(Translated by Susan Healey, CSN Volunteer Translator)

*More than 1,000 delegates inaugurate the first Congress and sing the party’s hymn in Bogotá

*Without triumphalism, Iván Marquéz says to the goverment: pacta sunt servanda (agreements are made to be honored)

By Katu Arkonada, Periódico La Jornada (Mexico), August 28, 2017.

After 52 years of clandestine existence since its formation in 1964 as a response to repression against the Marquetalia region, the FARC-EP’s [the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army] anthem was heard for the first time in the center of Bogotá.

Together with the Colombian national anthem, hundreds of former FARC guerillas, many of them in a first-ever public demonstration of their affiliation, sang the anthem whose main verse is “Guerillas of the FARC/ will triumph with the people/ for the motherland, land, and bread. Guerillas of the FARC / with the voice of unity / will reach liberty.”

In symbolic fashion, the first message was given by Pablo Beltrán, commander-in-chief of the National Liberation Army’s (ELN) peace delegation who, through a video, welcomed the FARC’s new political party, emphasizing the need for party militancy in difficult times. During the first day of the congress, many references were also made to the need to establish a ceasefire and put into place a peace process between the ELN and the Colombian government.

The FARC-EP commander-in-chief, Rodrigo Londoño, better known as Timoleón Jiménez or Timochenko, spoke after an initial ceremony welcoming all delegates, women and men, to the congress that will give birth to a new political party with a crucial role to play in Colombian politics. His message was that, once the guerilla war is over, it is time to build peace, but all of that must be done without renouncing the FARC’s plans for a society with a democratic political system that will promote overall wellbeing, starting with respect for human rights and social justice.

But the principal speech of the inaugural session was given by Commander Iván Márquez, chief of the FARC-EP’s peace delegation during the Havana talks that gave rise to the accord with the Colombian government.

After providing an overview of past negotiations that were unsuccessful, like those under Uribe, or those of Tlaxcala, Caguán, or Caracas, he gave the status of the current peace process in Colombia. Márquez emphasized that, once reached, peace is not perfect, since it is a negotiated peace based on agreements – precarious agreements, in many cases –, but that it should be a peace that opens up the avenue to ‘living well’ and to the wellbeing of the majority of people.

Nevertheless, the chief negotiator for the former guerilla movement did not use the opportunity for triumphalism. Rather, he was very critical of the Colombian government, whom he challenged using the Latin expression pacta sunt servanda, meaning that agreements are made to be honored. It was also a veiled criticism of the repeated failure to fulfill the Havana Peace Agreement, officially deposited with the Swiss government and therefore impossible to alter. Márquez underlined the unmistakable weakness of a government that gives in to political pressures and fails to control the various means a government should use to ensure that agreements are kept.

Regarding the agreement, he placed special emphasis on the issue of reincorporation into the political system once the cycle of armed combat is over, at the same time making clear that the topic of reincorporation cannot be left exclusively in the hands of the government.

The issue that is clearly part of the agreement, but not yet implemented, is that of amnesty for the guerillas. Despite the fact that hundreds of ex-combatants have been freed, a crucial issue for the FARC is freedom for all political prisoners, without exception. Likewise, numerous references were made to Simón Trinidad, commander of the Caribe Block, extradited by Álvaro Uribe to the United States in an operation that attempted to link the FARC to drug trafficking, and who is currently completing a sentence despite the request that he be part of the negotiating team in Havana.

But, there was also time during the main speech of the inaugural session to look toward the future, to lay out some of the lines of action that will be debated during the next three days of the congress behind closed doors among the more than one thousand credentialed delegates.

There were three principal themes that Márquez put on the table for discussion during his report. First, inclusion of the urban populace – the need to no longer be a predominantly rural organization, but instead one that is working toward establishing a large and growing presence in the country’s urban centers: a party well-established in the cities, with a vision for an alternative economy.

Second, regarding the character of the new political organization, the proposal is to create a party-movement, overcoming a false dichotomy between a member-based party, and a party of the masses. The final structure will be determined by the new political group’s own actions, but the promise is clear that the (new) organization will align with, though not necessarily lead, the on-the-ground struggles taking place across the length and breadth of Colombia.

Third, and with the presidential elections of May 2018 on the horizon, the message contained in the central report of the foundational congress was crystal clear. The FARC-EP’s new party will promote political convergence, a grand coalition that will tip the balance in favor of the forces that are staking their claim for peace.

Márquez’s final message was the need for unity, a nod to the political founders of the FARC-EP,  Manuel Marulanda, and Jacobo Arenas, as well as to Simón Bolívar: United, we are strong and deserve respect; divided and isolated, we will perish.

*Editor’s note: On August 31, 2017, the FARC-EP announced its transformation into the Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Común (Alternative Revolutionary Force for the Common People, FARC) as a political party.

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