Referendum in Colombia: Uncertain Future

The internal armed conflict in Colombia is an asymmetric low intensity war that developed in Colombia from the 1960s to the present. Initially the main actors were the Colombian government and left-wing guerrillas. Decades after the right-wing paramilitary groups, drug cartels and criminal gangs interfered. The conflict suffered several stages of escalation, especially in the eighties when some of the actors began to finance drug trafficking.

It is customary to consider the starting date of the Colombian conflict the FARC birth year, 1964, while the report of the National Center of Historical Memory mentions dates from 1958, the last year of "La Violencia."

The prominent Cuban journalist Angel Guerra Cabrera goes further and argues that "the brother country has not known a day of peace since the assassination in 1948 of the popular leader Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, an event that wiped out his desire to achieve democracy and social justice by political means "( Ángel Guerra, Clamor en Colombia: ni un día más de guerra, 0ctober 5, 2016)

This crime resulted in a bloody popular uprising in the capital, which spread to the rest of the country, known as the Bogotazo, starting the period of war known in history as "La Violencia ". However, the government of Ospina Pérez managed to crush the revolt.

The leaders of the Liberal and Conservative parties finally agreed for a new transitional period which began in 1958 and was extended for the next four presidential terms (16 years), both groups would alternate in power.

Soon the discontent of the peasants, who were stripped of their hopes by the bipartisan agreement of 1958, caused the emergence of revolutionary or communist political projects, which began to proliferate through the country on the basis of the Cuban experience. Indeed, temporary peace was not accompanied by fundamental reforms in the agricultural sector. New social movements appeared, tensions did not find an appropriate response from the government, formed by the bipartisan National Front pact. This eventually became the breeding ground for a new armed conflict.

Fears of the Cold War, and the idea that the Cuban revolution would eventually spread throughout the continent, did the rest. The United States promoted the so-called National Security Doctrine, which allowed the armed forces of Latin American countries to ensure domestic order following the US foreign policy interests, in order to combat in each country left-wing organizations or movements, which could support communism in the context of ideological confrontation with the USSR.

Precisely at the time when the guerrillas extended their national geography, traffic of cocaine from Peru and Bolivia (since the early seventies and directed mainly to the US and Europe) intensified and eventually encouraged the insurgent expansion. Colombia became the fatal turntable of this deadly business. In the southern regions, where the state presence was virtually non-existent, but the FARC instead had its strongholds, appeared clandestine airstrips and laboratories where coca was processed.

The economy of illicit drug trafficking developed in Colombia since the late sixties. The North American market was the leading recipient of narcotics. Colombia took the leading role from Bolivia and Peru.

While the insurgency was gaining ground, the paramilitarism also spread across wide areas of the country, mainly at the Atlantic coast. Many farmers, soldiers, politicians and businessmen were interested in fight against the guerrillas. Paramilitary Peasant Self-Defenders of Córdoba and Urabá (ACCU) under the command of Carlos Castaño, became the most active group.

Lack of supervision from the central government opened the way to proliferation of irregular paramilitary forces in different areas.

The war of peasant guerrillas united in FARC in 1964 against the State costed more than 200 000 people dead and six million displaced farmers.

The presidency of Alvaro Uribe Velez (2002 - 2010) was characterized by intensified persecution against the insurgency through a military campaign using armed forces and paramilitary groups. Continuing the tough policy against guerillas, Alvaro Uribe at the same time asked the government to undertake the negotiation process with paramilitary groups. The mediation efforts taken in the last years by Cuban leaders Fidel and Raul Castro, late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, ALBA countries, facilitated the resumption of contacts between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas.

President Juan Manuel Santos almost finished the heavy-handed process that should end with the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of combatants into civilian life.

The October 2 plebiscite and its failure

Santos called for a national dialogue with all political forces, particularly with the supporters of the "no" votes, represented mainly by former Presidents Alvaro Uribe and Andres Pastrana, with whom he met on October 5 to analyze the ways to fulfil the Havana document, because the political uncertainty created after the plebiscite endangers peace in Colombia. It was the first time in six years that Santos and Uribe spoke to each other.

In his article Angel Guerra Cabrera notes: "It is obvious that the guerrilla organization will not accept changes that lead to unworthy peace, without social justice ".

The great danger now is that Uribe will try to use the pyrrhic victory of "No" at the referendum trying to kneel down the FARC with absurd and unachievable demands. Sworn enemy of the Bolivarian Revolution, he is now a senator linked with pro-imperialist reactionaries.

The uncertain future

President Juan Manuel Santos received the Nobel Peace Prize for his hard work in the peace process for Colombia, however FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño, alias Timoshenko, did not get the Prize because it would be very difficult for the global elites to recognize an insurgent force and reward it, despite its commitment to peace.

The renowned Argentine political scientist Atilio Boron wrote: "In short, it is impossible to evade the sense of frustration that causes this result. As one said a thousand times, peace in Colombia is peace in Latin America. Tremendous responsibility lies on the FARC-EP after this deplorable referendum result. The wisdom shown by the guerrillas in the arduous negotiations in Havana will now undergo a new test. And it is expected that the temptation to resume the armed struggle against the electoral rebuff will be neutralized by a thoughtful and responsible attitude which unfortunately did not have the Colombian citizens. Commander's Timoshenko statements confirming that now the weapons of the insurgency are the words allow to see the seeds of hope. The same are manifestations of the leadership of the ELN and the speech of President Santos shortly after the results of the plebiscite. Hopefully there would be no war similar to that that lasted over the years at a cost equivalent to almost half of the current GDP of Colombia ". (Atilio Borón, “El plebiscito en Colombia: una oportunidad perdida”)

Ana Teresa Gutiérrez del Cid is Professor of the Department of Culture and Politics, Metropolitan Autonomous University, Xochimilco Campus , Mexico-city.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.