically denied. More than 50% of the FARC ranks joined at the age of 12-13-14. They were  deliberately recruited at a young age with the promise of food and basic education. Often this were children whose parents were killed by (para-)militaries and whose revenge feelings were stimulated or they were abandoned children that were just trying to survive. Child soldiers are easily drilled, manipulated, disciplined and indoctrinated, their conscience and cognition is not fully developed yet. Perhaps it is true that in the FARC only children from 15 years of age became full-fledged guerrilleros and were deployed in combat. But as 15 year old guerrillero you can not escape the FARC anymore. If you try to desert you will get the death penalty. 
Young adults were another useful category for recruiting new guerrilleros. Young adults are often looking for a purpose in their lives, eager to join groups, willing to 'change the world for the better' and receptive to ideologies. Many times selected students were told about Marxist/Leninist ideology in a sluwd way by their teacher, isolated from their peers and reeled in into the FARC organization.  
The women in the FARC were also victims. While women were given equal rights in the FARC only in 1989 (!), this turned not to be true at all. Any military commander knows that male soldiers need sex. If there are no women or prostitutes available, male soldiers will rape young females from the nearby civil population. Easily done when carrying an AK47, but extremely bad for the FARC's reputation. It happens even to UN peace keeping troops. Prostitutes are a risk for guerrilleros because of STD. Within the FARC women were made full responsible for anti-conception. A pregnancy was often seen as a route for young women to escape the FARC. For pregnant woman abortion was often mandatory, even if the pregnant woman objected. In several cases pregnant women were even drugged without their knowledge or approval and aborted while anesthetized. It's quite traumatic for a pregnant woman  to undergo a forced abortion as a member of a guerrilla organization that she joined as a 13-14 year old girl and that she can't escape from anymore. If women really had equal rights within the FARC, there would have been female commanders in the secretariat or EMC and these inhumane regulations for women would certainly not have existed while the FARC's struggle would have lasted much shorter than 53 years in the first place.
The FARC leaders is to blame that they sticked to the Marxist/Leninist ideology so strongly for 53 years. While they lived isolated in the Colombian jungle, they must have been aware that communist states were falling down everywhere in the world. Maybe their hope was Chávez' Venezuelan Bolivarian Revolution. Maybe they weren't aware that Chávez was only destroying the Venezuelan economy with his oil monies, fixed price-policies, huge imports and expropriations and that his policies were blazing the 'boligarchy', corruption and violence. Perhaps the FARC-leaders were victims there selves, because they felt they were tributary to Castro and Chávez, because both had supported the FARC?

The FARC's future...

During the 4 years of peace negotiations in Havana, Cuba, the FARC already tried to profile itself a bit as an organization that stood up for social justice and  democratic politics. However, the many video saludos to other international communist organizations, blogs of FARC ideologists, speeches and interviews of FARC negotiators and spokesmen/women as well as public commemorations of diseased FARC leaders, proved that it is still very difficult for the FARC to say goodbye to their Marxist/Leninist image and ideology. You cannot call your self a Leninist and democratic organization at the same time, because Lenin was a dictator and ran a bloody totalitarian regime. When you call yourself a Marxist political party in a democracy, other politicians and the Main Stream Media will associate you with  Marx' Communist Manifesto, in which Marx called for a violent 'revolution of the proletariat'. Marx' ideas of expropriation and state-ownership of all means of production and elimination of free markets as a solution to counteract capital accumulation were proved to be wrong by the many communist states that didn't survive.
A few months ago the FARC-EP apparently started showing a new kind of logo and slogan on few of its websites:

The New FARC logo (?) and slogan: 'FARC-EP - Peace is in our Heart'

However, the logo appears not to be original, while the old name 'FARC-EP' still has to be changed though. 
It would be a bad idea if any of the members of the FARC's Secretariat or EMC, who will undoubtedly all be declared guilty of crimes against humanity, would participate in the FARC's new political party. It would paralyze the party, but it also could be a major reason for rising violence against this new party. Especially if the FARC does not get rid of its Marxist Leninist basis and image. The implementation of the peace accords will be a big challenge. Uribistas will try to sabotage  every detail of the accords and they are trying al ready. Besides that, according to president Santos the implementation is supposed to be financed with monies that are generated from extra economic growth. Peace in Colombia will attract more foreign capital is the expectation. It is very questionable if this will happen. Because of increasing organized crime and polarization, the post-conflict era is expected to be at least as violent as during the conflict. 
The population voted 'NO' in the 2016 peace-plebiscite and turnout was very low. While the agreements were slightly adjusted after the disappointing results, president Santos was afraid to ask the population to vote for it again. The implementation of the peace accords needs a solid base in congress for a long period of time to secure the implementation. It is unsure of this will happen.

No comments:

Post a Comment