A new phase of armed conflict in Colombia has emerged with the declaration by some former leaders of the FARC-EP (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — People’s Army) that they are reorganizing and rearming as an insurgent force. Iván Márquez (aka Luciano Marín Arango) made the announcement in a press conference Thursday, August 29, 2019. Among those appearing with Márquez were Jesús Santrich (aka Seuxis Pausias Hernández Solarte) and El Paisa (ala Hernán Darío Velásquez Saldarriga).
Márquez had been a FARC-EP commander and lead negotiator of the peace accords implemented in 2016 between the FARC-EP and the Colombian government. Both Santrich and El Paisa, also FARC-EP officers, were part of the negotiating team. Márquez had already abandoned the peace process and his seat in the Congress to go into hiding in April 2018. He cited rising violence against social movements and former insurgents, the noncompliance of the government with the accords, and the arrest of Santrich for narco trafficking. That arrest was requested by the U.S. government, who petitioned for his extradition, based on unsubstantiated evidence and testimony of paid informants. It was perceived as a way to circumvent agreements about reincorporation of FARC-EP personnel into civilian life. Santrich was released from prison in May but went into hiding because of multiple threats against him.
The reformation of this new version of the FARC-EP represents a profound split among the former combatants. The new FARC (Revolutionary Alternative Force of the Common) political party has reiterated its commitment to the peace accord and nonviolent struggle. The National Political Council of the FARC released a statement in response to the Márquez declaration saying:
This morning a video spread through social media of Iván Márquez, surrounded by a reduced group of old commanders and grassroots guerrillas of the extinct FARC-EP, read a large document with which they intend to justify together the return to arms, in contradiction of what we agreed and signed in Havana, Cuba, with the Colombian state.
El Partido … FARC … [does] not share in any of the terms of said elocution. The Peace Accords embody the culmination of the Colombian people’s old desire for an end to the armed conflict. … To proclaim the armed struggle in Colombia today constitutes a delirious mistake. …
It is certain that the fulfillment of the Accords on the part of the State marches at an elephantine pace. … No one denies that important sectors and interests exist that work incessantly against the pact. But revolutionaries confront adversity with optimism. …
The war cannot be the destiny of the nation. We will continue here, disposed to give all for the peace and social justice.
The announcement by Marquez and his comrades had a starkly different tone. It begins with a pointed referral to the roots of the FARC-EP. The insurgency was formed to defend peasant communities from a campaign of unilateral assaults by the Colombian Armed Forces in the 1964 offensive against the autonomous zone of Marquetalia. These attacks had been urged on by the U.S. Pentagon. Márquez declared:
We announce to the world that we have begun the second Marquetalia under the universal right of the world’s people to rise up in arms against oppression. We look to coordinate efforts with the guerrilla of the ELN [National Liberation Army — another guerrilla force reputed to have around 5,000 members]. The objective is not the soldier nor the police respectful of the popular interests. It will be the oligarchy, this exclusive and corrupt and violent mafia oligarchy that believes it can continue and continue barring the door to the country’s future. …
Our beginning has to be with the installation in the Nariño Palace [Colombia’s executive branch seat] of a new government placed there by a great coalition of forces for life, a constituent assembly sufficiently representative and with clear guarantees of actuation of a definitive impulse for the structural transformations that Colombia requires. …
Since the peace accord of Havana and the naïve disarming of the guerrilla, nothing has changed, the massacres do not cease, more than 500 [social] leaders and more than 150 guerrilleros have been assassinated.
According to some observers, the situation is even worse than what Márquez described. The Patriotic March (Marcha Patriótica) popular movement for a just peace reports that since the implementation of the peace accord in late November 2016, over 700 social movement leaders and 137 former insurgents were murdered. That means that every 25 to 30 hours in Colombia, a social movement leader or former insurgent is killed. The murders are carried out mostly with impunity by members of paramilitary death squads and the Colombian Armed Forces. Around 40 percent of the victims of political killings are Afro-Colombians and indigenous persons. Additionally, forced displacement of most rural communities continues unabated. In the first four months of 2019 alone, at least 40,000 persons were displaced.
The failure of the Colombian government to honor the commitments it agreed to in the peace accords is well documented. According to the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, 31 percent of the components of the peace accord have not even begun to be implemented. Overall, only 23 percent of the agreements have been fulfilled.
Humberto de la Calle and Sergio Jaramillo were the lead Peace Accord negotiators for the Colombian government. They released a statement in response to the Márquez declaration that said:
Without forgetting the primary responsibility that falls to Iván Márquez and his companions for these deeds, we remind … the Government that its permanent attacks on the process and the risks of judicial destabilization that they carry with them, could bring various [FARC-EP] commanders to mistaken decisions.
In an interview with CNN, Jaramillo said:
The government tends to say, whenever it’s addressing the international community, that it will implement the agreement. But when you actually look at what’s going on, that’s not what’s happening. … Take the first point, which was rural development. They agreed to set up a fund with 3 million hectares to distribute to small workers, campesinos, and none of that has happened. We agreed to give titles to formalize 10 million hectares. … Fifty-five percent of the Colombian countryside has no titles. People can’t access credits. It makes life much more difficult and dangerous because it makes it easier to take away their property. What the government is doing on that front is almost nothing. … [If the peace process collapses] It will be absolutely terrible. … Today we have 7 million … internally displaced persons in Colombia. … The government tried some very aggressive moves against the peace process which were completely unnecessary. For example, the president decided to veto a critical transitional justice bill that had already gone through the review of the Constitutional Courts. … And what ended up happening … was the government was thoroughly defeated in Congress. It is actually the Congress and the Colombian courts … keeping the peace process alive.
The attacks of the Duque administration on the peace accord are prodded on by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump. The president and various White House officials have repeatedly called on Colombia to abandon agreements for crop substitution, land redistribution, and rural development, insisting on violent eradication of crops with illicit uses and aerial spraying with glyphosate (Monsanto’s RoundUp Ultra) of coca growing communities. This has been a primary cause of violence against rural communities and their leaders. Despite the insistence by the Trump administration that these measures are necessary to end cocaine production, the reality is that in 2017, cocaine production in Colombia rose to record levels, and rose again, another 13 percent, in 2018. The Trump administration has also led attacks against the Special Jurisdiction for Peace tribunals, seeking to circumvent them by petitioning for the extradition to the U.S. of former FARC-EP insurgents. The impact of these policies weakens the peace process and could help plunge Colombia back into civil war.
The White House responded to the Márquez announcement by accusing Venezuela’s President Nicholas Maduro of being behind the rearming of the new FARC-EP. No credible evidence was given, nor was mention made of proven activity of Colombian paramilitaries in Venezuela working with the right wing to try and overthrow the elected government.
Cathy Rojas is active in the New York City Colombia solidarity movement and the ANSWER anti-war coalition, as well as a leader of the newly formed U.S. and Canadian Coalition for Peace in Colombia. When asked her comments regarding the Márquez declaration, Rojas responded:
We understand that under the political genocide conducted by the state, re-arming to some seems like the only successful form of self-defense. Nevertheless, we will continue to support the struggle for true peace in Colombia, a peace that will also hold the state and the paramilitary accountable, a peace that will look beyond violence as that caused by the gun, but also acknowledge the violence caused by poverty, displacement, and U.S. imperialism.