By Clara Nieto de Ponce de Leon*
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator, Edited by Jack Laun)
The renowned sociologist Gonzalo Sánchez Gómez, one of the best known researchers of Colombian history, now Director of the National Center for Historical Memory created by the Juan Manuel Santos administration, discusses a fundamental issue for peace in Colombia. In the latest edition of the magazine Arcadia (July-August 2016) he deals with the armed conflict and the peace process. The Santos government has been negotiating with the FARC in Havana, Cuba to end that conflict and achieve peace. As the government has stated, we are at the point of signing an agreement.
Gonzalo mentions in his article, titled “A Path without More Dead”, the difficulty in reaching an agreement between analysts and militants over what has been the origin of the conflict. They mention the agrarian conflict of the 1930’s; the liquidation of the popular movement embodied by the followers of Jorge Eliecer Gaitan; the closing of political and social spaces by the bipartisan accord known as the National Front. But they do not mention – I note – that the origin of this was the Conservative violence of the 1940’s.
The conflict did not begin in the 1960’s, as claimed by those who discuss the negotiations that are going forward in Havana. They suppose that it started in 1965, when the armed bands of communists created the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the FARC. These armed bands are charged with originating the conflict. The communications media and those who oppose Santos, with ex-President Alvaro Uribe at the head, are busy spreading the word of the atrocities committed by the FARC. Their goal is to try to impede the parties from reaching a peace agreement, from achieving forgiveness, and from applying “transitional justice”. They don’t want any return to civilian life, or participation in politics, or membership in Congress for the demobilized FARC guerrillas. They want prison for them.
The FARC have indeed been guilty of innumerable acts of violence and crimes against the civilian population. Tirofijo, their maximum commander, created them in 1965 to combat the violence of the Government. He died in his bed in March 2008. But the origin of the FARC is the campesino communist guerrilla, supported by his party, which emerges, like the Liberal guerrillas, in the 1940’s against the violence and persecution which the government of Conservative President Mariano Ospina Perez (1946 -1950) commenced against the Liberal people and against the followers of Gaitan.
Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, a Liberal, had created a dissident political movement of enormous popular force. In 1947, in the elections for Congress, Departmental Assemblies, and Municipal Councils throughout the entire country, Gaitan won an indisputable majority and he achieved the sole leadership of the Liberal Party. The possibility of his being elected President was obvious. The Conservatives, and the historical Liberal leadership, which supported the candidacy of Gabriel Turbay, feared that Gaitan would arrive at the presidency with massive support of the people.
Ospina restricted political safeguards for Liberals and followers of Gaitan and in the countryside the political police, POPOL, and the chulavitas en Boyaca, created by Ospina—some called them home- grown Gestapo— and the armed gangs of Conservative campesinos, “pájaros” in the Valle del Cauca, members of Ospina’s party, pursued and massacred members of the Liberal Party. Their acts were atrocious, extreme in their barbarity. In this period of political violence between 200,000 and 300,000 people were killed, the immense majority campesinos, defenseless civilians. The forced migration exceeded 2 million people. Gaitan denounced this persecution and organized the March of Silence to protest. On the night of February 7, 1948, more than 100,000 people, in absolute silence and with lit candles, marched in the capital. It was an imposing popular manifestation of support for Gaitan and a protest against the violence of the government. Two months later, on April 9, Gaitan was assassinated and the so-called “Bogotazo” exploded in an eruption of public rage, looting, setting of fires and destruction of the city. Gaitan’s murder was a crime of immense proportions. It halted a democratic political change which was in process, and it destroyed the hopes and dreams of a whole people.
Some historians place the period of “The Violence” between 1946 and 1957, coinciding with the Conservative governments of Ospina Perez, Laureano Gomez, Roberto Urdaneta and General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla, categorized as dictators. In 1958, with the bi-partisan agreement called the National Front, between Laureano Gomez and Alberto Lleras, the confrontation between Liberals and Conservatives officially ended. Lleras was elected president for the term 1958-1962.
What I mean to say here is that the armed conflict that the immense majority of this country hopes to end, commenced in the 1940’s and not in the 1960’s as they are saying; that the Liberal guerrillas in self-defense came into being in the Eastern Plains (Llanos Orientales), Tolima, Santander and in other regions of the country. The Communist guerrillas, supported by their Party, were armed bands in self-defense against the brutal official persecution which sought nothing less than their extermination. Ospina Perez, Laureano Gomez and his son Alvaro, Urdaneta and Rojas, all of them were involved in the partisan violence and they are all dead. They were responsible for this tragedy plagued by horrendous crimes. The historical reality of the responsibility of the State and of the Presidents for the conflict which is being debated now, is not mentioned. No one has been punished for these crimes of Lesa Humanity. They remain and will remain in impunity.
Bogota, August 14, 2016.
* Clara Nieto de Ponce de Leon is a scholar and diplomat who has been a keen observer of political events in Colombia for many years. A former Ambassador of Colombia to Cuba, she is the author of the celebrated book, Masters of War: Latin America and U.S. Aggression, in English translation with a forward by Howard Zinn, and the book Obama and the New Left in Latin America.