Colombia: New group shows hope of bringing change
By Berta Joubert-Ceci
May 30, 2012
Colombians launched a new movement in April that may challenge the oligarchy’s rule there. La Marcha Patriótica [Patriotic March or PM] is an outgrowth of the diverse social movements in Colombia.
Before proceeding to Workers World’s interview with a Patriotic March spokesperson, a brief description of recent developments will help readers understand this movement’s significance.
Colombia’s current political climate
Two years have passed since Colombia’s president, Juan Manuel Santos, took office. Santos, the ruling-class member who was educated in private schools in Colombia and universities in the U.S. and Britain, shows a sophistication that his predecessor lacked. Santos has given the impression that he somehow is fairer and more democratic than former president and paramilitary ally, Álvaro Uribe.
Even the trade agreement, which Washington was pushing for for so long but failed to pass under Uribe, now has been approved. This, despite the recent report released by the State Department indicating that “the most serious problems of Colombia in the period were ‘impunity and a deficient judicial system, corruption and social discrimination.’” (noticiascaracol.com)
State repression and violence against the progressive forces and the armed insurgency continue unabated. Labor leaders continue to be assassinated by the paramilitary forces linked to the Colombian army. Transnational corporations continue stealing the Colombian peoples’ resources.
In spite of these continuing atrocities, there is a polarization within the established system, between Santos and Uribe, which was the focus of a recent editorial in the daily El Espectador. Uribe blames Santos for not following his policies of “Democratic Security” — meaning an overtly repressive state. In the article, entitled, “Against Itself” [En contra de sí mismo], the author, Nicolás Uribe Rueda, exposes the serious polarization and “the weakening and self-destruction of the institutional mechanisms” that are supposed to “solve the most complex problems of our society.” (Elespectador.com)
Within that context, he mentions the Congress and the judicial system, stating that “Colombians distrust politicians and judges alike.” He portrays a completely dysfunctional state that works on behalf of different individuals’ interests.
Will the forces allied to Uribe make a move against the Santos government? Uribe has been traveling to the U.S. and various countries in Latin America promoting his views and his hatred of Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez. Is this an attempt to gather support? Only time will tell.
David Florez speaks about the Patriotic March
In the meantime, the left political forces are moving and gathering strength.
David Florez, who until recently was a leader of the growing student movement, is one of several spokespersons of the PM. Florez told WW/MO of PM’s origins: “It arises from a process of confluence of the Colombian social and popular movement of long ago. In the first place, it comes from the reconstruction of the peasant movement, of great mobilizations in the 1990s, of the reconstruction of the student movement, particularly from universities in the 2000s, and from the convening of joint mobilizations.”
Florez spoke of the first large national and popular mobilization in 2007 against Uribe’s government in many departments [states] of the country which led to the founding of a coordinating group formed mainly by peasants’ organizations. Later on, Indigenous, students’ and workers’ organizations joined. In 2009, after an International Meeting on Peace and Humanitarian Exchange, other organizations joined the effort.
The basis for joining was a shared understanding about peace, a political solution for the Colombian conflict and the need for a humanitarian exchange [of political prisoners and those retained by the insurgent forces].
By 2010, organizations that were struggling against the neoliberal model also joined in and a major mobilization took place on July 20 as they confronted the government’s official celebration of the bicentennial of the country’s independence.
“It was an important date for us because it was a date that they used to say that Colombia was a prosperous country, with freedom, democracy and sovereignty, but for us it was an opportunity to say quite the opposite. A country where there is no sovereignty, where there is no real democracy, where there is no real sharing of the wealth, but on the contrary, there is a large concentration of wealth [in few hands].
“Then we organized ourselves to hold a commemoration critical of the [official] bicentennial and carry out what was called the Patriotic March and Open Cabildo for Independence. A cabildo is a space for political discussion and participation. At that time, we mobilized more than 60,000 people throughout the country and developed 10 thematic cabildos.
“Since then, we have been preparing this initiative,” Florez continued. “That is how the PM was born, for the reconstruction of the popular movement and out of the belief that a different way of carrying out politics is necessary.”
In 1985, the FARC-EP, along with other organizations, founded the Patriotic Union, a successful electoral party, as part of a proposal for peace and democratic politics under negotiations with then President Belisario Betancourt. However, thousands of its leaders and members were killed by paramilitaries and the Colombian state security forces. The extermination of this organization, with more than 4,000 people assassinated, was called Operation Red Dance.
Taking into account this genocide, WW/MO asked Florez to compare the PU with the PM. He said, “The PU was born out of a treaty between the state and the [armed] insurgency … for the purpose of participation in the political scene and to develop the reforms that the country needed. The PM arises from popular and social movements and some political organizations.
“There are differences but also similarities. The PM as well as the PU mean the possibility for many sectors that do not feel represented by the existing political parties … to have a space where they discuss their problems, but also raise their proposals.”
Another Red Dance in the making?
The PM has gotten no assurances from the government regarding security. In fact, members of the Colombian army and other government forces have harassed and held members of the PM in different parts of the country. Mao Enrique Rodríguez, chief of bodyguards for Carlos Lozano, another spokesperson of the PM from the Colombian Communist Party, was shot to death on April 27. Hernán Henry Díaz, leader of the Patriotic Council of Putumayo, has disappeared in a region between two army roadblocks [retenes]. Paramilitary groups harass peasant communities in Antioquia.
In Colombia, dissent is a crime punishable with death, torture, disappearances or long prison terms. That has not changed and that is precisely what the Patriotic March organizes against.
One important distinction between the PU and the PM is that the PM is not an electoral party. It is an attempt to unite all the possible forces into an effective social movement that can do away with the anti-democratic and exclusionary system that pervades Colombia. It has a significant presence of Afro Colombians, Indigenous people, peasants, workers and students. Another spokesperson of the PM is ex-Sen. Piedad Córdoba, a courageous Afro Colombian woman who has been instrumental in the process of humanitarian exchange.
The PM has developed a document explaining their goals and methods which has been amply discussed around the country. Florez explained how they work hard to involve all the members in making decisions, not relying on representatives or leaders. As such, it is an example of participatory democracy.
More information can be read on their website, marchapatriotica.org. It is indeed a welcomed development in that suffering country, one that can serve as example to the world.