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Part 2: Will Peace Agreement Between Colombia and FARC End Years of War, Unrest and Destabilization?

Web ExclusiveJune 24, 2016
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We continue our interview with author Mario Murillo about news that one of the world’s longest conflicts appears to be nearing an end after more than 50 years of fighting. On Thursday, Colombian government officials and FARC rebels gathered in Havana, Cuba, to announce a historic ceasefire nearly four years in the making. The breakthrough deal reportedly includes terms on an armistice, the handing over of weapons, and the security of insurgents who give up their arms. The conflict in Colombia began in 1964 and has claimed some 220,000 lives. More than 5 million people are estimated to have been displaced. President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC commander Timoleón Jiménez—known as Timochenko—then formally announced the terms of the ceasefire at a ceremony in Havana. Murillo is professor of communications at Hofstra University. He is the author of “Colombia and the United States: War, Unrest, and Destabilization.”

Watch Part 1 of this interview.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. Colombian government officials and FARC are gathering in Havana, Cuba, to announce a historic ceasefire nearly four years in the making. The breakthrough deal reportedly includes terms on an armistice, the handing over of weapons, security of insurgents who give up their arms. Both sides also apparently found common ground on issues of agrarian reform, the rebels’ participation in politics, combating drug trafficking, reparations to victims and transitional justice.

We continue our conversation with Mario Murillo, professor of communications at Hofstra University, author of the book Colombia and the United States: War, Unrest, and Destabilization.

In Part 2 of our conversation, Mario, first talk about how you understand this is being received in Colombia. The agreement is being signed in Havana, Cuba.

MARIO MURILLO: Well, it’s a mixed bag. I think the majority of Colombian people, if you look at polls, if you believe in polls, it’s about 60 to 65 percent of the population that are completely in support of the peace process and an end to the ongoing civil war. There’s a very vocal, high-profile minority that is—will stop at nothing to derail the process, as we’ve seen over the past 50 years in terms of any attempt at reaching a peace agreement with the FARC. And it’s personified perhaps most visibly by the former president and current senator, right-winger, Álvaro Uribe Vélez, who has a platform of the mass media, as well as social media and all the other forms, to really derail the process and criticize any attempt. He called the government and the president, Santos, his former defense minister, a traitor. He talked about this as an amnesty for terrorism. And there’s a lot of people in the Colombian political and economic establishment that are on his side. And so, that’s one of the things that we have to remain vigilant about and people have to pay attention to as to what role the conservative, right-wing establishment in Colombia is going to play to discredit and derail the process, which is a very delicate process, as you could understand.

Then—but from the progressive perspective, from the perspective of the social movements, which we never hear about in any of the coverage—and, in fact, last—the last couple of weeks, the last—since the end of May, there was a mass mobilization, what they call the paro agrario, which was a kind of a civic strike on a national scale, represented by the indigenous movement, the Afro-Colombian movement, the peasant sector, farmers—a broad cross-section of Colombia—the trade union movement, students, women, women’s organizations across the country, mobilizing not against the peace process, but against the way it had unfolded, not against ending the conflict. They’re all applauding the fact that the weapons are going to hopefully be silent, at least the weapons of the government and the weapons of the FARC, because there’s many other weapons on the ground and sectors that are still carrying out acts of violence against civilians in the countryside. So, they’re not against that, but they’re against the way the process essentially kept them out of the negotiation, kept these sectors, who have a lot to gain and a lot to lose by this process—they were not involved in it from the get-go. And, in fact, if you look at the—right now, the demobilization process, where they’re going to create these areas of concentration, a lot of those areas that they’re talking about happen to be in indigenous territory and territory allotted to the Afro-Colombian sectors. And so, the question is: Why aren’t they involved in the negotiation, if we’re talking about demobilizing guerrillas in their territories? I mean, that’s a minor aspect of it.

There’s also the other agreements that were signed off on earlier in the process. For example, one of the most historic components of the agreement was the agrarian issue. That was the first point of the negotiation back in 2012, ’13. And it was historic when it came out. And if you look at it on paper, it is one of the most progressive proposals to address, after decades of not addressing it, the issue of inequitable distribution of land, the poverty in the—terrible poverty in the countryside, lack of opportunities, lack of infrastructure, lack of credits for all these things. That was addressed, and it was very nice, what it looked like on paper.

But what you see on the other hand is you see the Colombian government opening up possibilities for mass privatization of a lot of these territories. You look at the expansion of monoculture, monocultivos—in other words, mass-scale agribusiness—soy, African palm, sugar, corn. That’s not directed at the small farmer and the small peasant communities. We’re talking about massive-scale both domestic and international investment in those areas. So while they’re talking about land reform, they’re also pushing forward this neoliberal agenda that really has always been part and parcel of the Colombian economic, you know, model.

So, the communities have been protesting. 2013, they carried out a civic mass action to precisely address that issue. 2014, they followed up on that, as well. And then, most recently, over the last three weeks, leading up until June 15th, where they carried out another mass protest against it. This is not being covered in the mainstream media. You don’t hear about it anywhere in the U.S. media. And even in the Colombian media, it’s only—it’s focused on peripherally. And these are the issues that need to be raised, if there’s truly going to be some kind of foundational peace that’s going to, you know, last in Colombia.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, there was a peace process back in ’84—right?—that was considered successful. How would this be different?

MARIO MURILLO: There’s been various attempts at peace over the years, I mean, and 1984 was perhaps the one that was most visible, that had the best opportunities and chances of success. Part of the issue was that the FARC at that point did have a political base that was pretty substantial. And, in fact, in that process in 1984, '85, there was the creation of this organization, a political organization, that was essentially going to insert the FARC into the political landscape of Colombian—of Colombian electoral and participatory politics. And they created the Patriotic Union as part of this process. But the right-wing backlash from the military and from the—from conservative sectors in Colombia, and with the support of the United States under the Reagan administration, essentially liquidated the Patriotic Union. Over the period from 1985 until 1994, in those 10 years, about 3,500 leaders, militants, activists from the Patriotic Union were massacred and killed. And people, you know, conveniently forget that, especially in the U.S. media. If you look at The New York Times reporting on this historic event in Havana, it's not even mentioned that these people were killed, and they make it seem as if the FARC are the intransigent ones.

After that, in 1984, the FARC basically decided, “We cannot turn in our weapons. And if anything, we have to expand militarily.” And it eventually led to the mass expansion of the military component of the FARC. And they put aside their political aspirations while they carried out this widespread territorial campaign against the state. And it also coincided, as a result of that, in order to fund it, in order to make this happen, the FARC really entrenched itself in the illicit drug trade. And that’s how they funded it. That’s how they expanded and eventually became one of the most powerful military organizations, guerrilla organizations, in the history of the world in many ways.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about Simón Trinidad? At all of the Cuban negotiations, they have a cardboard—the FARC has a cardboard cutout of Trinidad, who currently resides in prison in Colorado, is that right? Explain his history, why he’s so significant—


AMY GOODMAN: —and if you think he’ll be quietly repatriated to Colombia.

MARIO MURILLO: Simón Trinidad is one of the leaders, one of the secretariat of the FARC, one of the leaders who should have been at the negotiating table from the beginning. And the FARC were very adamant about making that happen. I mean, if we’re going to have high-level, top-level negotiations around these issues, the idea was to have him—have him present. The Colombian government was, you know, lukewarm about it. But ultimately, they didn’t even have a say in it, because he’s facing trafficking, drug trafficking charges in the United States, that has nothing to do with Colombian legal jurisdiction. And that was one of the sticking points of the negotiation. Supporters of Trinidad said that he needed to be released. I’m not certain as to what the conditions are as the—as one of the main issues of the negotiation that was hammered out, along with the land reform issues, along with the political participation, was the transitional justice: What’s going to happen to the participants in the FARC, as well as the military and state security forces who were involved in so-called crimes against humanity and acts that were considered violations of international humanitarian law—what’s going to happen to them? So, he would have—he would have fallen into that, from the standpoint of the Colombian legal jurisdiction, but again, because he’s under United States custody, it was almost apart from the issue. Now, whether or not there was some negotiation that involved U.S. justice as well as high-level officials, then that I’m not certain if that’s going to come to fruition as a result of these talks.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, we asked Daniel García-Peña in the first part of our conversation, the former high commissioner for peace of Colombia, speaking to him in Bogotá, about the significance of this taking place in Havana, Cuba. But I wanted to ask you about this, as well. And did the U.S. normalizing, beginning to normalize—of course, the embargo is not dropped—relations with Cuba have any effect? The significance? I mean, you’ve covered Cuba for so many decades as a journalist, as well. What this period has meant?

MARIO MURILLO: I think it’s a major achievement. And again, if it wasn’t for the Cubans—and, I think, to a lesser extent, the Venezuelans and Chileans, who also were sort of kind of guarantors in this process, and the government of Norway—but if it wasn’t for Cuba, that was so adamant about hosting it, as Daniel García-Peña clearly pointed out, and because—it’s interesting, because Cuba was always looked at as the bogeyman. I mean, so the fact that they even—in Colombia, in particular—they supported the FARC for all these years, that, you know, they were the major finance—financial and training and logistical training sources for the FARC over these years. The fact that they were open to that hospitality and that housing is very important. Now, most likely—and most of the reporting about it makes the link between the United States’ rapprochement with Cuba and the fact that they were directly involved in the Cuba talks—in the Colombia talks. I think the United States were kind of—you know, there was a lot of criticism of the United States for not taking a more active role earlier on in the peace process. They kind of latched on later in the process. But I think it is a major achievement, and Cuba should be applauded for it.

AMY GOODMAN: So, now this agreement has to go back to the people of Colombia. And talk about what you see—though you can’t predict the future, you have certainly covered Colombia for decades—what you see happening in this referendum, in this campaign, and the role of the former president, Uribe, who’s going to oppose this and lead a movement against it. The U.S. role, will it be significant? The U.S. provides millions to Colombia and the military forces there.

MARIO MURILLO: Yeah, I think, on the—you know, you could look at it from the standpoint of the demobilization, which is very precarious, very problematic, because we’re talking about areas that the FARC have controlled or have been actively engaged in for decades. Many of the people, many of the fighters don’t know any other location. So, to bring them into these areas of concentration and have them surrender weapons, we’re not sure—some people say it’s going to take 60 days, but some people talk about months, and most likely it’s going to be years, if we look at previous examples in Northern Ireland and other countries. So that demobilization process is going to be very, very complicated, complicated by the fact that you have these bandas criminales, these bacrim, which are the kind of the recreation or the second coming of the paramilitary groups, that were supposedly demobilized in 2007, 2008, under Uribe, still existing and still confronting militarily FARC and FARC supporters or FARC base communities. And so, they’re going to take advantage. These are folks who have no benefit—will benefit absolutely none by a peace agreement that’s going to bring an end to the guns. And so they’re going to continue to instigate.

And whether or not the FARC are going to be able to step back, there’s where the international community comes into play, what role the U.N. might play, what role other forces or other governments are going to play in trying to maintain that calm, because it’s not going to be an easy thing. We’ve seen it before. Then there’s also the backlash against those political—those FARC members who do eventually go through the transitional justice and then get part—get into the political process. If we start seeing an attack, a visceral attack like we saw in the 1980s against the UP, you know that the FARC are going to—or at least remnants, whatever they call themselves subsequent to these peace talks, are going to respond. So that—you have that kind of military logistical concern.

But then, more importantly, I think, down the road—and this is where the social movements issue comes up again—is, how are they going to implement some of these other very profound problems and issues that were negotiated in the peace talks, but that are very hard to implement, including the agrarian reform aspect of it, right? How are they going to make that happen? If you look at it, the cost of that is unbelievable. We’re talking about creating infrastructure. We’re talking about redistribution of land. We’re talking about so many things that, without substantial financial resources, is going to be almost impossible to implement. We’ve seen it in previous—we saw it in 1991, when the M-19 and the EPL negotiated a peace with the Colombian government. They inserted themselves politically. They created a new constitution. We thought that there was some progress there. And subsequent to that, we just didn’t see any real progress in terms of the social, economic conditions on the ground for many people. So that’s where perhaps shrinking the Colombian military will save some money, but also that’s where the international community, and particularly the United States, if there’s going to be some kind of support for this process.

The only problem is that—and this is why the social movements are very concerned—is that the United States is looking at it as a bonanza for its agribusiness, for investing in these—this massive potential in agribusiness and in mineral. You’re talking about the Colombian government providing concessions to international and domestic mining interests. And all of these issues are going to be clearly contesting the demands of the people for a more just, equitable society that Colombia has been clamoring for for decades. And so, when you have those two forces at work, the guns may be silent, at least from the FARC and the government, but it’s not necessarily going to really, truly lead to peace with social justice in Colombia, which is, after all, what everybody wants.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about U.S. policy and particularly the secretary of state, who could well be the next president of the United States, Hillary Clinton. I want to go to a clip of her response to Juan González.

HILLARY CLINTON: So I think we need to do more of a Colombian plan for Central America, because remember what was going on in Colombia when first my husband and then followed by President Bush had Plan Colombia, which was to try to use our leverage to rein in the government in their actions against the FARC and the guerrillas, but also to help the government stop the advance of the FARC and guerrillas, and now we’re in the middle of peace talks.

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s Hillary Clinton, the presidential candidate, answering Democracy Now!'s Juan González's question. But can you talk about the role of the Clintons and the role of Hillary Clinton, in particular, as senator and secretary of state, in Colombia?

MARIO MURILLO: The role of the United States in Colombia, particularly under Clinton, is very problematic. I mean, I write about it in a book in—back in 2001, 2002. When Andrés Pastrana, the previous—several administrations ago, prior to Uribe and prior to the current president, Manuel Santos, when he came to power, he was elected on this idea of seeking peace. And his primary objective was to say, well, in order to resolve the issue of narcotrafficking, to deal with that issue of the problems in the countryside that lead farmers to go grow coca and eventually be part of this chain that ultimately, you know, is the international drug trade, that leads to the violence and the instability and the breakdown of the social structures and the state apparatus in the countryside—to deal with that, we have to find a peace with the FARC. We have to reach an agreement with the FARC, so that way we can address it, you know, comprehensively.

He went to Washington after his election with that proposal, and it was redacted considerably. It was completely reformed and retransmitted, so to speak, with the perspective of the U.S. government and the Clinton administration, which was, no, in order to deal with the drug trafficking, we have to defeat the FARC. The first thing that we have to do is get rid of the FARC and deal with them. And then, once we do that, then we can—so, as opposed to a political solution, the proposal is a military solution. And that was signed off by Clinton, and that’s led to Plan Colombia. And in many ways, that’s what derailed the peace talks back in 1999 to 2002. Right? Everybody blames the FARC for being intransigent.

I remember in—when those negotiations began in San Vicente del Caguán, in the so-called demilitarization zone—big, high-profile photo opportunity, where the government of Pastrana and the FARC leaders were going to meet for the first time to kick off the peace talks. And because of security reasons, Marulanda Vélez, the chief of the FARC, did not show up, because there was no guarantees for security for them to go. So they were still involved in the peace talks, but there was—they didn’t arrive for this photo op. Every newspaper in Colombia, every media outlet, echoed by their counterparts here in the United States, focused on the fact that these guys weren’t serious. They didn’t show up. They stood up. They had a picture of President Pastrana there, and to his right, an empty chair. Right? And it made it look as if the FARC weren’t serious.

That same week, when that was going on, the paramilitaries, with the support and complete cooperation of the Colombian armed forces, carried out a sweep of massacres. Hundreds of people were killed all over the countryside as a way to send a message, saying that we’re not for this peace talk, this peace process. That was completely ignored. That’s a part of the history that’s never been discussed. Right? Very few people remember that. And so, it was presented again and again how the FARC were the intransigent ones, and it led to the approval in Congress of the Plan Colombia, that we’ve seen now, 15 years later, resulting in tens of thousands of more people killed, millions of people displaced.

And so, the Clinton administration is responsible for that. Right? They take credit now, and Hillary likes to take credit, that says, “You see what we’ve done to Colombia? We were able to bring peace. They’re negotiating because of our policies.” Yeah, forget the many other tragic consequences of that policy and how it’s resulted in a situation which is still very precarious, if we look at what’s really happening on the ground.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, the—looking at Latin America today, which you do a lot—I mean, you’re talking about a right-wing shift in Argentina with Mauricio Macri as the new president, the coup against Dilma Rousseff in Brazil. It’s not clear what’s going to happen in Venezuela. Talk about how Colombia fits into this picture in the future.

MARIO MURILLO: Well, Colombia has been consistently the U.S.'s closest ally, certainly in South America, right? During the Chávez and the Correa and the Evo and that whole sweep, Paraguay and the entire region as it was moving to the left, Colombia, particularly under Uribe, was to the far right and very closely allied with President Bush during his war on terror, and they benefited dearly from that relationship. And it continues with Santos, notwithstanding the fact that he has reached out, and one of his mandates has been to try to reach an agreement, which Uribe constantly attacks and criticizes from the right. That doesn't mean that his relationship, his cozy relationship with Washington, isn’t—isn’t sound and it’s not going to continue. And it will continue. And, in fact, by silencing the guns, it creates those opportunities that I mentioned earlier, which is, again, more opportunities for investment, more mining, more—all the things that the grassroots, the base movements in Colombia are so concerned about, for environmental reasons, for issues of sustainability, for so many other questions that they’re concerned about. Those are the things that the U.S. is now applauding as wonderful achievements.

And again, I want to be cautious. I’m very happy. After so many years, I never thought I’d live to see this day where they’re actually agreeing. And I’m sure a lot of my friends and colleagues who have been following Colombia for a long time would never have thought that they’d see a moment where the FARC, the leader of the FARC, would say that this is the end of the war. It’s happening, so that’s a good thing. Now they could focus on that. But to think that it’s just going to happen overnight and that there are not some very serious, nefarious influences, both from within and without Colombia, that will derail this process and that will not bring peace and justice to Colombia, is to stick your head in the sand, if not somewhere else.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, thank you so much, Mario Murillo, professor of communications at Hofstra University. He is author of Colombia and the United States: War, Unrest, and Destabilization. This is Democracy Now! To see Part 1 of our conversation with Mario Murillo as well as with Daniel García-Peña, the former high commissioner of peace in Bogotá, Colombia, go to Thanks for joining us.

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