The ELN and the Colombian State: A Vicious Circle of Violence



By: Andrés Vásquez,  from the Peace Delegation of the ELN / Source: Resumen Latinoamericano/ The Dawn News / September 21, 2016.


If we really want peace in Colombia, the Government should decree a definitive truce for the social movement. Only then we can begin to eliminate violence from politics.

History tends to be circular in shape and, it repeats itself as a tragedy more often than as a comedy. “2016: Year of Peace”. This was announced by the Colombian Government. This slogan seems so assertive that it almost sounds like a decree.

On August 29, 2016, Colombia woke up with two pieces of news that would define the political context we’re living in. The first one was the formal declaration of the beginning of a definitive truce between the government and the FARC. The second one was the murder of three environmentalist fighters in Cauca and four indigenous people from the Awá town, in Nariño. Shortly after that, while sleeping, a couple was burned alive while they were in their home, by armed men dressed in black. On September 8, Cecilia Coicué, leader of Marcha Patriórica, was murdered in Corinto, Cauca.

To get the full picture, we must add to these figures the murders of 36 Human Rights defenders, which kept growing up to 51 murdered leaders by September 13, 2016, and more than 116 activists of the organization Marcha Patriótica murdered over the last two years. We could even give a title to this situation: “Truce with the Guerrilla and covert war against the people”.

This is not the first time something like this happens in our country’s long and convoluted history.

In 1984, just like now, the government of Belisario Betancourt decreed it as the “Year of Peace”. There was a truce with the M-19 and the FARC guerillas, in two separate processes that were taking place at the same time.  And it was then, in the middle of that process of truce, that political violence unleashed against social and peasant movements.

On January 1984, 100 units of the National Police, accompanied by the army barracks of the Pichincha Battalion, violently evicted 150 indigenous and Afro-descendant families that were occupying the land of López-Adentro in the Cauca. The tragic consequence was 4 deaths, 43 wounded and the arbitrary detention of 42 other people. On November that same year, in Santander father Álvaro Ulcué Chocué, first indigenous priest of Colombia, founder of Indigenous Teleologism and fighter for the right to land and autonomy of the indigenous people, was murdered. Two F2 agents, who had been hired by a landowner from the region, were the perpetrators. The crime, like many others crimes committed against peasants and indigenous people in 1984, went unpunished. In response to that event, the Armado Quintín Lame Command took the Castilla sugar factory by assault in November and seized armed control of the Santander de Quilichao municipality on January 1985.

Preventive counter-revolution

Counter-revolutions in Colombia have always had a preventive strategy. Long before the Cuban Revolution, the Cold War and even before the formation of Guerrillas in Colombia, popular struggle was already persecuted. The Colombian oligarchy has always implemented the old saying: “better safe than sorry”. They have attacked movements not only for posing a threat to their interests, but also just in case they might threaten them in the future.

The Colombian ruling classes have two main characteristics: the first one is their particular pettiness: they are willing to do as they need in order not to give up on their privileges, to prevent any kind of reform, or to avoid sharing wealth or power. In every other country of Latin America there have been revolutions that have changed the composition of the ruling classes, but in Colombia there has never been a change in the oligarchy. In more than 200 years of republican life, the same caste, with the same blood, has ruled the country.

The pettiness of elites is evident as ever with the famous “red lines”,  which are topics they forbid to address in negotiations with the FARC. Neither the economic model, the political regime, the military, nor the property regime can’t be touched under any circumstances. That is, nothing that is truly important —none of the causes of our social and armed conflict can be changed. The second characteristic of the ruling class is its almost fanatical intention to resort to violence to maintain its detestable control. The oligarchy has used force and weapons (both openly and covertly, legally and illegally, militarily and paramilitarily) to remain in the center of power and privileges. It has created a disproportionately huge army with almost half a million officers. At the same time it sponsored the infamous paramilitary armies to instill terror from the shadows. The justifications varied: first it was the Liberals, then the Communists, followed by the guerrillas, then came terrorism, drug trafficking, Indigenous peoples, Afro-descendants, students, trade unionists, journalists, environmentalists, human rights defenders. The violence of the oligarchy is ruthless and has a class-related nature.

But the justifications for violence are only excuses. The real reason behind so much death is that violence has been their preferred way to accumulate power and wealth, to dominate people and territories, to sustain their flamboyant empire. A paused and careful look at Colombia’s history shows that wherever there was a chance of profiting, wherever there was wealth, there was war in consequence. Whether it was gold, rubber, petroleum, coal, emeralds, bananas, palm oil or coke. War and accumulation go hand in hand, and this is the reason why the ruling class has trouble separating violence from politics.

How else could we explain that, even after having signed the agreement that will lead to the disappearance of the FARC, they still aren’t planning to reduce spending on the army, nor a have plan to throw away the disastrous internal policy which regards any form of political opposition as an “internal enemy”? Instead of reducing the armed forces, they are making them larger, more resources are spent on them and they volunteer to help NATO kill those poor people from the Middle East, Central Asia and Northern Africa —as if killing people in Colombia wasn’t enough, they also want to intervene in the destabilization of neighboring countries.

A truce for the people

The figures of the war in Colombia are compelling: those who put the vast majority of the martyrs are neither guerrilla fighters or soldiers of the national army but the people and the communities. This has happened all throughout the 20th century. The perversion of enabling a truce with the insurgency, while the covert war against the disarmed social movement continues  may be incomprehensible to many societies and cultures. But that is part of our national history. The tragic paradox of the Colombian conflict is that the government should become more willing to agree to truces because if they decided to make a truce with society, the truce with the guerrillas would become easier.

If we really want peace in Colombia, the government should start by decreeing a definitive truce for the social movement. That’s how we can begin to eliminate violence from politics.

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