Chávez, the FARC and the Path to Power

by José A. Cruz
Nuestro Mundo
July 01, 2008

Translated for MLToday by Bill Miller

The words that President Hugo Chávez recently directed to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have prompted comments from sections of both the right and left.

In order to properly analyze Chávez’s comments, they must be viewed in the context of all his words and not based on what the bourgeois press and the right-wing governments of the U.S., Mexico and Colombia, as well as the right social democrats of Peru, have said about them.

Although Chávez addressed his comments to the new leadership of the FARC, doing it on national television in Venezuela makes us think that his words were for domestic consumption rather than foreign consumption. A message to the FARC could have easily been delivered through go-betweens. However, Venezuela will hold regional elections in November and the anti-Chavista opposition, composed of the right, right social democrats and the ultra-left, have echoed the charge of the rightist Colombian government that Chávez is financing the FARC. Even so, it would be useful to consider the viewpoints of several Venezuelans about the meaning of Chavez’s remarks.

First, Chávez did not enter into any kind of thoroughgoing analysis to show how conditions have changed in th e Americas and that there is now only one path to power for the left, especially for Colombia. What he said was that the FARC provides an excuse for the United States to attack Venezuela. Chávez went on to say that, if peace were to come to Colombia, the U.S. would not have any excuse to attack.

Anyone who knows Colombian history must feel horrified at what amounts to blaming the victim.

The first words in disagreement with the president came from the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV). In a press conference just two days after Chávez’s comments, Oscar Figuera, general secretary of the PCV, said that U.S. has never needed an excuse to attack the world’s peoples.

Other well-known Latin American Marxists have also entered the debate, but always in a respectful manner. The former leader of the Dominican Communists, Narciso Isa Conde, said, “With all due respect … and with the great admiration that I have for Comandante Hugo Chávez Frías, I have decided to express publicly my disagreement, politically and conceptually, with his recent pronouncement in the matter of the FARC, armed struggle, guerrilla warfare, prisoner exchange and peace in Colombia.”

Not only are there Marxists who disagree with Chávez; there are others who do so, too, but again in a comradely way, avoiding personal attacks.

Among these is Vicky Pelaez, a columnist of the New York newspaper El Diario-La Prensa, one of the oldest and biggest Spanish-language newspapers in the U.S. Pelaez is a Peruvian journalist who had to go into exile after exposing corruption in the Peruvian presidency.

“Chávez would be quite right if we lived in a world of democracy, without wars, invasions, or domination by the strongest, or if Colombia were not a paramilitary state,” she wrote. “But history shows that many pretexts have been used to justify American aggression.”

In answering a question about Chávez’s words, one Colombian senator, of the same Liberal Party of paramilitary President Alvaro Uribe, blamed the Colombian government. She said that “the Establishment has always played dirty. It always has acted to contain the peace process. It always fails to deliver on what has been agreed upon. … That is one of the factors that generates bigger distrust among the FARC guerrillas.”

Yolanda Pulecio, mother of Ingrid Betancourt, the former presidential candidate held by the FARC, accused the U.S.-backed Uribe government of abandoning negotiations with the FARC aimed at releasing its hostages, including her daughter. [Editor’s note: this article predated Bentancourt’s rescue and departure from Colombia. She is now living in France.]

Notwithstanding all this, the question of the path to power for the people and workers’ movement deserves as much discussion as any other question in the Latin American left.

Decades ago, the question of armed struggle or the electoral path to achieve power caused big disunity in the Americas. The figures of Che Guevara or Salvador Allende were often used to symbolize the position of one side or the other. One accused the other of “adventurism” while the other side was accused of “reformism” and belief in the benevolence of the capitalists who would give up power after an election. I speak here of debate within the revolutionary left seeking replace a social-political system with another – socialism – and not those who simply want to reform the state and leave economic relations intact.

Both sides in this debate were wrong not to see the complexity of the issue and the specific features of different countries. At the same time, there were people who foresaw that the issue depended on the conditions and the balance of forces in each country. With the election of the Popular Unity government led by Allende in Chile, the debate subsided slightly, until the overthrow of that leftist government by a reactionary military supported by the U.S. government and U.S. corporations.

Other experiences also gave impetus to this debate, such as the Sandinista victory in Nicaragua through armed struggle and their subsequent loss of power through elections, and the U.S. invasion of Grenada, which became the graveyard of the socialist government of New Jewel Movement.

Today, that debate is rather a thing of the past. Those who previously advocated the armed or electoral path as the sole path accept that it all depends on the conditions existing in each country.

Jeronimo Carrera, president of the Venezuelan Communists, wrote last week about this debate. “The truth in all this is that the revolutionaries can always be wrong, and we often are. … In any case I think that our comrades in the FARC know much better than we know what they are doing.”

Carrera ended by noting that “Likewise, Che Guevara and Salvador Allende … both acted in accord with the diverse realities that confronted them. Different routes, perhaps, but leading the people to the same goal – socialism.”

At present, leftists of aljost all stripes – those who were previously or are now regarded as ultra-left, Eurocommunist, neo-revisionist, or Marxist-Leninist, but who support Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution – are at odds with Chávez’s position.

Finally, if there is any group that wants peace, it is the Colombian people. And the FARC are part of that people. The guerrillas have sought for a peaceful way since at least 1985. After negotiations with the government of President Betancur they declared a cease-fire and entered the country’s electoral politics. The only gunfire by the FARC was in self-defense, when Colombian army troops were firing at them. The guerrillas took no offensive action.

Together with other progressive elements, they organized the Patriotic Union (UP). Within three years, 500 militants, leaders and candidates from the UP were killed by the Colombian army, police and right-wing paramilitaries – an average of three murders a week. In the six months before the elections of 1988, 100 candidates were killed. Only then did the FARC end the cease-fire and return to war.

Even more murders of UP people then followed, leaving 5,000 dead. The vast majority of these never had any links with the FARC other than being in the same progressive political formation.

To suggest that the FARC stop armed struggle to join the political process is to ask it to commit suicide. Isa Conde, Senator Cordova, and Pelaez, among others, have noted this reality.

At present the FARC is seeking a peaceful resolution to the conflict. It was negotiating with the previous Colombian government when the current president won the elections and dropped negotiations for a “military solution.”

Due to his government’s ties with paramilitaries and drug trafficking, which is cause for a scandal in the country, Uribe was forced to begin to negotiate a humanitarian swap between the government and the guerrillas as a first step in negotiating an end to violence. Uribe cancelled negotiations that Senator Cordova and Chávez were facilitating.

As a gesture of goodwill, the FARC decided to release some prisoners. There were delays because the government sent the army to the area where the hostages were to be surrendered. In the wake of their release, the families of prisoners of the FARC have been protesting against the intransigence of the Uribe government against humanitarian exchange. The government responded by killing Raul Reyes, a top FARC negotiator.

The FARC does not suffer from historical amnesia. It will not dump arms unilaterally without something in return. To tell them to do so, as the Colombian left calls for, while facing a narco-paramilitary terror state, is irresponsible.

It has been noted that Fidel Castro, along with several progressive Latin American presidents, have recently made similar comments about armed struggle. They were basically ignored by the Latin American left. It should not surprise anyone if a month from now no one talks about this question, except perhaps for the dogmatists of both stripes and a right wing that would like to see the Latin American left again split by the debates of the past.

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