Comments, In Focus

Will it be war again?

In Colombia, a section of the FARC-EP (the guerrilla group that demobilised in 2016 thanks to the signing of the Peace Agreements) has decided to take up arms once more. Deep down this is another sign of the failure of this country’s project to become a civilised nation. 


Juan Diego García


The reasons offered by Márquez in the proclamation of return to arms seem incontrovertible at first since the Colombian state has in essence not fulfilled the agreements that were settled upon in Havana.

What’s more, the framework of the agreement continues to be dismantled and ex-combatants and social leaders systematically eliminated, which seems to repeat the bloody history of this country and the pattern of governments making promises, solemnly signing on the line and failing to carry through. Endless is the list of political leaders of the opposition (the official and subversive groups) murdered whilst the authorities continue presenting the country as “the oldest democracy on the continent”.

The motives given by Márquez and his companions reflect reality and, besides, the situation of the majority of the social fabric and the elevated degree of inequality in the country would justify a general revolutionary uprising with the aim of installing a true democracy or at least a modern, acceptable social order.

That this eminently legitimate objective should be accomplished by non-violent means or not is a matter of strategy, and of course, any sensible person would support this being achieved by electoral landslide accompanied by radical methods but with sufficient popular backing.

The matter lies then in determining whether the Colombian political system, despite all its limitations, permits with certainty a peaceful change-over and if so the proclamation of Márquez and his companions would be senseless.

A modern and democratic social order does not necessarily mean socialism but it does imply a radical change from the current ruling order in Colombia with its deep material and social divides and a political system tightly bound to official and paramilitary violence as a systematic response to the people’s demands.

But even as the reasons employed by Márquez and his comrades are valid, the route of violence is strewn with serious questions. As a start, the opportunity it would raise for the right-wing to try to demolish the remaining agreements under the pact made in Havana.

What is unquestionable is that no agrarian reform or political reform is taking place (would this be possible?), hundreds of guerrilla groups and leaders of the rebellion are still in prison despite the amnesty; benefits set up for ex-guerrilla fighters have disappeared in the well-oiled machine of official corruption (a large part of this economic support came only from a few European Union countries or are initiatives developed by ex-combatants themselves); the programme of crop change-over has barely started, and parliamentary action by the FARC party is hindered by the dishonest systems of institutions that seem to belong within a banana republic.

But it might be that the most decisive obstacle is the central problem facing the new FARC-EP, in common with all those who have risen up against the system (the so-called dissidents, the ELN, the EPL), and that is that their main stage and therefore their decisive social base are in rural areas in a highly urbanised country whilst the real peasants (with small and medium-sized properties) do not seem to have clearly chosen to support the armed struggle.

The rebellion’s supporters – for they certainly exist – are found mainly among the poorest rural populations, and live almost in social exclusion, though they play an important part in the illegal economy. In rural areas, the number of agricultural workers is increasing due to a rise in small and medium-sized enterprises in the wholesale and service industries, whose principal concern is not agrarian reform, the traditional standard of the guerrillas.

Of course a well-thought-out plan of political attack could reach these potential supporters but currently it is not on the agenda, and in any case, it would not solve the fundamental issue, that the political battle cannot be fought in the countryside if the movement has hopes for victory across a highly urbanised country.

Photo by Nathan Raia

Secondly, as has been demonstrated in just the recent past, there are no reasons to believe that the balance of military force will ever tip in favour of the insurgents. The effective deadlock between some several thousand insurgents and the more than half a million official troops equipped with modern weapons and international advice (from the United States, Israel, United Kingdom and other European countries) led to both sides signing the peace agreement.

Everything suggests that the rebellion has barely any solid support in urban areas but that it would be possible to build one, bringing war to the large cities just as ex-president Santos and some researchers warned.

This would without a doubt be the worst of all possible scenarios, increasing the polarisation of those who want a peaceful way through the conflict and those who prefer a full return to total war. To judge by election results, the country’s voters (less than 50%) would be more or less equally divided as illustrated in the referendum on whether to support the Havana agreement, which was lost by a margin of less than 1%. What the remaining 50% of the country thinks – the predominantly urban 50%  that does not vote – is a mystery, but among these voters, the conflict could find a support base to push through its strategy.

Even though Márquez’s proclamation may have been made against a deeply complicated context which is not exactly in his favour, it would not be sensible to ignore what he might be capable of.

Although Márquez and comrades have not dismissed the possibility of a peaceful popular mobilisation, a new call to rise up which incorporated all methods of fighting would suffer the same downsides as in the past (learnt the hard way by the Unión Patriótica which was literally destroyed by its attempts to engage in lawful politics).

The system allows only limited space for protest, which is always tolerated so long as it doesn’t challenge the status quo. This difficulty affects FARC as much as the other political groups on the left and in the centre.

Really the question is how to take advantage of the narrow margin for political action possible within the system, and how to mobilise citizens that believe in peace and a necessary change, without dying in the attempt.

If Márquez’s proclamation seems to be more an affirmation of his deeply held revolutionary principles than a true threat to the security of the current system, the challenge for the FARC party and the opposition parties on the left and in the centre is no less great.

The coming elections in October will without a doubt be the occasion to establish to what extent these parties are in any condition to put their proposals into effect. The possible global crisis predicted as highly likely, and US plans to use Colombia as an instrument in a war against Venezuela darken the shadows over this landscape. The weak position of both those taking licit action and those choosing arms is hardly cause for optimism.

(Translated by e-mail Elizabeth Dann) – Photo: Pixabay

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