"The war in Colombia has been ongoing for decades, with little public discussion internationally," Oliver Villar, from the University of Western Sydney and Macquarie University, told a Sydney forum on November 30. The forum was organised by the solidarity organisation United for Colombia.
"The roots of the conflict, and why peace is so difficult, lie in the country's history. It is a story of US imperialist domination, and Spanish colonialism before that, which left a semi-feudal system almost intact.
"The struggle for land is central to the war in Colombia, previously and now. An oppressive state targets any political opposition, not just the left-wing guerrillas. Till now, the Colombian ruling class has refused to make concessions to democracy.
"The nation is sharply divided on class lines, with state and paramilitary repression extremely harsh. The US$7.5 billion Plan Colombia ‘war on drugs’ was in reality a war on the poor farmers.
"Under previous Colombian president [Alvaro] Uribe, an extremist regime fought the FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia], but also repressed other sectors such as trade unionists, journalists, academics and farmers. Under current President [Juan Manuel] Santos, the rhetoric has changed but not much else. State terror has continued.
"However, now we see popular campaigns such as La Marcha Patriotica and the farmers' rallies challenging the government. The peace talks in Cuba between the FARC and the Colombian regime must tackle the question of land and justice to be successful," Villar said.
Nelson Martin from the National University of Colombia said Colombia has the second-highest rate of internally displaced persons in the world. He said multinational corporations, including Australian-owned companies, are entering Colombia and exploiting its resources and people.
Sarah Motta from the University of Newcastle spoke about highlighting the views of the traditionally dispossessed and excluded sectors, such as women and poor farmers. New and creative forms of liberation struggle are emerging among these sectors, she said.
Discussion from the audience took up issues such as the war on drugs, the peace talks in Havana and the need for more international solidarity with the Colombian people.