A Betrayed Peace in Colombia:

Jesus Santrich, the chief negotiator of the FARC in Colombia's peace process, was taken into custody last month facing the possibility of extradition to the United States. He was recently transferred to the hospital and afterwards a religious center, with his hunger strike now entering its 37th day. The reason given for his detention was supposed involvement in narco-trafficing after the cut-off date set by the peace negotiations, however the charges coming from the United States are extremely suspicious. The most substantial evidence presented by the prosecution has been a far from conclusive audio recording which has no clear evidence of criminal activities or intentions. The case by the United States relies on the testimony of paid informants working within Mexican drug cartels for the United States. They can hardly be considered reliable and would easily be swayed by the offer of money from a US government deeply interested in having a FARC leader jailed on narco-trafficing charges.

Jesus Santrich has despite his potential sentence remained firmly committed to the peace process. Without weapons, without substantial political support, facing the prospect of being offered up as a trophy whose detention would likely be celebrated on Trump's twitter account, he has chosen one of the few possibilities of resistance which remain open: a hunger strike which will continue until he is freed, or until death.

The Colombian Government’s decision to move forward with the the potential extradition to the United States must be seen as a partial consequence of the considerable political reversals that both the FARC and the peace process have faced. First the close rejection in a plebiscite of the initial peace terms, and than a poor electoral showing by the FARC (0.4%, far less than what is needed to win the seats they have been guaranteed by the terms of peace). The result is that disarmed and without a substantial political base, the ex-combatants of the FARC have become vulnerable to both government betrayal and right-wing terrorism. For political parties aiming to score easy points in the election and to cultivate points with Trump, offering a former FARC commander over to the "justice" of the United States now seems like an easy option.

An organization which over the course of the 90's seemed capable of seriously threatening the regime and of forcing substantial concessions in peace negotiations now finds itself politically isolated, with many of its leading cadre facing potential arrest. Many others are having difficulties adapting to civilian life as support promised in the peace negotiations has failed to materialize. 40 ex-combatants, associates or family members of the FARC have been murdered since the peace deal was accepted. A small dissident wing has continued fighting, yet after years of isolation and slowly being bled of manpower and resources it is very unlikely that the continuity of the rural armed struggle by the dissident sections of the FARC will offer a path to power.

A more substantial account of the FARC's slow but steady defeat must take into account the impact of substantial US intervention, but intervention on that scale and a greater one has always been expected by forces taking the path of armed struggle in Latin America. Blaming a factor which was always expected and warned against is insufficient. More critically, the organization's resort to tactics which sometimes left considerable civilian casualties were a major source of a long term decline in popular support. Feuds which erupted over supply lines, including a turf war previously waged between the FARC and ELN (Colombia's second largest marxist guerilla organization, which is currently in peace talks in Havanna), also leave significant questions as to both organization's motivations around some aspects of the conflict. A balance of the armed struggle in Colombia is unfortunately a balance of defeat, even if the numerous government betrayals of past and present peace processes often left little choice for organizations of the far left.

Peace has also had substantial environmental consequences. After the peace accords were established, deforestation increased in Colombia by more than 44%. The FARC in areas which it controlled maintained strict environmental rules limiting deforestation, with it's demobilization these areas have been opened to slash-and-burn cattle farming which is bringing long term devastation in favor of short-term economic gains. Behind illegal exploitation of natural resources are many of the murderous right-wing militias and associations sponsored by the government to combat the FARC. The potential for oil and mineral exploitation in the demilitarized regions drove much of the government's will to negotiate and represent a potential bonanza for corrupt officials and multi-national corporations.

With a presidential election mere weeks away in which the major right-wing contender has promised to undo the peace accords, a tense political situation threatens to leave more militants imprisoned, extradited or assassinated. Conditions for the working class and poor (of which the vast majority of ex-combatants are now part of) remain dire, Colombia is the country in Latin America with the highest rate of unemployment after Venezuela. The far left has no substantial political presence on a national scale, a consequence of the fascistic violence which was unleashed across the country by right-wing militias during the conflict.

However as fragile as the peace is it remains a necessary foundation for reconstructing the left on a new basis. Santrich himself commented on this in an interview from prison with the independent Colombian magazine, GeneracionPaz:

What do you believe will be the consequences of your capture?

I can't evaluate very well the consequences of my capture from where I am, but I believe they will damage even more the good faith with which we signed the Havanna Agreement. It will further discredit the principal of pacta sunct servanda (agreements must be kept), reduce confidence in the establishment and it will add negatively to a process which many ex-combatants and a large part of the citizenry considers to have failed. In particular the unfulfilled agreements will make it difficult for the ELN to believe in the regime's will for peace. Above all it confirms and exposes the treachery of the institutions.

Do you regret having bet on peace?

I don't regret having bet on Peace, because this has been the goal of our struggle and our strategic proposals. I think that the decision to move forward with the conversations in Cuba was a necessity and was desired nationwide. However it is another thing that in the course of the negotiations - taking advantage of the leap of confidence and faith which the FARC gave to legality, as it was when we erred by abandoning our weapons under pressure - the State took advantage of this situation to commit a great betrayal. For now those who are responsible can rejoice in public or private, but what they have done against the country is laid the foundation for the cycle of violence which bled us so dry to continue. And now there will be the further inconvenience of a far greater disbelief in the possibility of dialog as a way out of the conflicts.

Do you believe that someday Colombia will know peace?

Colombia will definitely achieve peace. Colombia achieved what seemed almost impossible with its independence from the yolk of Spain. If our people have been able to maintain hope despite so much poverty, inequality, political exclusion, dirty war, violence and pain, it is certain that we will reach peace. I can't see the forms or the roads, however without a doubt there should be an awakening of these great majorities who don't believe in the traditional politicians. There should be an impactful awakening of all the people who are tired of the corruption, venality and injustices which characterize the regime. I don't believe this will be achieved through the polls or through votes which are corrupted by clientelism, the buying and selling of consciouses, with traps of all kinds. It will be achieved though and for this there will be a foundational social change. This will not fall to us from the sky nor will it come from the goodwill of the dominant power block.