Colombian revolutionaries protect the people

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Colombian revolutionaries protect the people

By Raul and Sulema Cienfuegos

SAN VICENTE DEL CAGUAN, "Liberated Zone", Colombia — The Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia-People's Army (FARC-EP) was formed on May 27, 1964, in response to the Colombian government's violent crushing of uprisings in the autonomous municipality of Marquetalia. Manuel Marulanda Velez and 47 other revolutionaries formed the revolutionary army to respond to state terrorism and with the goal of taking state power so as to change Colombia for the benefit of the majority of the people.

Since then, state terrorism has grown ever more horrific, to the extent that the Colombian army has been labelled by the human rights monitoring group America Watch as the greatest human rights violator in Latin America, if not the world.

But the FARC-EP has also grown into a political and military force of more than 20,000 armed guerillas in the country areas and an extensive urban guerilla network. It is present throughout Colombia, controls half the country and has the support and assistance of a great percentage of the people.

In 1998, the government of President Andrés Pastrana approached the FARC-EP with a request for peace negotiations. As a condition for dialogue, the government demilitarised five municipalities; all military, police and intelligence personnel have been taken out of these areas. The mayors of the municipalities have been allowed to keep their posts, but their powers have been handed over to the FARC-EP.

The FARC-EP has set up a civilian police force and has held many democratic, public forums to discuss and solve the problems of each municipality. In one of these municipalities lies the town of San Vicente, a large and important agricultural centre.

Because it was not in the government's interests to look after the farm workers or townsfolk of this area, San Vicente was left to run down. Roads were impassable, the water pumps broke down regularly, the electricity station was extremely unreliable, and there was a horrendous crime rate, homicide being the number one cause of death.

Since the FARC-EP took over this municipality, there has not been one homicide, nearly all the roads have been paved, and the electricity and water supplies have been improved. The FARC is also planning a literacy campaign in the area and is demanding that the government build more hospitals and schools in poor country areas.

As members of the Democratic Socialist Party, we were invited by the FARC-EP to visit San Vicente and talk to the people. We were there between April 15 and 28.

The townsfolk told us that now the FARC-EP has taken over, the people sleep with their doors open and can go out at any time during the night without any problems.

The landowners say the tax they pay to the FARC-EP is fair since the FARC-EP respects them and protects them from the state-controlled paramilitaries. As well, the landowners' work is made easier by the new roads.

The farm workers say that no-one in FARC-EP-controlled areas starves — the FARC-EP always finds ways to ensure that the hungry get food.

The only thing that terrifies the people of San Vicente is that when the talks between the government and the FARC-EP end, the army is going to try to take over the area. It will then let the paramilitaries carry out their gruesome promise to kill all civilians who collaborate with the FARC-EP.