Since the 9th of April 1948 when the leader of the Partido Liberal, Jorge Eliezer Gaitan, was assassinated in Bogota, the struggle between the exploited and oppressed in Colombia and the bourgeois elite was transformed into a prolonged civil war.
This war has gone through many different stages where there have been various attempts to find a political solution to the conflict. But until now all of these attempts have ended in frustration. Additionally, the key political questions in Colombia, such as ownership of land, its distribution, and the exploitation of natural resources remain unanswered.
For the vast majority of the population, who live in poverty, political, social, civil and economic rights are largely absent. Colombia is one of the most unequal countries in the region.
According to human rights organisations, since 1958 (when the armed struggle between guerrilla movements and the capitalist Colombian state was officially recognised) more than 220,000 people have died in the armed conflict. Another 25,000 have disappeared and some 5.7 million have been displaced – an incredible 15% of the population. These figures, in reality, are likely to be even higher given the corruption and impunity that exists in the country.
Struggle amidst war
In the last decade important movements of students, academics, indigenous people, workers and peasants have formed. People have mobilised around the country demanding an end to the civil war. The movements have also put forward other social and economic demands. Incredibly, such mobilisations have taken place despite the civil war and state sanctioned terror.
The movements have also developed amidst the largest military offensive ever seen in Latin America. The US has provided unprecedented political, economic and military support via the ‘Plan Colombia’ initiative. In the last year alone US$400 million was spent by the Obama administration to support the Colombian state.
The main aim of ‘Plan Columbia’ is to destroy the FARC-EP – the oldest guerrilla force on the planet. Recent military operations have seen the FARC suffer losses including the death of three of its principle leaders. This is what recently lead them to initiate a new process of negotiations aimed at securing an end to the conflict.
In this context, and after a long period of negotiations between the government and the FARC, an agreement was finally reached in September this year. This was celebrated with enthusiasm by many as it was hoped that it would lead to the end of the civil war. On the 3rd of October it was put forward as a referendum for people to vote on.
The extreme right in Columbia, supported by the most conservative within the Catholic Church, organised a strong campaign opposing the agreement and they won. They claimed that the FARC were terrorists and could not be forgiven. They suggested that a ‘yes’ vote would see Colombia turn into a second “red” Venezuela where the values of “private property and the family” would be lost.
The results of the referendum should not however be interpreted as an unwillingness on behalf of ordinary people to secure peace. According to official data only 13 million Colombians voted, representing just 37% of the population!
As well as the low turnout the results showed the margin of difference between the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ vote was just 0.5%. Most of those who voted were in the urban areas of the country. In the rural areas most effected by the conflict the rates of abstention were higher.
The reason for the high rate of abstention included the absence of transparency in the negotiations and the lack of confidence that such an agreement would actually lead to peace. People were sceptical that they would see any real benefit from an agreement.
In many ways people’s scepticism was warranted. As long as capitalism remains intact, the deep problems that exist in Colombia will not be resolved. More than an agreement between the government and the FARC, Columbia needs real social change whereby the resources of the country are used for the betterment of the entire population.
While this agreement was voted down, the struggle for peace will continue to be waged by working class people. In addition to the impressive struggles that have already taken place, it is key that a powerful socialist movement is built as a means of achieving both peace and a change to the exploitative capitalist system.
By Johan Rivas