The President of the FARC Party, Rodrigo Londoño, talks about the challenges of the Peace Agreements.
By Yamid Amat, EL TIEMPO, July 5, 2020
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
The divisions that the FARC Party has to confront, with resignations and expulsions, don’t affect or even create any crisis in the Peace Agreements.
That’s the central conclusion to be reached after an extensive dialog with Rodrigo Londoño, known as Timochenko, the President of the FARC Party. He explains the reason for the dissidence within his organization. He states that, yes, there are some political “onslaughts” against the Agreements.
Londoño, 61 years old, studied medicine and specialized in cardiology in the Patricio Lumumba University in Moscow. He also studied in Cuba and was trained as a guerrilla in Yugoslavia. Eleven years ago, he was chosen by the FARC Secretariat as President of the Party, succeeding “Alfonso Cano”.
“Unfortunately,” he says, “the supporters of violent and antidemocratic solutions have put up every kind of obstacle to the consolidation of the peace. With the arrival of the Iván Duque government, things got complicated. There is an onslaught against the Agreements, sometimes open and sometimes concealed. It’s the risk that we Colombians are facing.
But, with these “onslaughts”, as you call them, is the Agreement at risk?
The Agreements are very broad. The reforms achieved in the area of political participation and expansion of democracy have been ignored and sabotaged for the most part. We have members of Congress and a political party that receive government financing under the terms of the Agreement; we can do politics openly. But there are sectors that are working to get us out of the picture. For example, with the Decree issued by this government on the subject of turning over property, they not only ignore what was agreed and complied with, but they are trying to put us in jail.
But I insist on my question. Is the government complying with the Agreements?
In reality, my impression is that the current government is most interested in the part about individual reincorporation. They dutifully pay the monthly allowance, and the former guerrillas are aided in areas like education, as far as we can tell, the same with health care. But the question of security is seriously troubling. There have been 214 murders since the signing of the Agreement and you know that the areas that the FARC left behind are now in the hands of the criminal gangs. Besides that, not all of the former guerrillas that signed the peace have regained their liberty.
In spite of those difficulties, will the former FARC continue complying with the peace?
There cannot be the least doubt of that. Our people laid down their arms and they rejoined civilian life, trying to organize themselves in all of the contexts of living legally. The majority of the disenchantment in the ETCR ( places for skill training and reincorporation) is because they haven’t seen opportunities there for the progress that was promised. Some of them returned to their families or to places where they can start a productive life.
We are carrying out a political life that is far from any kind of illegality. But we have the problem of locating ourselves economically and socially. The majority of our people are in great need. Not to mention the risks to our safety.
What is going on with the slaughter of social leaders in this country?
Our interpretation of what’s happening is tied to the failure to carry out the Peace Agreement. Once the FARC laid down our arms and departed from the regions where we had operated, the government was to be coming in with an enormous investment to support economic and social development. That was included in the Agreement. That has not happened and it doesn’t look as if it will happen in either the short or the long term.
The failure to keep the promise in the area of the illegal crops is also disappointing to a lot of people.
Criminal gangs and different illegal groups linked to the transnational mafias and at the service of mining companies were quick to take advantage of the neglect and abandonment in those regions. Colombia is a country with great differences between the big cities and the regions that are farther removed. There the corruption of officials at different levels is joined with the mafias and hired killers. All of that generates violence against land restitution leaders, defenders of human rights, environmental leaders, and defenders of crop substitution.
And why are there complaints out in the regions about the military and the drug producers?
A lot of social leaders out in the countryside will tell you that there is evidence of collaboration between the Armed Forces and those groups. Add to that the presence of groups that call themselves revolutionaries who are in frank competition with the others for the illegal resources. The result is what we are experiencing. The Colombian government doesn’t take responsibility for taking that on decisively and putting its resources into handling it.
Are the former FARC militants at risk of extermination?
That risk undoubtedly exists in a government with positions so openly opposed to the implementation of the Peace Agreement. Another thing is that the signers of the agreement are disposed to allow it. And I don’t say that because there is any idea or intention to take up arms again, but because we intend to defend what was signed in Havana, and to complain about what’s going on in every possible way and in every possible place. We know that we are not alone in this. There are many Colombians that are defending the peace, the Agreements, and the way we are also working to put a stop to their mockery.
There is also very important international pressure. To exterminate us, you will have to impose an openly fascist regime. And we know that many people in this country will not allow that to happen.
Do you feel a good atmosphere inside the government for continuing to dialog?
We will never reject the possibility of dialog. It’s true that things are complicated with the current government, but that does not mean that dialogs are not possible. Councilor Archila will have his positions, but he is a man you can talk to. The contrary would be confrontation, something that the country does not want and we don’t either.
What is going on in the FARC? Is there internal division?
We made a decision in the FARC: arms are not the way and will not be the path to change in this country. In the future, our only weapon will be words, and in our actions, we will have to stick to legal norms. Doing politics in a peaceful manner, and more so in a country like Colombia, so charged with violence and provocation, requires a strong commitment and a will of steel.
The peace was and continues to be our gamble, definitely. Unfortunately, there have been those who have decided not to go along with that decision, and we are awaking to serious doubts about the sincerity of some of those arguments, but they have refused to lay down their arms. And there are those who laid them down and later decided, with some pretty questionable reasons, to go back to the jungle. The first group never became part of the party and the second quit the party. We found it necessary to formalize their expulsion, for obvious reasons.
But what was the origin of the division?
There are some who think that we ought to have been more radical in every sense, that it was necessary to use a discourse of confrontation and insult. They could not understand that the confrontation was over and the desire of Colombians for peace is not in accord with extreme verbal belligerence. They don’t accept that we are talking about reconciliation, that the struggle now is for the truth. In spite of the text of the Agreements, they take it as betrayal. The Party’s directors are not inclined toward that position The war is over, and the political debate has to be made up of arguments and reasoning, so as to capture the attention and the sympathy of the greatest majority.
The Party, even though it is aware of the pernicious outlook of our adversaries, understands that it won’t help to inflame hatred against them. And that makes the radicals desperate, because they feel more alone every day. And that leads them to adopt a language and an attitude that hurts the Party and its leaders. Personally, I don’t believe that it’s really a division. It’s natural to move away from certain positions that you don’t seem to fit into. Trying to blame the Party’s leaders for the government’s failures to carry out its promises, and the hard situation that many former combatants are experiencing, is shooting at the wrong target. And it’s a low argument. That’s why the majority of our people turn our backs on it.
Do you believe that your presidency of the Party is the reason for the divisions?
There’s no lack of people who might say that. But I would say, those attacks come from another place. Some minorities would like to see a different Party, one to their specifications. When they don’t get that, they fall into despair. Like a hose when you lose control of it, it starts to spray water all over.
What’s going on with the delivery of the properties that the FARC accumulated in 50 years?
That’s a loaded question; it ought to be stated in a different way. It makes me think about a way to tell you that it’s not true that the FARC were dedicated to amassing properties for 50 years. You could say that about the big businesses of this country. Today they are multibillionaires, owners of gigantic consortiums. We were at war for half a century.
You should ask how many billions of pesos the government invested every day in its war against the FARC. We know that it was at least 22 billion (about USD 6 million at today’s exchange rate). Calculate how much a people’s clandestine organization had to raise in order to accomplish that war. Machine guns, rifles, explosives, pistols, munitions, fighters, and all the supplies for thousands of combatants, health, medicine, and medical treatment. All of that made up a war economy; assets that were in the service of a political and military project that also had a supply capacity. It was depleted every day and always had to be resupplied. Neither we nor the Colombian government could keep that up indefinitely.
There lies one of the reasons that led to the end of the conflict. The money was running out and the sources of money were also running out. Once the Peace Agreement was signed, we carried out to the letter what we had agreed to do with regard to property. We turned over a list of what remained in terms of real estate, and we put furniture, cattle, cash and gold at the disposition of the government. The figures are public.
The victims have gone to the JEP and claim that you are not telling the truth to the Tribunal. What is your response to that?
Another malicious question. It’s not true that the victims are accusing us of that. That’s what you are saying. The former members of the FARC that have entered their appearance before the JEP have provided the truth and we will continue to do that. We have excellent relations with numberless organizations of victims that congratulate us for laying down our arms and working for peace in this country. And what we frequently hear repeated is the necessity that those in the government who were responsible for the conflict, the officials and the military commanders, the third parties, they should also enter their appearances before the JEP and provide the truth, just as was approved in the Havana Agreements.
While the FARC are telling the truth, the others are working to evade their responsibilities. And the major media are silent about that. Now, the proceedings approved by the JEP, as in every judicial proceeding that is democratic and not totalitarian, involve the participation of every person that has an interest.
No one is unaware that there are nefarious interests in this country that are opposed to the Peace Agreements, and particularly to the JEP. That opposition can be explained as coming from those who fear to appear before it. Their goal is to demean and destroy it. And that calls for every kind of untruth. In Colombia people make a career of judging and convicting in the press, before attending to the legal proceedings. That’s a serious attack, not just on the institutions, but against the peace.
What’s your opinion about the Democratic Center Party’s attacks on the FARC and their attempts to eliminate the JEP?
The Democratic Center attacks our Party with the same hatred that ex-President Uribe used to try to annihilate us during his successive terms. In fact, it’s Uribe’s party and it’s the government’s party now. I don’t believe it of all of the members, but in that party there are interests that are decidedly opposed to the peace. They miss the war. Peace disturbs them.
Do you think that the ELN ought to try to find a path to peace?
If it’s about trying to find a path to peace, I think the ELN should do that. They need to recognize that peace talks must necessarily be based on laying down arms. And on considering very delicate matters, such as kidnapping. But equally, the current government has proven irrefutably that it doesn’t want to have that dialog. It needs to modify that posture in order to smooth the road to a solution.