Colombian protestors confront police during free trade negotiations with the U.S., May 18, 2004.
Photo: Eliana Aponte/Reuters
For decades, Colombian workers and peasants have fought to improve their lives in the face of vicious repression. Even though it is a country of fantastic wealth and resources, close to two-thirds of the country live in poverty. Three million workers are unemployed in a population of 42 million.
Any social protest meets repression from the U.S.-funded and trained Colombian military and their paramilitary death squad units. The Colombian government is the largest recipient of U.S. military aid in the Western Hemisphere. The U.S. has sent nearly $3 billion since 2000 in order to wage a brutal counter-insurgency war.
The forms of resistance in Colombia range from strikes and protests to armed insurgency. To give a sense of that struggle, Socialism and Liberation translated the following excerpts of an interview of a member of the Clandestine Colombian Communist Party (PCCC). The PCCC is the underground political organization closely tied to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (FARC-EP).
Marco is a 23-year-old Colombian medical student. He has been a member of the PCCC for five years, and has been an activist on the left, mainly in the student movement, for a little longer. He gave this testimony about the Colombian revolution-the young people, the students and the people in general who are struggling to bring about the New Colombia of peace and social justice.
The interview was conducted in January 2004. The full text, in Spanish, can be found on the website of the FARC-EP, www.farcep.org. Nathalie Hrizi translated the interview for Socialism and Liberation.
Q: Let’s talk a little about the problems and needs facing Colombian youth, both in the rural and urban environments, based on your experience as a student, a young person, and above all as a militant.
Well look, the first thing that you have to understand is that the youth are part of the people as a whole, so the problems that we face are the problems of all Colombians. The economic exploitation that the broad majority faces, the exploitation of natural resources by the transnational corporations, the lack of freedom to protest policies that are harmful to the people, the social inequalities expressed in the immense gap between rich and poor, lack of access to education, health coverage that is not adequate for a dignified life-in other words, this whole series of structural problems are the problems of Colombian youth. They also figure not just as a Colombian problem, but I believe a problem for all of Latin America.
On top of that we have the problem of drug addiction, and the alienation that capitalism itself engenders, which affects young people in a special way. There is the problem of a lack of job opportunities. There are many young Colombians hanging out on the corners in the neighborhoods because they can’t study and can’t work. So that also forms a more specific problem.
Anyway, these problems show up in the countryside and in the cities. The structural problems engendered by capitalism and the application of a capitalist model like neoliberalism have consequences for youth in the country and in the city. The difference for the peasant youth is that they are also victims of forcible displacement, a result of big landowner violence. They are victims of massacres by the paramilitary policy of the state. But the big cities are also experiencing that-we say that now there are displacements within the big cities themselves. That also affects young people.
Out of these problems arises the need of Colombian youth for the revolutionary transformation of the system in order to build a new society that takes care of the needs of young people. The youth are finally aiming for this transformation.
Q: In all of Latin America there is a pretty grave situation facing young people. Drug addiction, unemployment, street crime, the general lack of opportunities-these are all part of this overall problem afflicting this sector of the population. How is this situation reflected in Colombia in particular, and above all, what are the concrete causes that have brought these illnesses onto the Colombian youth?
I think that the young people of Latin America and the Caribbean are enduring the same problem. This is a consequence of the capitalist mode of production, and capitalism is there in the majority of the countries in Latin America.
Colombia has a particular situation, for sure, and I think that a part of the problem of youth is found in what you have said. But I would like to revisit what we have seen with regard to repression.
On the first aspect, repression is at an incomparable level in Latin America and the Caribbean, but I am pretty sure that the political persecutions that victimize Colombian youth are exceptional. Hundreds and thousands of young people are organizing to protest and demand their rights. They bear the brunt of disappearances and selective assassinations of student leaders, leaders of community and neighborhood work. This happens every day in the country.
Why? The youth are historically revolutionary; they have the innate potential for rebellion. The Colombian bourgeoisie and oligarchy know this and they repress the young people, because they are conscious that in Colombia there is a ripening of the confrontation between social classes. They know that there are revolutionary political and military organizations that not only have the capacity to take power, but have the capacity to build socialism, to drive the conception for a new society. Within these organizations and the revolutionary process, young people play a fundamental role. Because of this, the bourgeoisie targets a large part of the costs for war and repression against youth and student organizations.
The creative rebellion of youth that challenges the image of a people without dignity is a very important weapon of social transformation. Because of this, youth and student protest is repressed, without any hesitation. Typically, university protests have been repressed, not only with tear gas, buckshot and so on, but now with rubber bullets, lead, pistol shot, even grenades.
Q: Let’s turn for a minute to the situation of students, since they are primarily young people. In what way has this student movement inserted its particular demands into those of the Colombian people as a whole?
I think that the student movement has not been and cannot be separated from the people’s struggle. It is a constituent part of it, and although there are struggles for the demands of the student sector, a problem that has been a glue of all the fronts of the masses has been the resistance to neoliberalism. This economic and political model affects the interests of all the exploited, including young people. Because of this, the struggle against neoliberalism has allowed student demands to be inserted into the protest of all the people and has also allowed the students to defend other rights besides those of education. What is missing, and what requires great effort, is moving the struggle of the student organizations to ward the political struggle for power. From our clandestine organization, from the Clandestine Party, what we want is for students and youth in general to transcend the framework of the classroom and of the universities for a head-on struggle against the state for a more profound transformation of the Colombian reality.
Q: In this same sense of linking the student movement with the struggles of the Colombian people in general, what could you tell us about the contributions that that student movement has made to the Colombian people’s struggle?
In the historical framework, it has made valiant contributions. For example, it could be said that great leaders have come from the student movement who today are in the leadership of the largest revolutionary political-military organizations in Colombia, like the FARC-EP(1) and the ELN(2). You have to take into account that many of those who make up the leadership of these organizations were student leaders.
Further, the mobilization of the students in different historical moments has been essential in holding back the harmful policies of successive governments against the people. For example, there were the large student mobilizations of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. When the Pastrana government(3) implemented the National Development Plan(4), there was a very important resurgence of the student movement. Many charismatic leaders emerged, convinced that the movement should transcend the mere trade union struggle and continue on to other things: to challenge the harmful reforms facing the peasants, the workers, culture, and so on. So the universities and the schools have been and should continue to be sources of organizational cadres, of leaders of the mass movement and of the entire revolutionary movement.
Q: To what point has President Alvaro Uribe Velez’s fascism(5) provoked a sharpening of the class contradictions and political positions within the universities and the other educational institutions?
The universities and schools, above all the public ones, are not immune from the social and armed confrontation that Colombia is going through. Students going to class do not stop being part of the people when they enter the classroom or the university. So the social and armed confrontation, along with the solution to this conflict, also concerns the students.
There are those who bury their heads in the ground like ostriches so as not to understand reality. Some are alienated by the system. Some take the bourgeoisie’s project as their own to defend, even though they do not have the least possibility of gaining access to power or of being part of that social class. Others, the great majority who do not agree with what the oligarchy is imposing, show their disagreement in many ways and at different levels, from the least conscious to those who assume a more revolutionary and more advanced consciousness.
It is almost inevitable that educational institutions, being spaces for criticism, present by their nature opportunities for political and ideological discussions.
With Uribe, the Colombian bourgeoisie is seeking to intimidate the people’s movement, showing a strong and authoritarian form of governing. But the people have experienced this at other times. The people have also experienced the witch-hunts that Uribe is now heading. Like a good lackey of imperialism, he carries out the political repression necessary to continue implementing neoliberalism.
Because this repression also reaches into the university, there are those who bow down in the most servile way to Uribe’s war against the people. They find in the universities and schools total support from many of these institutions’ directors, as well as the aid of the repressive apparatus in pointing out and branding the leaders of the student movement. Every student who protests against official policy is put on a black list. This obligates the student to find other forms and arenas for popular struggle, which includes the clandestine movement, whether the PCCC or the armed struggle.
Q: What are the perspectives of the student movement in the face of sharpening class contradictions in Colombia?
Well, I think that the perspectives have to be toward advancing the revolutionary process. It should continue resisting harmful policies, not only harmful to the students but to all the Colombian people. This is one of the principle tasks and perspectives of the student movement as it gains in maturity and in unity.
It is a good time to be speaking of this. I think that already student unity is going to be made concrete in actions. The times of extreme sectarianism, when practically anyone took it upon themselves to build and lead the student movement, are behind us.
I think this is a historical moment in which the student movement has to play a role. This necessity demands that the students and student leaders put their actions, their political proposals, together. That way they can carry out a much better resistance and advance in the revolutionary process.
Now, as the social contradictions grow, it is logical that the repression of the regime against the popular movement in general will grow. That also has to be taken into account. The student movement and its organizations have to be conscious that if in a given moment the opportunity to maneuver within the legal struggle comes to an end, then the opportunities for the clandestine struggle open up. The opportunities for armed struggle are also open, so that they can make the decision and continue their struggle as revolutionaries committed to the transformation of Colombian society, but now from a higher level of commitment.
Young people play important roles at every level of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP).
Q: What are the student organizations that are most able to respond to Uribe’s fascism, most able to assume the leadership you mentioned, alongside the Colombian people?
I think that the resistance to fascism should have many forms. It combines all that can be done within the legal and open framework for struggle along with what can be done in underground work. The youth and student movement has to be clear on this also.
The FARC-EP has launched a plan for shaping a broad movement called the Bolivarian Movement for a New Colombia. For young people, this includes the Bolivarian Youth Movement, which is an opportunity for young people to continue the struggle against fascism when their opportunities are reduced by persecution or by being identified [as activists], or when within their own political development, within the advance of their class consciousness and revolutionary consciousness, they understand that they need to move toward an ever-growing revolutionary obligation.
The FARC-EP also has a political and organizational structure: the Clandestine Colombian Communist Party. The PCCC has open positions for those youth who, in their process of ideological and political formation, move toward identifying themselves with Marxism-Leninism and with the FARC-EP’s insurrectional project to take power for the people and through the people.
Q: So the PCCC challenges the fascist repression with underground organization in order to preserve its militants and its political projects?
Of course, we are well aware that this is a serious analysis. It is the product of a thorough study of the reality in Colombia, in which there are not conditions for communists dedicated to insurrection to work through legal channels and open struggle. For this reason, the Clandestine Colombian Communist Party is being constructed as a way to continue the struggle, to organize the people without being a target of the official extermination policies against mass people’s organizations.
In this sense, the party plans to organize the people through multiple forms. It has militants in different sectors of the masses: among the workers, peasants, young people, basically within all the expressions of the people. From these spaces we are beginning the work of ideological and political preparation, of creating consciousness to gain popular support and in this way begin to prepare the conditions for popular uprising, for popular insurrection.
The party now has the same approach in youth work, which is the motivation for the Bolivarian Youth Movement. We believe that not everybody who wants change in Colombia, who wants a new Colombia, a different country, agrees with communism or are Marxist-Leninists. But they are progressive Colombian compañeros that see the need to make a transformation.
We have said, and the FARC-EP has said, that we are launching a movement that brings us together, whose guiding thread is the Bolivarian ideal-the prevailing political revolutionary thought of the Liberator, Simón Bolívar(6). So within the dynamic situation facing young people, the party initiated the creation of the Bolivarian Youth Movement as a united space-broad, although its political action has to be carried out underground because there are no guarantees to do it in other ways.
This is not to say that the movement falls into “clandestineness”; that is to say, that its development and political actions are carried out within these organizations. No, we are oriented toward the people; its ideas are known and supported by the people. But the faces of its militants, of its members are not known. They are guarding themselves from the security measures, from the fascist policies of aggression that the state has used against the popular movement as a whole, which cannot handle more victims than it has already handled.
We remember for example that in the history of the popular movements of Colombia, there have been important political genocides, like that of the Patriotic Union. More than 4,000 of its militants were assassinated, persecuted, disappeared and tortured by the regime. So we, facing this reality, have said that the most secure way to carry out our revolutionary work in this moment is clandestinely.
Q: Has the PCCC been able to develop close relationships among young people? To what degree are there young militants in the PCCC?
That is happening on many levels, primarily through mass fronts. I would say that there are party comrades involved in the struggles of workers, students, peasants, of the people as a whole. This begins a process of winning over outstanding leaders that, in the process of political transformation and becoming class conscious, begin making leaps, qualitative leaps, in political militancy-this is one way we win people over. Others already identify with Marxism-Leninism, so they arrive with a history of political militancy and join the party.
As the PCCC itself has the task of initiating and moving forward the Bolivarian Youth Movement, members of the Youth Movement add militancy to the party. The Bolivarian Youth Movement begins with the thought of Simón Bolívar as its guide, while in the development of its members ideologically they grow closer to Marxism-Leninism as an important tool to guide the people’s struggle.
Fundamentally, there has to be an identification with the revolutionary project from the point of view of Marxism-Leninism and an increasingly elevated consciousness, allowing a much greater commitment to defending the interests of the people and to the socialist revolution. In conclusion, you can say that the ones who join the PCCC are not abstract or special-they come from the people and from the struggles of the people. They are leaders of the people, from the people itself that have reached a revolutionary consciousness and make the leap toward the ranks of the PCCC. In the same way, many others also join the ranks of the FARC-EP, committed to moving forward with the Bolivarian Movement for a New Colombia.
About the other question that you were asking, I would say that there is a huge number of communist young people who are now carrying out work-not only within the youth movement, but also in organizing other mass fronts like the workers movement. That is, in the PCCC you can find comrades doing work in different mass youth organizations who are young, working alongside other comrades who already have that experience. The degree of their capability and their experience is going to shape the very life of the party.
Q: And do the young militants have the opportunity to take leadership positions within the PCCC?
Well, the reality is that the militants of the PCCC do not work for positions. That is, whoever joins the PCCC has to be clear that he or she is going to work toward achieving the Strategic Plan to take power for the people and by the people. This is fundamental.
Now, as the comrades develop, they acquire political positions of responsibility according to their political capacity, according to their skills and the experience that they gain in organizing and leading the struggles of the people. They may be the secretary of a cell or be part of the intermediate and regional leadership of the PCCC. At this level there are many young people, based on their capabilities, who have stood out as political cadres of the party in the different mass organizations, not just the youth organizations.
This includes comrades in the party carrying out organizational work in the guerrilla fronts of the FARC-EP. I believe that this political-military conception of the revolution has helped comrades to shape themselves in an integral way, and to show their skills in an integral way, not only in the work of organizations as such but also in their presentation as military cadre for the revolution.
Q: Among the most important principles in Bolivarian thought is solidarity, internationalism, anti-imperialism and above all the unity of Latin America and the Caribbean. How do those principles influence the party?
I told you that we are Marxist-Leninists. This implies that we are internationalists first of all. We are for the socialist revolution on a world level that progresses toward communism.
But I also told you that we are Bolivarians. To be a Bolivarian is to be a revolutionary citizen with the highest degree of solidarity, of unity, of anti-imperialism.
We say that there are no contradictions between these two, that they are complementary. The Bolivarian ideal aims at liberty and justice of the people, just as Marxism-Leninism aims to do. So this gives us a high degree of solidarity with the struggles of other people of Latin America and the Caribbean, of the world. It gives us a high degree of internationalist solidarity and respect for the sovereignty of the peoples.
Q: What is it that the Colombian revolution hopes to see from the youth and the student movement in Latin America and the Caribbean, with the view of making concrete the ideal of unity among our peoples that is so important in these days?
The first hope is that the youth of Latin America and the Caribbean assume their historical obligation with the revolution of their own peoples, with the liberation of their own peoples. That they reclaim the historical legacy left by the fighters for just homelands, for a just Republic. Within these, there is the fact of reclaiming José Martí(7), of reclaiming the ideas of Benito Juárez(8), of Emiliano Zapata(9), of Sandino(1)0 … well, of the many, many social and revolutionary fighters that gave their lives for the construction of a different Latin America, much more advanced, much more just.
Likewise, we hope that there will be a deep study of Bolívar. We believe that in doing so we all find ourselves never giving up the real possibility of the revolutionary transformation of our countries. We hope that through the practice of internationalist solidarity, young people can make concrete, in a clear way, the unity of our nation into one single homeland, the great homeland of Bolívar, what José Martí called Our America.
This is what the Colombian young people, what the Colombian revolutionary movement hopes for the young people on the rest of the continent. That is, that they take up their historic task, their historical commitment, and that we find ourselves in these frameworks of struggle. Because the struggle we have to wage is the struggle against imperialism. It is a struggle that all the people of Latin America are engaged in.
Mountains of Colombia, January 2004
1. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP) is Colombia’s largest guerrilla organization. It was formed in 1964 in response to a coordinated CIA attack on autonomous peasant communities in Marquetalia, Colombia.
2. The National Liberation Army (ELN) is Colombia’s second largest guerilla organization. It was formed in 1964 by a group of students inspired by the Cuban Revolution.
3. Andres Pastrana was president of Colombia from 1998 to 2002.
4. The Pastrana government’s National Development Plan was a $41 billion investment plan that included privatization of education and health services. It was met with fierce protest.
5. Alvaro Uribe was elected president in 2002 by 30 percent of the electorate. Backed by the U.S., he has tried to militarily defeat the insurgencies while at the same time attempting to criminalize and repress all social protest.
6. Simón Bolívar led the struggles for the liberation of five South American countries-Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela-between 1810 and 1824.
7. José Martí (1853-1895) was a Cuban revolutionary who fought against U.S. imperialism’s attempts to take over Cuba, following its independence from Spain. He died in the battle for independence.
8. Benito Juárez (1806-1872), as president of Mexico, fought French, British and Spanish invaders after he suspended payments to foreign creditors in 1861.
9. Emiliano Zapata (1879-1919) was a leader of the Mexican Revolution that began in 1910. Under the banner of “Land and Liberty,” he took up arms to redistribute land to peasant farmers.
10. Augusto Sandino (1895-1934) was a revolutionary peasant leader in Nicaragua who led an armed uprising against a 20-year occupation by U.S. forces that ended in 1933. He was assassinated on orders of the U.S. puppet dictator Anastasio Somoza.