Interview with FARC Commander Raul Reyes
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a peasant-based guerrilla army with an estimated 18,000 fighters, has been waging war against the Colombian government for more than 40 years. In recent years, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and
Q: What is the significance of the para-politics scandal for democracy in
Raul Reyes: The para-politics scandal is the result of many years of the existence of drug trafficking in Colombian politics. Drug trafficking money circulates at every level of the government, in all the apparatuses of the State, all the governmental institutions. Drug trafficking has carried various presidents to the presidency. But aside from the money for presidential candidates, the money also funds congresspersons in the House and the Senate. Many judicial processes are also bought with drug trafficking money. Drug trafficking money has also penetrated inside the police, inside the army, inside the DAS, the SIJIN, that is to say, inside all the components of state security. The president is compromised with this money. This money is also found in industry, in commerce, in the pharmaceutical industry, in the chemical industry, in all of these.
For these reasons the situation in
Q: How has the demobilization of the paramilitaries affected the FARC?
The demobilization of the paramilitary does not exist, it is a farce. It is the government of Uribe trying to deceive Colombians and the international community. The intention of Uribe is to legitimize paramilitarism and drug trafficking in
There can never be a peace process among those who have not been at war. There has never been a war between the
Now, as it affects us, the FARC? It affects us in that we are the people, the people in arms; it affects us in that it is a great lie, a great deception; it affects us in that Uribe wants to show that the paramilitary groups and we are the same; but in practice it does not affect us. It is the population that it affects, because these types who were supposedly demobilized continue murdering people and disappearing people, they continue conducting their business. But it has all turned against Uribe, because over time it has become clear that his government is a spurious government, that is to say, an illegitimate government, because he became president by buying votes with drug trafficking money. His presidency is a product of electoral fraud. What's known as the Uribista coalition consists of gentlemen drug-traffickers and paramilitaries. For that reason, the illegitimacy of this government is immense. What is difficult to understand is why other decent governments maintain relations when they know all this about the president.
Q: Some claim that the FARC is nothing more than a criminal organization, that it is not political or ideological. What do you think of these claims?
Reyes: It is a campaign of the war; it is nothing more or less than a form of war. They use it to discredit the revolutionary struggle. This campaign has gained strength from September 11, right? When the twin towers fell in the
Many think that every American, by virtue of being from there, is an imperialist. For this reason the FARC has produced two or three documents indicating that we deeply respect and admire the American people, but we do have deep differences and are affected by the policies of the
Q: Why do you think that members of the Democratic Pole have not been massacred to the same extent that members of the Patriotic
Reyes: I believe that the massacre that the
But with the Democratic Pole it is different. The Communist Party is part of the Pole, but it is a reduced Communist Party, a party that maintains the same political line, but has difficulty developing because it is frightened, struck by the orgy of blood that was the genocide against the Patriotic Union. And inside the Pole, there are different sectors. Inside the Pole there is the right, the social democrats and the left—the Colombian Communist Party, the Marxist-Leninist Party and other revolutionary expressions, some Trotskyists, but all too small and without much influence in Colombian political life. The social democrats have the largest presence in the Pole and they are taking advantage by trying to get to the presidency of the republic; to attain important positions inside the government, inside the State. Among these are several demobilized members of the M-19: Navarro, Gustavo Petro and others. Also, there are some who left the Communist Party to join the social democrats and they are proclaimed the "democratic left ." These include Lucho Garzón and Angelino Garzón, among others. These people have accepted the establishment, the State, because they calculate, and it's a miscalculation, that they will be able to attract the revolutionary left. But it so happens that the revolutionary left cannot be attracted to the social democrats because we are conscious that social democrats end up favoring the right, the bourgeoisie.
In the fight for the New Colombia, "la patria grande" and socialism, we are indicating that any important change in Colombian life such as the search for a lasting and final peace, a peace without hunger, a peace with social justice, a peace with liberties, a peace with dignity and with respect for our sovereignty should include the FARC and the entire revolutionary left. But these social democratic sectors in the Pole want to sell the idea that they can resolve the country's problems while excluding the left and by doing favors for the right. For that reason we do not see a great difference between the social democrats and the right headed by Álvaro Uribe Vélez.
Within the Pole, the struggle for the revolutionary left—represented by the communists—against the social democrats is very hard, it is very difficult, because the social democrats have the support of the right. And now they are determining who is going to be the new mayor of Bogotá, the successor to Lucho Garzón. And clearly, nobody in the Democratic Pole wants Bogotá's city hall to return to the hands of the extreme right. But the social democrats, united with the right, want to continue the same programs, the same politics that have been developed under Lucho Garzón and they don't want anything to do with the revolutionary left, they want to try to exclude it. Therefore, Navarro Wolf and Petro proposed, without the consent, or without a consensus among the leadership of the Democratic Pole, the name of Maria Emma Mejía to be the candidate for mayor of Bogotá. Maria Emma Mejía is a Liberal who became close to the Pole, and finally joined the Pole, but she has never been on the left. What we see here is that, with this political maneuver, Navarro and Petro intend to flatter liberalism with the one hand and Uribismo with the other, while at the same time hurting the revolutionary left inside the Pole.
It so happens that the commitment is not to the people, the commitment is to fight for new possibilities to attain positions inside the government. However, within the Pole, some continue to fight to maintain it a little toward the left. They say that if the Pole cannot be maintained toward the left then later they are not going to be able to differentiate between the Liberal Party and the Pole. But it is going to be a very difficult fight.
I believe that for all these reasons, the
Q: Why does the FARC continue to use home-made mortars in attacks against police stations when these weapons repeatedly cause civilian casualties?
Reyes: There are two things here. One thing is the utilization of mortars against the public forces, which is the end for which they are used. The FARC does not have heavy armaments, the FARC as you know has still not been recognized as a belligerent force and cannot obtain the armaments that it should possess as an army. So it develops a lot of homemade armaments to use against the public forces: the police, the army, DAS, navy, and air force. Many times those who operate these apparatuses, the mortars or other weapons, commit errors. They aim at the police station but they strike the neighboring house. That has occurred a few times. It's lamentable, of course; there is not a single justification for it. But they are human failings, caused by the nervousness of whoever is launching it. Or it is a failure in the structure of the mortar. This is a failure that has occurred and we are trying to correct it so that these mistakes that affect the population won't happen. But sometimes it is neither of these. For example, there is a battle against a police station and then the air force arrives—airplanes and helicopters—and they shoot and bomb everything including the neighboring houses, the church, all that, and then later they say that the guerrillas were responsible for the destruction.
Q: Some human rights organizations claim that the FARC recruits children, sometimes forcibly. How do you respond to these accusations?
Reyes: I think there is disinformation there, because those who join the FARC are between 15 and 30 years of age that is the norm. Nobody younger than that joins. The FARC never forces anybody to join; it is completely contrary to our safety regulations. Why would I give a weapon to someone that has been forced to join and then tell him he has to be my bodyguard? The guard is going to make me pay right there with that weapon. This is disinformation from these organizations. It never happens. What causes this disinformation? In many cases there are boys and girls that join and then later, for one reason or another, they decide to leave. Life here is very hard, one must be disciplined. Perhaps they had family that they couldn't see, a son or a daughter, or a boyfriend, or a girlfriend. Or they thought that this struggle would be easy and then they aren't willing to make the sacrifice so they leave. If they are youths, I'm referring to those less than 20 years of age, then in many cases they are going to say that they were forced to join in order to defend themselves against the repression of the police, and also in many cases of their families.
Then there are cases in which there are those who want to fight in the guerrillas but many times their parents do not want them to join because the father wants to have his son at home and the mother wants her daughter there. They do not want them to join. But they persist and join the guerrillas; they flee from their houses and appear at our guard posts. It so happens that they join the FARC voluntarily. But many times when they leave they lie to their fathers and mothers and say that they were forced to join and the fathers and mothers believe them. And later, if the authorities conduct an investigation, the parents say that their son or daughter was forced to join and then that information is collected by Amnesty International or others. But I reiterate, it is not the policy of the FARC to recruit children or to enlist anybody by force.
Q: Why does the FARC use anti-personnel landmines when they cause civilian casualties?
Reyes: The FARC uses mines against the public forces. The mine fields are used against the public forces, never against the civilian population, never. There are cases when a road is suddenly mined and a civilian might not know they are there and through some carelessness of the guards or himself he fails to avoid it. Sadly, those cases have always occurred. But the norm is that one must try and ensure that there are no civilian casualties.
Q: The Uribe government claims that Plan Patriota is succeeding in defeating the FARC and bringing territory under state control. How has Plan Patriota affected the FARC and peasants in the region?
Reyes: I am in charge of analyzing the consequences of Plan Patriota and the ways it has hurt the revolutionary army of the FARC, as well as the ways it has hurt the civil population, the popular and social organizations, and the unarmed revolutionaries. And we have found that those who have suffered the least are those of us who have taken up arms. While we do not possess the weapons that the State has, much less the aid and the advising that it has received from the United States, but still in the end we are two armed forces, two armies. One army has a lot of power, many men, a lot of technology, air and naval support, and advisors who they say know everything. It has a very clear objective: to liquidate the FARC, to kill or imprison its main leaders, to recover prisoners by force and to force the survivors to sign whatever agreement Uribe wants. That has been, and still is, the objective of Plan Patriota.
But it so happens that it has not achieved its objective, it has failed to get any of the main leaders of the FARC, it has failed to weaken the FARC and it has failed to recover the prisoners of war. On the other hand, however, it has hurt the civil population; by applying the theory that "the friend of my enemy is also my enemy" They have displayed many guerrillas captured in certain regions. However, it so happens that they were not guerrillas, they were people considered to be friends of the guerrillas. I remember one case in Cartagena de Chaira where, according to the press, 80 guerrillas from the 14th Front were captured. But the capture of 80 guerrillas has never occurred, never. But that was the news that was what was fed to the people's imagination. But it so happens that not one of them was a guerrilla, they were from the population and later they had to free them all because it wasn't true. However, when they freed them nobody from the army said, "I was mistaken." One time they said that 200 FARC guerrillas were killed in the Cañon del Duda. It also wasn't true. But who is going to challenge that?
But truly those who have been affected most are the peasants, the civilian population. Many people have fled, shut their businesses, abandoned their farms because of fear and because in many parts the airplanes drop bombs and shoot their machine guns indiscriminately. And there are others who have been affected, union members and all these sectors, because they say that they are all terrorists, or they are the ones that support the "terrorists" and so is likewise the enemy. Then they arrest them and imprison them. The people are affected by the current government; it is a fascist, dictatorial government that has used war as a form of governance and lies and slander as a form of pressure and to distort what is really happening.
Plan Patriota is a true failure for the government. Even more, it is not only a failure for the Colombian government but also a failure for the government of the
But Uribe persists in his objective and has large numbers of troops throughout the Colombian territory. There are many troops in the areas containing all our blocs, all our fronts, our columns, our companies, and those troops are on all sides trying to find us in order to annihilate us; there is constant fighting. Among the troops of the State there have been wounded and dead. They are the ones who are risking their lives, it is not Uribe, it is not the Colombian oligarchy, it is not Mister Bush, it is the Colombian people. They are in the police and the army to earn a salary because often they cannot obtain work anywhere else or are unable to go to university. They are defending the interests of the exploiters of
Reyes: The Colombian government, with the backing of the entire political establishment, eradicates, fumigates plantations. And these fumigations are a great business venture in which they receive millions of US dollars, originating from the American people and delivered by the
The FARC has a presence in every part of
For that reason the FARC's proposal, from the dialogues in San Vicente del Caguán, calls for the replacement of coca cultivations, seeking a solution that will put an end to the phenomenon of drug trafficking because the FARC considers it a cancer for society, for humanity, that one must fight. We offered to make the municipality of Cartagena de Chaira a municipal pilot, that is to say, we wanted to show in that municipality that it is possible to fight the phenomenon of the production of the commodities of cocaine. Likewise, we put forth the proposal calling for the legalization of consumption. I believe that this issue badly affects all of us Colombians and it is not solely the responsibility of Colombians; it is the responsibility of the consuming countries, the responsibility of the bad governments that we have had in Colombia, the responsibility of the poor policies of the International Monetary Fund and of the banking sector, the responsibility of the countries that produce the chemical precursors, that is to say, in short, the responsibility of the misconceptions of the neoliberal model. It has drastically affected
Q: How is it possible to change the neoliberal policies implemented by President Uribe and previous governments in
Reyes: For the FARC the only way to change the neoliberal model and the policies of previous governments and of the current one is by taking power. It must begin with the formation of a new democratic, patriotic, diverse government of national reconciliation, which seeks to change the course of the country in a way in which it is truly the people, with their leaders, who build the future. Without this it will be impossible because
So we think that to truly achieve change, and the ones demanding this are the majority of the Colombian people, what is needed is to form a completely different government to that of Uribe and the previous governments. That is to say, a government that is committed to deep changes and that opens spaces of democracy in order to be able to build the New Colombia. A new
We spoke in a previous question about how they assassinated the Patriotic Union and they assassinated the communists, and how this closed spaces for the legal struggle. And we noted that they continue to murder popular leaders and continue to carry out some selective assassinations. We think this validates the revolutionary armed struggle, whose end is not war. The end of the revolutionary struggle being waged by the FARC is peace. For us, peace is the fundamental thing. We understand that peace is the solution to the problems that affect our people. We understand that peace means that in
And our proposal for a "prisoner exchange," which cannot be modified to the favor of Mister Uribe, is issued with the desire to solve one of the by-products of the conflict.
Q: What needs to be done in order to achieve a just peace in
Reyes: To achieve that objective there needs to be a change in attitude. The ruling class must understand that the best business is peace. That peace is a business and that business requires an investment, because the large amount of wealth that exists in
The attitude of the ruling class must be to declare, "From now on the best business for us is peace. And as the business for us is peace then we are going to invest in it. We are going to return part of what we have taken from poor Colombians and invest it in peace." But I do not believe that the ruling class will arrive at such a decision easily because the essence of capitalism is something different: it is to obtain greater profits at the cost of the sacrifice of the population. For this reason, we are motivated to wage the revolutionary struggle. We are motivated to support actions by the popular masses, protests by the unions, by organizations, and likewise guerrilla actions. And this is what we call "the combination of all forms of struggle," because the FARC is a revolutionary army and it does not only engage in the armed struggle. The FARC is characterized as a political-military organization. Its leadership is a political cell. All of the FARC is a political cell. Therefore, its work involves the formation of guerrillas who are strong both politically and ideologically so that they understand it is a fight for the structural changes that the country requires and not for the benefit of certain people. And so that they understand that this fight requires making sacrifices including leaving one's family to be in the jungle and exposed 24 hours a day to attacks by the enemy. We feel that with this sacrifice we are contributing to the revolutionary struggle of
Q: What is the FARC's vision for
Reyes: When we speak of the New Colombia we are speaking of a Colombia in which there are neither exploiters nor exploited; of a Colombia without social, economic or political inequalities; of a Colombia without corruption; with neither paramilitarism or state terrorism; of a Colombia with industrial development; of a worthy Colombia, independent and sovereign; a Colombia where resources are invested in scientific research and technological development; a Colombia where the environment is protected; a Colombia whose wealth is used for the benefit of the population; a Colombia that does not continue privatizing, that does not continue selling the businesses of the State but instead uses these businesses to benefit social programs; a Colombia with agrarian reform, not an agrarian reform that delivers land to the people and keeps them hungry, but an agrarian reform with technical assistance; an agrarian reform that includes infrastructure for the peasants and that makes it possible for their children to study; an agrarian reform in which a market and the purchase of their products is guaranteed; an agrarian reform in which they can obtain affordable credits from the State; a Colombia with employment; a Colombia with subsidies for the unemployed; a Colombia that guarantees education, healthcare, homes and all that.
That it is the Colombia that we dream of and that we call the New Colombia, directed by a new State, by a new democratic, patriotic and diverse government, which does not exclude any part of the population. And that everyone that is interested in contributing to that new government can do so, even if he is a businessman. If he is going to pay some taxes and he is not going to exploit the workers and he is going to pay them according to the law, then it is not a problem that he earns profits. As long as he pays taxes and complies with the norms of the law not to exploit the population. Because the large businesses cannot be allowed to earn profits by paying starvation wages and evading taxes.