The role of Chávez in Colombia

  • Left Voice | 
  • September 20, 2007

During recent months pressure has been growing in Colombia, both from
within the country and from outside, to arrive at a “humanitarian
exchange” of hostages held by the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de
Colombia (FARC) and members of the FARC in Colombian and US prisons.
The agreement that they would release more than 400 members of the
FARC in exchange for 45 hostages, among whom are the former
presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt (with both French and
Colombian citizenship) and three US hostages, has bogged down. The
Colombian government of Alvaro Uribe that is in the middle of a
scandal because of its relation to paramilitaries (see below), after
the failure of attempts at mediation by the French President Nicolás
Sarkozy1The French President negotiated the release of one of the FARC
leaders, Rodrigo Granda, with Uribe; in spite of this, the
negotiation [for the release of more members of the FARC] has not been opened up.
has just agreed with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez on
his mediation to negotiate with the FARC.

Neither winners nor losers?

Chávez’ intervention could open up the negotiations that were already
beginning to become a problem both for Uribe and for the FARC.
Enormous mobilizations of recent months in favor of a “humanitarian
exchange,” that in the beginning were used by Uribe in pursuit of his
right-wing politics and as a base of support for his government, have
begun to turn into pressure for an solution of dialogue counterpoised
to the position that Uribe was holding of unilateral military attack
to rescue the hostages. This policy was flatly rejected by the
relatives of the hostages, who in some of the massive demonstrations
went as far as to ridicule Uribe.

The FARC, for its part, was in need of a “facilitator” to allow them
to escape the political isolation in which they find themselves, even
more so after the death of 11 regional deputies held by the FARC,
during an unsuccessful alleged military rescue attempt in June.
Chávez’ mediation also sets up the FARC as one of the “sides in
conflict,” a demand of the FARC that rejects the category of
“terrorist” with which the Uribe government labeled it in the presence
of the international community.

Beyond the success or failure of Chávez’ mission, the aim is to allow
a dialogue in which there are neither winners nor losers. The
murderous Uribe is going to have to clench his teeth furiously while
Chávez puts the FARC on a level with the Colombian state, although, at
the same time, the Venezuelan President’s participation whitewashes
Uribe’s government, which has been questioned because of its links
with the paramilitaries. For their part, the FARC has already agreed
to begin the dialogue in Venezuela, and it remains to be seen if they
will continue to demand, for the hostage exchange, that the government
clear two municipalities of Colombia (Florida and Pradera), one of the
key demands that until now has been refused by Uribe and has led to
the failure of all the attempts at dialogue. To unblock this conflict,
one of the variants they are considering is a partial clearing,
without an armed presence by the FARC or the government, under the
control of international observers, according to a proposal by France,
Spain and Switzerland.

Beyond the variants that could happen, for the time being Chávez
himself comes out best from this situation, since he introduces
Colombia as a regional actor that can guarantee stability, not only in
competition with other governments of the region like Lula, with which
Colombia maintains a rivalry for leadership in the subcontinent (it
was not for nothing that Lula immediately offered “all the political
and diplomatic collaboration that you might require in your delicate
task”) but also in view of the relationship with the US, in a country
that is considered one of its biggest allies in the region. This is
not a minor fact since now many Colombians feel that the US is washing
its hands of them. The Democratic majority in the US Congress is
holding up the Free Trade Agreement that was one of Uribe’s
preoccupations. This “vacuum” left by the US was also taken advantage
of by Chávez, who, besides the conversations about the “humanitarian
exchange,” used his trip to sign several commercial agreements with
Uribe2“The meeting in Hato Grande, yielded more and concrete results
regarding the bilateral agenda (with) commercial agreements that
increase Colombian exports to Venezuela still further,” El Universal
of September 2. Venezuela and the US, in that order, are the main
recipients of Colombian exports.

It is still too early to know the results of the negotiations, but it
is certain that during recent months big expectations have been
created, and a great number of actors, Colombian and foreign, have
been added to the conflict in Colombia. Failure of the negotiations
could bring with it a series of crises, beginning for the Uribe
government, which has already been struck by the scandal of the
paramilitaries. This is happening at a moment when the government’s
social base, which is essentially united around economic growth (8% in
the first trimester of the year) and a small boom in consumption, is
obviously affected by the effects of the international financial
crisis. Next to this, the drop in Uribe’s popularity (which, in spite
of remaining high, has fallen more than 9 points) could deprive him of
support for attacks on the workers, with which Uribe intended to stamp
his second term3During his first term, he sold off state enterprises like Telecom,
Inravisión, Caprecom and Cajanal, and he is using his second term to
move forward in privatizing key areas like energy (ISA and ISAgen),
in attacking the pension system and attacking healthcare and education.


The decomposition of the Colombian regime was never shown with such
sharpness as in the present crisis of parapolitics. The paramilitary
groups sponsored by the state are responsible for persecutions and
murders of workers and campesinos, which have claimed the lives of
more than 2,500 social leaders since 1991. The Uribe government
prepared a law that is a general amnesty for the paramilitaries.
However, the statements of Salvatore Mancuso, one of their biggest
chiefs (a member of the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, the main
paramilitary group) have created a real scandal, by showing the ties
of politicians, military men, and businessmen with narcotics
trafficking and financing the paramilitaries. Some twenty Colombian
legislators, 14 of them supporters of Uribe, are in prison, high
officials have resigned, and the Colombian Vice President is under
investigation. In videos and photos published by daily papers in the
US, Uribe himself appeared with paramilitary chiefs in his 2002
presidential campaign, and he is accused of having supported the
formation of paramilitary groups during his term as Governor of
Antioquia in the middle of the 1990s.

According to Mancuso, nearly all the banana, transport, coffee and oil
companies were financing the paramilitaries. US firms like the banana
company Chiquita Brands were paying the paramilitaries one cent on the
dollar for every crate of bananas exported, to eliminate campesino and
union leaders, and the Coca Cola company is charged with 14

The impunity plan Uribe negotiated, far from “demobilizing,” has
already allowed 10,000 new paramilitaries to organize since the end of
last year.

Where is the FARC going?

As revolutionaries, we do not deny the right of the FARC to sit down
to negotiate, and we unconditionally defend the guerrilla
organizations against repression by the bourgeois state; at the same
time, we denounce the hypocrisy of labeling the FARC as a “terrorist
organization” to guarantee imperialist intervention in Colombia.
However, we cannot fail to denounce the ill-fated politics and
strategy of the FARC leadership, completely opposed to the Colombian
workers’ and campesinos’ need for mobilization. The politics of the
FARC shows that their entire strategy is limited to exerting pressure
to achieve some political reforms while smoothing the way for their
integration into the Colombian bourgeois regime. Statements by one of
the FARC’s principal leaders, Raúl Reyes, prove this, when he says
that after the “humanitarian exchange,” “the other part will have to
come, which has to do with peace for Colombia” (Página/12, September
4), and explains that the FARC could be part of “a coalition for
forming a pluralist, patriotic and democratic government, that would
commit itself to real peace (…) like, for instance, a government of
the Polo Democrático Alternativo” (Clarín, August 27). Let us recall
that the same Polo Democrático is part of the integration of a section
of the leaders of the old guerrilla group M19 into the bourgeois
regime, and that now it forms the main center-left bourgeois
opposition force4The guerrillas of the ELN have also begun conversations with the
Colombian government in Cuba and offered Uribe a six-month ceasefire.

It is impossible to win the demands of the workers and the poor masses
in Colombia without attacking the bases of the property of the large
landowners and the big businessmen, and throwing imperialism out of
the country. However, as the politics of the FARC shows, this is not a
part of their strategy of class collaboration, that tries to
subordinate the workers and campesinos under their talk about a
“patriotic and democratic” government, toward bourgeois politics,
becoming an obstacle for the worker-campesino alliance.

This class-collaborationist policy is also shared by the union
bureaucracy of the CUT and the Polo Democrático, both of which
betrayed a big struggle by the educational workers in May.

In view of this politics, it is necessary to promote the unity of the
struggle of the workers and campesinos to defeat the
narco-paramilitary Uribe government and its anti-worker politics, and
impose the entire and effective realization of the demands for land,
bread, work, freedom and national liberation. Only a real workers’
revolutionary and internationalist party will be able to fight
consistently for this program and this strategy.

Translation by Yosef M.


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