The trade union leader speaks about one of the most important moments in Colombia: the peace agreements with FARC and their implementation. He speaks about the enemies of peace and the new opportunities that these agreements represent for Colombian peasants.
The peace agreements open the possibility that the country will overcome violence provoked by right-wing paramilitaries and members of drug trafficking groups. Illegal drugs have not only stigmatised the country with respect to its bilateral relations, but have deeply affected the rural economy for 30 years.
Huber Ballesteros is a Colombian trade union leader of the political and social Patriotic March movement. Huber has recently regained his freedom after having spent more than 3 years in prison under false charges of financing terrorism and rebellion.
Ballesteros gives his expectations to “The Prisma” on the agreements that will open new doors for the peasantry and allow Colombia to develop new economic possibilities that will go beyond violence carried out by the state and drug dealers, into a new period of peace and democracy.
What are your expectations regarding the peace agreements between the Government and FARC?
Colombia is transitioning towards overcoming the conflict that has lasted for, what we say, is 53 years, but in truth, Colombia has been in a state of war since the Spanish arrived.
This time it is expected that the last recognised conflict, which is between the guerrillas and the Colombian state, is in the process of overcoming itself because there is a peace agreement signed in Havana by FARC members and there is the discussion in Quito with members of the National Liberation Army.
But there are other forms of violence in the country which need to be overcome. For example, there are paramilitary groups associated with the state and drug trafficking. The 6 points in the peace agreement outline solutions for the agricultural issue, political participation, victims, illegal drugs, guarantees for the opposition and the exercising of political opposition.
The political and social reincorporation of ex-combatants to constitutional Colombian life is of a profound significance and will have great importance to be applied with a reconciliatory spirit and to build peace and social justice. Now the Government is trying to minimise the impact, so that the agreements are not completely and comprehensively implemented, which could lead to failure in the attempts to end the social and political issues that gave rise to the armed conflict in Colombia. So, the expectations are huge.
Were the peasants’ demands considered in the peace negotiations?
Yes. It was the first discussion point on the agenda and the first point where an agreement was reached. The comprehensive rural reform, the territorial development programme and the national plans to overcome extreme poverty in the countryside are the main pillars.
There is an agreement to create a fund of 3 million hectares to give land to farmers who do not currently own any or who do not own a sufficient amount. This has never happened before in this country.
In Colombia, there are around 1 million and 600 families without land and some 9 million of the 13.5 million rural inhabitants. To give land to these 1 million and 600 families would require around 15-16 thousand hectares and 3 have been obtained. It is not enough, but it is more than what has been achieved in our country throughout the entire time the peasant struggle has been ongoing, which is exactly 100 years.
A series of programmes on infrastructure, production, processing, communication methods and education will be developed.
The point on overcoming the problem of illegal drugs, will also provide opportunities for the peasant economy in our country to integrate itself within the local, national and international economy to overcome this problem.
The agreements offer the opportunity for peasant associations to present themselves within these constituencies to aspire to go to the House of Representatives. As the victims that we have been, the agreements recognise the existence of peasant organisations as victim organisations that demand truth, justice, reparations and the guarantee that this will not be repeated.
Will the implementation of these agreements affect the Colombian bourgeoisie and the right-wing terrorist movements?
Yes, for sure. In the uribismo, which is the political expression for the ultra-right in Colombia, they are very concerned. Firstly, from the view of victims, the creation of the historic truth commission and the relationship that this has with the special justice for peace will bring to light who was really behind the paramilitary phenomenon: politicians, businessmen, military personnel, police officers, transnational companies and national businesses. Since this agreement is nothing like previous agreements, their concern is that it will lead to a loss of their privileges or part of the privileges that they have had. They know that a democratisation of the country, economically and politically, jeopardises the status quo, which they have benefited from for 200 years.
What are the biggest flaws in Colombia’s political system?
Colombia has a fairly backward political and economic regime. What is needed realistically is a permanent constituent assembly. It is the people which should appear in a permanent constitutional assembly to change regime’s structures. In Colombia, we do not believe in political parties, abstention is 60%. In Colombia, no one believes in justice. In Colombia, no one believes in the Government. So, a state that has a social pact in which very few believe in, is a state which needs reform. The current social pact benefits only a few members of the elite and has been built on violence, a permanent state of siege, repression of political and social demonstrations from the opposition and should not continue.
What real possibilities are there to change the political reality that Colombia has suffered from for so long?
The peace agreements are one of these possibilities, both in the one that has been signed with FARC and that we aspire to reach with the National Liberation Army. We hope that with the peace agreements the differences and conflicts that will continue to exist can be dealt with in a civilised way, through political discussions.
What makes it difficult to make that possible?
There is a sector of the Colombian bourgeoisie who is interested in such reforms, but there is the other side which is the ultra-right that represents Álvaro Uribe, and the Church, who do not agree with these reforms, and so all the post-agreement and post-conflict steps are going to be very difficult. The international community should be very attentive because the situation could become complicated, the ultra-right wing will look to terrorist acts to sabotage the manifestation of the agreements. But for us, the majority of the Colombian people, we are determined to work towards peace.
Is peace possible in Colombia, in the midst of ultra-right groups and drug trafficking, for example?
Yes, I believe so. If the Government was able to fight the insurgency, if the political will of the people exists, the paramilitary groups will be fought more easily. They do not have the support of the population, which is something the insurgency had. The paramilitaries have state support from the support of businessmen and state officials, so when this support no longer exists or when those who support it are captured or fought, paramilitarism will not exist.
What do you think of the role that the media has played in the peace agreements?
In Colombia, it has been very negative on the peace process because the media has always sought to create a state of opinion which the agreements do not serve, where FARC will not comply.
Obviously, looking for the moment when the insurgency enters the political electorate and having a state of mind that is against them so they can’t achieve their political goals.
The reporting is a lie. The media does not inform, rather it misinforms. It is not that it judges, but prejudges. And that is why the media is and is not a power separate from economic power.
(Translated by Sydney Sims – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)