Robyn Marshall & Bill Mason
On May 27, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country's main revolutionary guerrilla movement, marked 42 years of struggle. Speaking from a jungle camp, Raul Reyes, secretary for international relations and a member of the FARC's national secretariat, explained the group's background and current policies.
By many estimates, the FARC controls up to 40% of Colombian territory. The group is active in all parts of the country, politically and militarily.
Successive Colombian governments have attempted to crush the FARC, including the current regime of President Alvaro Uribe. Reyes was interviewed before the country's May 28 election, when Uribe successfully won another term.
The efforts to destroy the FARC have been backed by a force of 20,000 US troops, acting under the cover of Plan Colombia and Plan Patriot — projects by Washington and Bogota to counter the guerrillas under the guise of waging a war against drug trafficking.
Reyes was a trade unionist and a deputy in the Colombian National Assembly, but had faced death threats. He spent some time in jail but was eventually released because there was no proof he had committed any crimes. On his release, he immediately left for the countryside. That was in 1981. Reyes has now spent 25 years in the jungle as a member of the FARC.
He began his political life in the youth wing of the Communist Party (the FARC was originally the CP's military wing but it broke away). "Although my family were not communists, let alone supporters of the FARC, they were not rich. We didn't go hungry, but I was very concerned about my people, the widespread poverty and misery. The decision was all mine."
The FARC fights for "a democratic and pluralist government, ... this will be a government that defends its sovereignty and the dignity of our people ...
"It must defend the right to strike, the right of free association, the right to work and the right to live, the most important of all the rights that we have. This government needs to guarantee work for all the people, with decent wages, with stability of work, study and health for all Colombians, with the cost paid by the state ...
"We have to finish with paramilitarism, corruption [and] narcotrafficking, because narcotrafficking is a cancer which affects everyone. Narcotrafficking ... is an expression of world capitalism ..."
Reyes said that Washington uses the issue "to attack the revolutionaries, but they are the same people who traffic in heroin, cocaine, and are also the greatest producers and sellers of armaments in the world. The money from the drug trade is used to fund the arms trade."
The charge that the FARC profits from the drug trade, Reyes said, is a "great lie, part of the war that the class enemy promotes, part of the campaign of lies by the US and Uribe against the FARC". He said that the FARC charges a 10% "peace tax" on businesses and that "a good part of the Colombian economy is involved in narcotrafficking".
He explained: "A good proportion of the money from narcotrafficking is now in commercial business, in the banks, in industry, in education, in sport, because the narcotraffickers can buy the best vehicles, they have their children at the best schools, they can import agricultural machinery, they can trade in pharmaceuticals. They import everything and they launder the money from the [drugs trade]. It is very difficult for us to know when we ask for the tax where the money has come from ..."
The drugs trade "finances a great part of the costs of the Congress of the [Colombian] republic. Many of the military officers and generals of the army, the police and the aviation industry also have business with the narcotraffickers. The government talks about combating narcotrafficking, but they are quietly left alone.
"This is what happened to Uribe ... Uribe's father was a narcotrafficker ..."
In the early days of the FARC, the guerrillas had uprooted the coca plants grown by campesinos (peasants). But, Reyes explained, the campesinos told them: "Companeros, if you are going to pull out the coca, we will not be able to live. We don't have any means of subsistence. We have debts, we are dying of hunger, what will we do?"
"So", Reyes said, "confronting this problem, we could not continue pulling out the coca plants, we had to leave them. We said, 'This business is very dangerous and illegal. You must plant food — plantano, yucca, and so on, and you and your sons must construct a new economy. You must never consume these products. If we consume this, we will call attention to ourselves.'
"So, the consumption of drugs is prohibited by the FARC, because it affects the health of all Colombians. At no time does the FARC order the campesinos to plant and cultivate coca. The FARC does not charge a tax on the campesinos, only on commercial businesses, the big cattle ranchers and so on."
He said that the production of coca in Colombia "is a problem that can only be solved in a political manner, not by repression of the campesinos".
The current situation in Colombia is a "total war", Reyes said. The US and Uribe are "using everything they have" to try to annihilate the FARC — "all their forces, the information war, the threats, the bombings, the repression against the civilian population, the campaigns of terrorism, and the use of the narcotrafficking issue to delegitimise our fight".
"At this stage, there is a polarisation of the fight in Colombia", he explained. "A big sector of the population, 70%, is tired of the war and want peace — but peace with social justice. We all want peace with employment, with housing, with justice, with equality of wealth and with national sovereignty. There can be no peace with a free-trade government, with neoliberal policies. The people want respect and self-determination ... we must construct socialism in this country. We will never take the path of giving up the fight."
In regard to the presidential elections, Reyes commented: "The FARC wants Uribe to be defeated. If he is re-elected, it will mean four more years of poverty, corruption, narcotrafficking, the violations of our sovereignty, the crimes of the state, augmented by paramilitarism ...
"We maintain the demand for dialogue, but if Uribe is re-elected, it is difficult to foresee a dialogue of peace, because Uribe's is an illegitimate government, a corrupt government, a government that does not represent the people of Colombia, but a minority of the ultra-right ..."
The struggle of the FARC is taking place in a new political context for Latin America, with the rise of new left-wing forces opposed to US imperialism. In Venezuela, socialist President Hugo Chavez is leading a "Bolivarian revolution" — a popular movement to build a new society based on principles of social justice and participatory democracy.
In January, Evo Morales was sworn-in as Bolivia's president, coming to power on the back of militant social movements that overthrew the previous two presidents. Venezuela and Bolivia, along with revolutionary and Cuba are emerging as a new "axis of hope" in Latin America.
Reyes said that "the FARC certainly supports the Venezuelan revolution because the FARC is part of the Bolivarian movement. We are Bolivarians ...
"For us, the achievements of Venezuela and Commandante Hugo Chavez are very important. He has gained magnificent results with the support of the Venezuelan people, in health, education, housing and so on, to the point where people are now talking about socialism. All sectors of society are helping to develop the Bolivarian revolution.
"The Bolivarian revolution also takes everyone into account, and we are part of the Bolivarian contingent. It's clear, in Bolivarianism, you find everybody — revolutionaries, communists, socialists, anti-imperialists, progressives and so on. The development of the Bolivarian concept has permitted an increase in the fight against imperialism, the fight against the oligarchy, the fight against neoliberalism, the fight against the International Monetary Fund, and, above all, the [Andean free-trade agreement] that affects our people fundamentally ... We enter the 21st century with the real hope of fundamentally changing the map of Latin America and the Caribbean."
There is evidence that right-wing Colombian paramilitaries have been infiltrating Venezuela with the aim of destabilising the Chavez government. Reyes said that this "is part of the political plan of the US against the Venezuelan process, against Hugo Chavez, against all the revolutionaries of the region. In this, they count on the help of Alvarez Uribe, who is on the point of launching, on behalf of the US, the destabilisation of the Bolivarian revolution ..."
Reyes said that there are "good signs" in Bolivia, citing Morales's nationalisation of the country's formidable natural gas reserves and the moves to carry out land reform. The Bolivians "have won credibility with all the revolutionaries". "Here, all the impressions of Evo Morales are that he has signed agreements with [Cuban President Fidel] Castro and with Chavez, and there is an integration of Bolivia with the economic plans of ALBA [the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas — a Venezuelan initiative to develop an alternative to the neoliberal Free Trade Area of the Americas], which will contribute a lot to the development of the government of Morales."
He also said that "Cuba is a symbol of dignity in Latin America [and] in the world, because Cuba faced the US blockade ... and despite the fall of the Soviet Union, kept going, building socialism". "Fidel and the Cuban government keep fighting for the Cuban people, and have achieved many excellent results, in education, health and other areas. And the Cuban people continue to show strong solidarity for those who are fighting for independence and national liberation in the world."
From Green Left Weekly, June 21 2006.
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