Timoleón Jiménez: “We have been disposed to searching for peace.”

Timoleón Jiménez, commander in chief of the central high command of the FARC-EP, is the visible head of the legendary guerrilla movement. Today he’s committed to the search for a democratic peace by means of new dialogue with the national government.

It’s an orientation that the FARC-EP guerrillas have long continued.  During the Caguán dialogues, Manuel Marulanda,[ long time FARC leader] told VOZ: “Revolutionaries see peace as one of their flags.” (N.B. To facilitate peace negotiations with the FARC beginning in 1999, President Andres Pastrana’s government established Caguan in Southern Colombia as a demilitarized zone.)

This interview takes place at an historical moment, at the portal of a new effort to achieve peace in Colombia. Here are Timoleón Jiménez’s concrete and precise responses. One could say without false optimism that peace is closer now than before, but there’s a quite tortuous route ahead. The whole country is hoping there won’t be new frustration.

Carlos Lozano – You begin a new process of discussion with a government that in some way is a descendent of Uribe’s “democratic security.”  How does the FARC approach this?

Timoleón Jiménez
– We always have been disposed to looking for solutions other than war. With Uribe, that wasn’t possible what with his open disavowal of our political orientation. Santos not only is heir to democratic security, but more than that, one of its star protagonists. (N. B. President Alvaro Uribe, in power in 2002-2010, propounded “Democratic Security” as his national security plan directed at “terrorism,” i.e. the FARC.) In fact, with embellishments to the name he is continuing it. But as he himself says, Santos decided to assume the risks of dialogue and take positive steps along these lines. Any Colombian would say that the real danger is war, not dialogue. On that account we don’t waver in accepting conversations in a search for peace. In regards to how to approach the new process, I would say that we do it with great expectations of arriving at an end to conflict. The President reiterates that he doesn’t want to commit errors of the past, and we trust that’s the way it will be. You know that the main error of all previous processes was to come to the table demanding surrender, with no real disposition to solving the causes that led to and kept on feeding confrontation.

CL – The agenda includes the theme of “giving up arms,” which would be the point at which an agreement or a peace pact has arrived.  What does the FARC expect in this regard?

TJ – Without thinking of an arrival point of laying down arms we would lack any sense of beginning a process aimed at a definitive termination of conflict. Giving up arms consists of giving up on use of force, of appeal to any type of violence as remedy for economic or political ends. It’s a veritable good – by to arms. If we made that into a reality it in Colombia, our country would take an enormous leap forward. For the first time, we trust that the Santos administration and all sectors resorting to violence as a method of economic and political action are together with us on this criterion.

“Errors of the Past”

CL – President Santos has said his government insists that this negotiating process “not repeat the errors of the past,” also offers a guarantee it’s heading toward an end of conflict and indicates his government will maintain military operations and military pressure on the FARC. What assumptions does the insurgency have so the process might end up successfully?

TJ – The dominant Colombian oligarchy, with solid support from U.S. governments, has for almost 50 years bet on exterminating the guerrillas. Twelve presidents, one serving twice, have invariably promised to finish us off. To do so, they’ve given the military apparatus a free hand. When Santos orders intensified operations, sections of the extreme right are not satisfied. He does it because he believes with them, as with all previous governments, that in fact he can make us surrender through force of arms. It’s precisely that vicious cycle that needs to be broken. If you look at the general plebiscite giving approval to conversations on peace, you see that the great majority of Colombians don’t share the idea of a military solution, among other reasons because, with more wisdom than their governments, they know it’s not possible. We start out with the idea that this process will be successful. But that depends on those great majorities inclined toward a political solution having the opportunity to speak out, get mobilized, exert their influence, and decide the outcome. And we are inviting them to do it.

CL – In various sectors supportive of dialogues, they are proposing a truce proposal, a cease-fire, and cessation of hostilities. What does the FARC-EP think?

TJ – We agree completely. It’s always been in the forefront of our plans for trying to get close to different governments. Unfortunately the Colombian oligarchy has turned away because dialogues play out in the midst of confrontation. If the de-militarized zone of the most recent process had been accompanied by a mechanism of this sort, there might have been a different outcome.

In Colombia, the dominant sectors, its political class, and its mass media suffer from the obsession of looking at only one side of things. A report on the slaughter of 30 guerrillas in an aerial bombardment elicits their applause, while combat causalities on their side they repudiate as assassinations. We anticipate further heavy pressures on us at the negotiating tables from such manipulation.  

The role of VOZ

CL – You, representing an alternative intervening force of heroic staying power, are the ones who perhaps have reported in the most honorable way, and for decades, to the country on the infamous criminal persecution practiced in Colombia against organizations of this kind. The most trustworthy history of state crimes against the people of this country, however, could be elaborated from the VOZ archives. The number of victims in Colombia could be compared with the terrible Jewish holocaust in Europe under Nazi occupation. The role of different social, labor, small farmer, and popular movements take on a singular importance. With its approach of dispensing crumbs for emblematic cases, one by one, the Colombian state presumes to ignore that role. The Colombia that is ignored and victimized must now rise up and, speaking through those who were murdered and disappeared,  demand a definitive end to the war, end consecration of impunity, and satisfy old cries for vengeance for those who were violated in such wide-spread, atrocious ways.

CL – What do you think of the six to eight months President Santos is proposing?

TJ – That has to do with one expectation he is bringing up on his own. It hardly squares with the letter and spirit of what was agreed upon in the exploratory meeting. It was decided upon there to set no “drop-dead’ dates, not even use the word “months.” What the President said suggests for us how difficult this road we are undertaking is going to be. At the same time, it clearly pointed up the strategy they are going to implement when they don’t achieve something at the table: they’ll try to impose it through the mass media.  Even being in Havana and being able to carry out exploratory meetings took two years, not a matter of weeks, as we originally thought. And that wasn’t precisely because of the insurgency. I don’t want to go into particulars on that theme out of respect for our promise to keep silent on details for the moment. From stories coming up in the media, our counterpart seems to have forgotten that.   
A Business of Colombians

CL – What political proposal will the FARC-EP make to Colombians at the beginning of negotiations?

TJ – First, we want to mobilize around definitive termination of the conflict. The question of war or peace is a business concerning all of us Colombians and we are obliged to speak out. As it repeatedly insists, the government assumes negotiations will play out exclusively between their spokespersons and ours, discretely and without fanfare. That was the way when Laureano Gómez and Lleras Camargo signed the Sitges and Benidorm accords in Europe. The government alleges we of the FARC reject its plans for the most suitable government for the country. (N.B. Liberal and conservative party leaders signed the “Sitges and Benidorm accords” in Europe in 1956-1957 and thus introduced power – sharing arrangements between two parties taking over from the Rojas Pinilla dictatorship.)

What we are saying is that once more they are disregarding the Colombian people. They agree to impose on them that which interests and suits, in truth, only the trans-nationals, bankers, business people, and landowners. This can no longer happen in this country. The great majority must be listened to and heeded. Our proposal leads in that direction.

CL – Why did the FARC decide to take on this new attempt at peace? Weakness? Strategy? Realism?

TJ – Whoever says military pressure was decisive in moving us to political negotiation forgets that this decade of war was unleashed when Pastrana unilaterally ended the peace process taking place in Caguán. It’s now the state who is returning to the negotiating table with the FARC.  It must have undertaken its own internal assessment. One of their considerations, not yet made public, has to do with their recognizing that the enormous effort undertaken to defeat us turns out to have been useless.  The FARC keeps on: fighting, resisting, and advancing.  Now we return to the natural scenario of politics, civilized dialogue. It’s absurd to insist they made us sit down at the table, when it was the state that furiously left it.  We negotiate because a political solution has been our banner always, and also that of the people’s movement.  

Serious Blows

CL – But, wait, hasn’t the FARC taken severe blows during these last ten years?

TJ – I can’t deny we’ve received serious blows – and extremely painful ones. The deaths of four members of the National Secretariat can’t be minimized. And combatants’ dying under fire from bombardments has been hard.  Nevertheless we have courageously adjusted to all these situations.  None of the current members of the Secretariat has had less than 35 years of guerrilla experience, which applies also to the Central High Command. There’s no improvising when it comes to relief personnel.

Forty eight years of continual struggle has enabled us to gear up in formidable fashion. We keep on moving, with pain in our soul, but more attached to and convinced of our reasons. . There are deaths in every war. The media campaign insists on presenting us as a worn out and dead – end organization. It’s always been that way.  If it were a question of confronting an already defeated force, they would not be working, as they are doing, to augment their forces even more, and also their enormous, acquired arsenal. These are truths that the state and the mass media deliberately hide.    

CL – So, although the FARC is not carrying out operations of the caliber of those 14 years ago, can you affirm that confrontation continues on a large scale? The Minister of Defense minimizes them completely and alleges that engagement persists only in rural areas of the country, in ten isolated municipalities.

The FARC-EP operates and moves about in the same areas they occupy. The supposed control exercised by their combined commands – tasks forces, brigades, and battalions – is frequently on pins and needles through the activity of mobile guerrillas. The number of the armed forces casualties peaked not long ago. Clearly, we’ve also taken hits, which have been much publicized by the media. That’s what conflict is. A war is joined according to circumstances. There are no operating rules valid for all situations. It’s obvious that conditions of today are not the same as those a decade ago, above all through the massive use of military aviation.

But we are fighting everyday. In all blocs of the FARC, we undertake to vary that equation according to the moment. Come what may, persisting conflict will entail many more deaths and great destruction, more sorrow and tears, more poverty and misery for some and greater wealth for others. Imagine the lives that could have been saved these ten years. That’s why we seek negotiations, a solution without blood, and an understanding through political routes. We are confidant that the national government also understands the necessity to finish with such long, drawn – out violence against the Colombian people.

Published September 19, 2012 by VOZ weekly;  written by VOZ director Carlos A. Lozano Guillén
Translated by W.T. Whitney Jr.