The European Chapter of the Congress of the Peoples of Colombia received the shock result of the plebiscite held in Colombia on October 2nd with a sense of bewilderment and deep sadness. The triumph of the NO vote was a stark reminder for us that overcoming war in Colombia is a complex and meandering process.
We also received the news that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with further bewilderment. It was an award which was granted solely on the supposed demobilisation of the FARC guerrillas. In the process, the Nobel Committee seemed to bypass the murders of young people under the guise of “false positives”; and the military attacks on the neighbouring countries of Colombia during the war against the FARC, which occurred while Santos was defence minister for the Uribe administration, making the president personally accountable for those actions. The Santos government, like its predecessors, has represented the interests of the traditional landowning oligarchy, transnational capital and military warmongers, and never the interests of the working majority of the country. Therefore, we perceive the Nobel Peace Prize as a mockery and an offense to the Colombian people who have suffered under the war, a war that was also waged by Juan Manuel Santos in previous years.
We were pleased to see that the Colombian diaspora, comprised of migrant and exiled peoples, participated widely in the plebiscite in support for the agreement between the FARC and the government of President Santos to end the armed conflict that has spanned more than 50 years. It is regrettable to learn that people with political asylum status in Europe were not able to participate in the plebiscite due to a temporary suspension of their Colombian nationality, subject to this status. If all those persons had been able to vote in the plebiscite, the support for the agreements in La Havana amongst the migrant and exiled community would have been far greater.
We believe that the NO result in the plebiscite cannot be explained solely as a result of the political and media manipulation made by the warmongering and staunch Colombian oligarchy, led by the Democratic Centre Party. Although we believe that much of the NO result was the outcome of such manipulation, we also believe it necessary to recognise that “part of the defeat of the YES vote was due to the limited mechanisms for participation of the negotiating process with the FARC, resulting in a lack of legitimacy that was evident at the ballot box” as described by Professor Victor Currea-Lugo. We believe that the NO result cannot be taken as definitive, it should not by any means be interpreted unambiguously as the expression of an ignorant peoples who are unable to differentiate between the manipulating lies of the media and reality; and it certainly should not be considered an expression of support for former presidents Alvaro Uribe Velez and Andres Pastrana, who championed the NO vote.
Part of the NO vote corresponds to a protest vote from people who did not feel identified with the negotiations: a reflection on people’s position on the FARC, but also a reflection on the feelings of the position of the Santos administration to deny any attempt to negotiate the current economic model or the institutionality of Armed Forces. A point which was confirmed by commander of the FARC, Timoleón Jiménez when he recognised “it was very difficult for some people to support the plebiscite because they perceived this as support for a type of economic and social policy which did not represent them.”
Other factors that led to the NO vote in the plebiscite have to do with the structures and forms of participation that were available to communities and social organisations, as well as the social agenda which was developed during the negotiating process. Nevertheless, those communities that were most affected by the conflict expressed strong support for the agreements in the plebiscite and also on November 5, 2015 when they expressed their support for a negotiated peace through widespread demonstrations. We believe that regardless of the NO vote, the will of the people remains to find a negotiated solution to the internal armed conflict. Similarly, we believe it is neither fair nor appropriate to reduce the discussions about peace to a formulated dichotomous choice between war or parliamentary democracy.
From a position of Exile and Migration we reaffirm our position that it is only through popular organisation and mobilisation that we can hope to build a viable alternative towards a long-lasting peace with social justice. In this respect we congratulate and encourage initiatives like ‘Peace to the Streets’, which are leading the discussion on peace through the assembly practices of popular democracy.
The European Chapter of The Congress of the Peoples, which represents part of the emigrated and exiled Colombian population, reaffirms the urgency of convening a National Dialogue for Peace, one that that brings together the different social sectors of the country: peasant, indigenous, worker, youth and student organisations; the organisational processes of black communities, women’s organisations, the LGBTQI movement, the emigrant and exiled community, political parties, the church, small and middle-scale businesses owners, consumer organisations, and all sectors that have been historically excluded from political decision-making spaces in the country.
The National Dialogue for Peace should be a space for organisations and social movements, traditional elites and the Colombian state to negotiate the restructuring of the country and the social transformations necessary to achieve a dignified life and social justice for the entirety of the Colombian population. Therefore, we strongly oppose the attempt to draw up and impose an agreement of bourgeois elites like the one currently being proposed by Uribe, Santos and Pastrana. We do not want a new National Front and we do not want a new conservative and retrograde Constitution in the style of the 1886 regeneration.
A National Dialogue for Peace is the will of a large part of Colombian society, but we know that this can only be achieved in the streets and through popular participation. Part of that popular mobilisation is representative of the specific demand to respect the agreements reached in Havana between the FARC and the government, as well as the the desire for the immediate installation of the negotiating table with the ELN National Liberation Army. We are of the opinion that negotiations with the insurgency can only reach final terms if the armed insurgencies are recognised by the political establishment as political actors in legitimate resistance. The right to armed rebellion against systems of injustice and oppression cannot be denied by the schizophrenic obsessions of a few reactionary politicians.
Armed resistance in Colombia existed long before the FARC and ELN and will reoccur unless the conditions of injustice and repression disappear. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognises rebellion as a legitimate right and states in its preamble which states that the legal protection of human rights is essential so that no human “is compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression,”. It is time to end the stigmatisation and criminalisation of the legitimate right to rebellion.
At this historic moment, social movements have the possibility of building a project for peace for the whole country which gives continuity to the historic struggles for social justice in Colombia: from the cimarrón rebellion led by Benkos Biohó to Bolivar the creole, Galán the commoner, Manuel Perez the internationalist priest, and the fighter from Marquetalia and leader of the peasant uprising of the 60s Manuel Marulanda Velez, otherwise known by the people as “Tirofijo”; from the indigenous president Jose Maria Melo and the artisans revolution of 1854 to the indigenous uprising of Quintin Lame in 1914; from the struggles of Maria Cano and the banana farm workers at the end of the 20s, the Gaitanista struggles of the 40s, Camilo and the United Front in the 60s, and the fighters of Anorí in the early seventies to the national civic strike of 1977, the seizure of the Dominican embassy in 1980; Oscar William Calvo, Ernesto Rojas, Alvaro Fayad and Jaime Pardo Leal in the 80s, as well as Carlos Pizarro and Manuel Cepeda in the 90s. It is these and many more peasant and indigenous mobilisations and their leaders who have excelled in resistance struggles in recent decades. This historic struggle gives renewed legitimacy to the social and political movement of today, including those in armed resistance, to fight for a peace project, one which is set through binding participation in the National Dialogue for Peace: We must aim for more!
Unity and popular mobilisation are the only guarantees for a political solution to the armed conflict and the only way to overcome the structural conditions of impoverishment and social exclusion. Peace is a process in permanent construction. In memory of the late Jorge Eliecer Gaitán, we must remember that the people are always superior to their leaders. It is time for the social and political movement to assert their own agenda and their own voice to make the slogan of peace, a slogan for social justice.