In this VA interview, we talk to the FARC commander about the region’s geopolitics, with an emphasis on Colombia and Venezuela.
By Cira Pascual Marquina – February 27, 2020
The peace process between the FARC-EP guerrilla and the Colombian government has had a profound impact on the region and especially in Venezuela. Venezuela – joined to Colombia by more than 200 years of history, culture, and politics – promoted and sponsored the peace process in its early stages. The post-accord situation in Colombia, in which numerous social leaders have been murdered and the causes of the conflict remain unresolved, led a group of FARC dissidents to break with the FARC party last year.
Here we talk with Seuxis Pausias Hernández Solarte, better known as Jesus Santrich. Santrich is an important FARC‐EP commander who, together with Ivan Marquez, is a key leader of the rupture group. This interview is dated February 4, 2020.
It’s obvious that the Colombian government does not intend to respect the Peace Agreements: it has breached the six points of the agreement signed by the parties in 2016 and many social leaders are being assassinated. What does this mean for the region and specifically for Venezuela?
Through various means and even before the signing of the agreements, several of the insurgency’s representatives in Havana, including myself, warned about the government’s inconsistent position regarding reconciliation, as it didn’t show any willingness to find solutions to our society’s economic, political and social problems. In the early days of the peace process implementation, when we returned to Colombia, we pointed to the sluggishness in implementing the agreement. This began with a failure to prepare the spaces where the gathering of the guerrilla units would take place. Our people began to gather in places where, in some cases, there wasn’t even protection from inclement weather, and some of the facilities to house former guerrilleros were never finished.
In the first year after signing the agreements, the verification institution determined that the implementation of the process was poor and that the establishment had broken the peace agreement very early on. Juan Manuel Santos took the first step towards what became a “crime of perfidy.” His successor Ivan Duque deepened the betrayal with blood and fire, creating growing economic insecurity for ex-combatants and abandoning the Peace Process policies that were supposed to be implemented in the more impoverished communities. The government was particularly remiss in the areas of agrarian reform, substitution of illicit crops, and political reform, to name just a few.
It is obvious that the establishment is responsible for what is going on – either directly or by omission – for the broken commitments made to poor communities and for the number of social leaders assassinated since the signing of the agreements. More than 500 social leaders have been killed since then, and some 200 ex-combatants have been assassinated in the same period. However, when we denounce this situation, we run up against bald denial on the part of the institutions, complemented by all sorts of judicial prosecutions launched against the revolutionary movement, including against me.
When the state broke the agreement – despite our efforts to keep it alive – we had no choice but to resume armed struggle. We had given up arms as part of a mutual commitment to overcome the causes of the conflict. The step was not conceived as demobilization and even less so as a unilateral process of demobilization on the insurgency’s part. In the end, with the establishment’s betrayal, its breaking good faith and trampling our dignity, and with all paths closed off to us, we were forced to look for a path out of defeatism and claudication.
The process of stigmatization, slander, framing, judicial persecution, extradition attempts, and the growing number of assassinations all pointed to the fact that reconciliation was a farce and peace was nothing more than a web of lies. That made it clear that our duty was to seek a coherent way out – to not submit to a felonious and petty political caste.
This wound to Colombia’s peace damages continental peace. Although there are Latin American and Caribbean governments promoting all sorts of initiatives to make the continent a territory of peace, Colombia’s dominant power bloc lends itself to turning our country into a battleground abjectly subjected to the United States’ whims – to imperialism’s voracity and shameless looting of common assets. Meanwhile, the country becomes a platform for interventionism against countries that do not align with Washington’s interests, as is the case with Venezuela and Cuba.
With the help of the United States, Juan Manuel Santos and Ivan Duque’s treacherous administrations have destroyed the agreements in general – an essential foundation for dialogue – and have broken good faith and the pacta sunt servanda [Latin for “agreements must be kept”] principle. They have disrespected the mediating role of important international organizations such as the United Nations and the countries that participated as guarantors and accompaniment. Thus, the rupture of the agreements comes with simultaneous sabotage of international human rights and international law, including sovereignty and the people’s right to self-determination.[*]
I would add that the government’s betrayal of the Peace Agreement fuels distrust within Colombia while destabilizing the region as a whole. When we look at Venezuela, we can see how Bogota’s (and Washington’s) breaking of the agreements is not accidental: Venezuela is one of their targets. In addition to the impact of our internal war causes along the extensive and permeable border between Colombia and Venezuela, the Colombian conflict is taken as an excuse to unleash and maintain a situation of permanent hostility and aggression against Venezuela.
In fact, this hostility has become Colombia’s business card. Duque’s government is committed to the methods of Uribe’s mafia [followers of Albaro Uribe, Colombia’s ultra-right former president]. That mafia engages conspiracy, destabilization, and aggression against Venezuela, while Colombia is suffering from its neoliberal policies that result in a terrible humanitarian crisis expressing itself in the daily deaths of social leaders and ex-combatants.
Did the dogmas of the “Pink Tide” (the progressive processes that began around the turn of the century in Latin America) impact Colombia’s peace process? I ask because many progressive governments made a fetish of elections. They sometimes overlooked the fact that, for example, the changes in Venezuela were supported by a patriotic army. The progressive governments had many limitations and their civic-military unions could not easily be reproduced elsewhere.
I don’t think that the evident structural crisis of the former FARC-EP as a revolutionary organization was directly affected by that: by what you call the “dogmas of the Pink Tide” or of the progressive processes of the first decades of the 21st century. Our crisis was rooted, on the one hand, in the erosion caused by the prolongation of war; on the other hand, it was due to a double betrayal by the regime and internal actors within our movement’s political-military leadership.
I am not inclined to question the achievements (be they many or a few, durable or not) of progressivism. In times when the decline of the empire and its loss of world control are evident (and this is made clear by the imposition of fascism as a desperate reaction), any form of resistance to tyranny is valid. However, this shouldn’t be done without forgetting that the goals of a revolutionary movement must go beyond those of progressivism.
Of course, I believe that no process of profound change – much less a true social revolution of popular redemption – can survive if it is unarmed. If we think about Colombia’s struggle for radical change aimed at overcoming inequalities, misery, and political exclusion, we can see that giving up arms is now a chimera. It would be a path filled with martyrdom and uncertainties.
In Colombia, the popular movement faces a power bloc that is extremely sordid and bloodthirsty. It flatters and submits to its gringo masters. This means that the Colombian government has a confirmed criminal, terrorist, vindictive and treacherous character and it cannot engage in fair democratic play. The fact is that extremely powerful guarantees would be needed to enter into any new agreement with it.
With this in mind, and understanding that both neoliberalism and progressivism are in crisis, we came to the conclusion that the only coherent proposal is the path towards structural changes with the idea of constructing socialism on the horizon. It is not an exaggeration to say that, in the midst of the crisis of progressivism and agonizing neoliberalism in Latin America, we need a final push towards socialism.
As the new FARC, we have already said this: the promises of milk and honey from “advanced capitalist” countries – with their gangster institutions (such as the IMF and the World Bank – are collapsing and nobody can stop that. This is best seen in the Chilean crisis, which shows the system’s broken machinery. The farce was demolished by massive demonstrations, unprecedented in Chile’s history and in Nuestra America. They have unmasked not only Sebastian Piñera but also the false paradise of consumerist capitalism disguised in false democracy that actually was “stick-up democracy.” Of course, all that was packaged with a media machinery that projected a non-existing bonanza and was organized by the Washington Consensus’ most advanced students.
There are countless analyses of the “long historical cycle of bourgeois civilization,” and also of twenty-first-century capitalism and its irreversible crisis. However, it is not necessary to discuss that theoretical universe now, since the spiral of militarization is in itself evidence of the inexorable decline of the system. The task of revolutionaries is to accelerate the collapse with organization, mobilization, and ideas that allow us to fight together against the imperialist system’s gigantic alienation machine.
The US military-industrial complex (which also incorporates the United States’ NATO partners) contributes to the US’ fiscal deficit. That, in turn, fosters financial capital’s prosperity. It follows that imperialist military efficacy is declining. The bureaucracy grows in a context of general decline that exacerbates the warlike aggressiveness of imperialism. […]
Imperialism has done its work well: if any success can be attributed to neoliberalism, it is in undermining the revolutionary consciousness of the most exploited peoples in the world. The generalized demobilization of the working class and the inability of communist, socialist or leftist alternatives to mobilize the peoples battered by the system is evidence of this.
Capital has become so powerful that nobody dares to propose, even as a strategic goal, a socialist alternative that would eliminate the world market pressure and its influence. In this regard, the processes that came to power in the first decade concerned themselves more with survival, and they moved too carefully, privileging democratic and social policies over solving the economic trauma resulting from a frontal clash with capital.
Nonetheless, there is no doubt that capitalism will perish as people struggle and fight. However, the fight against the system will be longer than we used to think. The ideological, political, and organizational work demanded by revolutionaries is much greater now, more intense and more necessary than ever.
This challenge is an urgent one and there are growing efforts taking place all over the world. These struggles show that people don’t accept the consequences of neoliberal capitalism. They are heroic struggles that begin with small victories, but they are not yet articulated within or with other countries immersed in struggles. The dispersion and the lack of clearly revolutionary political purposes – which is the deficit at the core of progressivism – constitutes a great obstacle that we must overcome with unitary national, regional and global projects.
The Peruvian Marxist Jose Carlos Mariategui said: “To the capitalist, plutocratic, and imperialist North America we can only effectively oppose an emancipated and socialist Latin America.” In this way, Mariategui linked the socialist project to continental integration. How do you understand the integration of Latin America’s peoples, particularly the people of Colombia and Venezuela, in these tumultuous times? What is the role of socialism in the project of integration?
The common historical and cultural roots of the peoples of South America – the territory that the Cuban Apostle Jose Marti called “Nuestra America” [Our America] – have a common destiny, which is that of the “second and definitive independence.” In other words, the forming of a single great nation of sister republics as dreamed by Simon Bolivar, champion of continental integration, came out of the realization that only unity and integration can free us from the US’ voracity.
The United States considers Latin America to be key to its political and military control of the globe. We are talking about the Monroe Doctrine’s tragic heritage, which has led to the installation of military bases with US troops and mercenary contractors, the design and implementation of the FOL [Forward Operation Location], a military scheme that allows strategic mobility, the capacity to trigger sudden wars from the US bases, rapidly-deployed airborne troops, and the proliferation of security agreements with various countries, including Colombia, which partners with the US in its recolonization initiative.
If we were to accept this, Latin America would be condemned to remain aligned with US imperialism and become the main arena for the expansion of its transnationals. Of course, this means that any post-capitalist process, any project that challenges Washington’s hegemonic strategy, will be subject to attempts to destabilize or destroy it from the beginning.
The processes that bloomed in the first decade of the 21st century – particularly Venezuela, but also, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Nicaragua, and El Salvador – have a common origin in the capitalist crisis. That crisis expressed itself in the exhaustion of restricted representative (plutocratic) forms of democracy. All of it coincided with the delegitimation of the neoliberal model, which had deepened misery and inequality in the region in a visible manner.
The continental wave of revolutionary and progressive changes, which began with Hugo Chavez Frias’ election in 1998, reached its highest level in radicality perhaps around November 2005, in the Mar Del Plata declaration against the FTAA [Free Trade Area for the Americas]. This gave an impulse to ALBA, which Cuba and Venezuela founded in 2004 with a continental project. At the core of the ALBA initiative was the fight against poverty and social exclusion.
With the 2008 global capitalist crisis, the decline of some of these processes begins, as is evidenced by the decline of the World Social Forum, together with a shift towards the right in Brazil and Argentina – countries on a “center-left” path – while Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela were under pressure by the oligarchic-imperialist bloc. All this brought about, little by little, the reorganization and repositioning of conservative forces on the continent.
Can we look at the particularities of each country that participated in the“Pink Tide,” which began around 1998?
The progressive processes in the continent were quite diverse, but they have one thing in common: they don’t emerge from a popular armed uprising. However, at the core of these processes, was the spark of dissent and mass protests against inequality.
All these processes were intimately linked to mass struggles, popular mobilization, the centrality of social movements and the appearance of new political subjects clearly differentiated from the old vanguardist parties. Of course, this does not exclude the participation of parties such as the MAS in Bolivia, the PSUV in Venezuela, and Alianza Pais in Ecuador in such processes of change. Some of these processes were also characterized by legitimate dissent towards friendly governments, such as the MST in Brazil, Quispe in Bolivia, and the CONAIE in Ecuador.
Another characteristic of these processes is that, in most cases, they placed the legacies of Nuestra America rebels and patriots (Bolivar, Marti, Artigas, Sandino, etc.) in the foreground, while championing the struggles of native peoples and grassroots communities. Also, women and young people became the main protagonists.
But these processes were very diverse in character. Some, such as the process in Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay, advanced in social and economic development within the capitalist framework. Others such as those that took place in Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia proposed the construction of socialism.
However, their socialist proposal differed from the hypotheses of the historical communist camp: avant-garde parties, massive expropriations, or the elimination of the bourgeoisie as a class. Twenty-First Century Socialism… continues to be a reference for revolutionaries in our continent. In fact, in the FARC-EP these ideas were welcome, and they were important for creating the context of the peace talks.
These governments fostered changes to overcome unfair property and power relations in some cases and sometimes worked to overcome the historical shortcomings of participation, expanding spaces of democracy. In doing so, they became test cases for the relevance of their ideological contributions and the viability of Twenty-First Century Socialism.
Now, for the new FARC-EP, it is the time to analyze, with a broad, open-minded vision, the democratic and progressive processes of the region. We have to understand their achievements and failures without losing sight of our own failures, which have their root in the naive (and unjustifiable) credulity in the word of a miserable government and a defeatist internal clique that abandoned our original revolutionary principles.
Without a doubt, the one who set the tone in this struggle was President Chavez with the proclamation of a Bolivarian Revolution, making constitutional and social changes accordingly. The Bolivarian Revolution was the trigger for the continental process.
For his part, President Correa of Ecuador, with a similar perspective, closed the US’ Manta Base and took other measures such as auditing foreign debt and removing support from the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance [Rio Treaty]. Bolivia’s Evo Morales took similar steps, expelling US ambassadors for interference in internal affairs, the United States Agency for International Development [USAID], and the Drug Enforcement Administration [DEA]. Additionally, Morales renegotiated unfavorable gas concessions, thus recuperating Bolivian assets. US Imperialism never forgave those steps.
In all these countries – and in Nicaragua and El Salvador too – interesting popular empowerment emerged, just as hostile and interventionist US actions followed. Of course, the main target was Venezuela, the epicenter of the processes of change and independence in Nuestra America, which means that US interventionism has been harsher there.
That is why the United States declared the government of Nicolas Maduro a threat to their national security, placing Venezuela in the eye of the hurricane with constant Yankee hostility, seconded by lackey governments. Of course, some governments, world organizations, and individuals have demanded the end of aggression which has, by the way, turned Colombia into the main staging ground for attacks against Venezuela.
Cuba, which faces enormous difficulties due to the criminal US blockade, remains the most solid revolution in the region, constantly evaluating, rectifying and advancing. Cuba remains a beacon of dignity and an example of revolutionary leadership in Nuestra America.
It is time to reflect and evaluate the main political continental events and challenges, including the impact of external factors, with the future of the region in view. We must also learn from the processes themselves and incorporate those elements that are useful to our own strategy.
In doing so, we can say that today Latin America and the Caribbean are going through a slowdown in popular movement activity while the aforementioned processes are in crisis… Nonetheless, as this rollback happens, class struggle is growing in many countries. This expresses itself in the organization of the most diverse forms of mass movement mobilization resisting dispossession practices advanced by transnationals, mining, and energy exploitation, the devastation brought about by agribusinesses, and neoliberal ransacking in general.
In this context, Washington has encouraged several traditional coup attempts which have almost always been frustrated by mass mobilization. They have been more successful with the implementation of “institutional coups” such as the ones in Honduras and Paraguay, and more recently in Bolivia. The fact is that imperialism is not resigned to losing what it considers its “strategic rearguard.” That is why it sponsors the most retrograde local actors, pushing for a conservative restoration either through institutional strategies (such as promoting right-wing parties that abide by the laws and by electoral rules), or through conspiracy and seditious strategies, as is the case in Venezuela, where they encouraged guarimbas or other disturbances in the cities, or with collaboration with figures such as Juan Guaido who lend themselves to imperialist sabotage.
This situation means that the local leadership (both governmental and grassroots) where progressive processes are taking place needs to engage in reflection. Yielding to the demands of hegemonic capitalist forces or their local agents is not the solution. The defeat of a popular project can only be prevented by consolidating its victories, widening its scope, incorporating and preparing social organizations and political movements that identify with the processes of change with education and ideological formation.
We must promote a socialist project with an endogenous identity based on the classics’ contributions and the experiences of struggle among peoples that have developed anti-capitalist projects. We must seek identity in our own cultural roots, and it is here that people play their key role, with their ancestral solidarious, communal, and collective practices.
What can you tell us about the Venezuelan commune as a proposal for the reorganization of society both politically and economically?
While I don’t know well the experiences of organizational, political and productive work in Venezuela, I have learned about the strength of the social fabric woven by Chavez, especially in communal construction. The commune is the seed for that which is new and good: an alternative to capitalism’s social and environmental plundering. In fact, we identify ourselves with the communal project, which has demonstrated its potential, in agrarian areas where campesinos of indigenous or African descent have organized themselves.
The communal experience is an alternative to the destructive nature of capitalist practices, abetted by the dominant technology and the inability of the world economy to continue growing. The current conditions accelerate the concentration of wealth in very few hands and the marginalization of billions of human beings who are, from the perspective of the reproduction of the system, surplus population.
[*] The November 7, 2016 agreement was signed as a “special agreement” following the terms of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. Following that, the Colombian state had to make a “Unilateral Declaration” before the UN secretary general. Through this process, the entire Peace Agreement became a “United Nations Security Council Document.”
The “Unilateral Declaration” to the secretary general, dated March 13, 2017, and, together with a communication dated March 29, 2017, with the “Final Agreement for the End of the Conflict and the Construction of a Stable and Lasting Peace,” the documents were sent to the Security Council (Document S / 2017/272, dated April 21, 2017). All this means that the Colombian state’s acquired obligations must be fulfilled in accordance with the Pacta Sunt Servanda principle and International Law.
According to the good practices of peaceful coexistence, the state’s responsibilities will remain notwithstanding a change of government. This is to guarantee both internal legal security and to ensure international stability, which are unavoidable factors of concord. Unless there is a determination to act as a rogue state proceeding against the agreement and against the international order, the state must continue the process. However, a rupture is evident in regards to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, for example. This also became visible when Duque’s government disregarded the role of Cuba and Norway as international guarantors, or when they ignored the protocols in the ELN conversations in Havana.
Featured image: Jesus Santrich (Venezuelanalysis)