IMELDA DAZA of the People’s Alternative Revolutionary Force (Farc) was in London this week with the British organisation Justice for Colombia.
Ms Daza was tentatively the Farc candidate for vice-president, though, after we spoke, the party decided that, in light of serious challenges and threats to its campaign, it would not challenge for the presidency.
Ms Daza said that the state of health of presidential candidate Rodrigo Londono, who suffered a heart attack recently, was very delicate.
It is urging Colombians to support its list of candidates in this weekend’s Congressional elections, saying that it won’t give up its struggle for peace and social justice in Colombia.
Ms Daza met Labour and SNP MPs, trade unions such as Unite and political supporters through the NGO that works to support peace with social justice in Colombia.
I got a chance to speak with Daza on the political climate in Colombia and developments following the peace agreement signed between Farc and the government towards the end of 2016.
The coverage of Colombia in Britain is unfortunately very weak. I spoke to Ms Daza about why this was.
“This struggle has been going on in Colombia for a long time. It is a struggle for democracy and social equality, and justice for the Colombian people,” she told me.
“It is a struggle for legality that is fought by trade unions, by political parties and by social organisations.
“This has also been through armed struggle which manifests through different armed political organisations. This socio-political conflict is not of interest to the mainstream media, whether in Colombia or the rest of the world.”
Farc reformed as a political party under the terms of the 2016 peace agreement. The agreement ended over half a century of armed conflict between the Farc and the Colombian state.
She continued: “The big media platforms in Colombia are owned by companies whose own interests do not correspond with the interests of Colombian people.
“In general, international news on Colombia focuses on drug trafficking and this has effected the country’s development.
“Generally this kind of economic activity generates personalities who are characterised by extravagances like wealth and by eccentricity and these are figures that largely represent the country in the rest of the world.”
Farc will be participating in the Colombian legislative elections this weekend. Ms Daza said the number one candidate in the eyes of the public is Gustavo Petro, who is of the more moderate left.
“The Gustavo Petro phenomenon has not been seen in Colombia for 70 years and the last person who achieved this kind of following was Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, a liberal radical party leader in the 1940s who gained a huge following, said Ms Daza.
“He was assassinated in 1948 because he was seen as such a threat.
“The other other candidates are very far from Gustavo Petro. The candidate of Uribe, who was the former president, is more or less in fourth place at the moment.
“If the elections were held tomorrow, if they were clean, if they occurred without any fraud, Gustavo Petro would be the president.
“However, normally the elections are not clean. There is fraud. There is pressure on voters. There are dirty games between candidates. This could make the Uribe candidate win.”
Alvaro Uribe was president of Colombia between 2002-2010. His right-wing policies were most clear when he led campaigns against the peace agreement and for a “no” vote in the referendum. An election in favour of Uribe’s candidate would virtually end the peace process.
The Farc faces a crisis in its attempts to participate in the electoral process, with 38 of its members having been murdered since the agreement was signed, while recently it was forced to suspend electoral campaigning after violent attacks on scheduled events in different Colombian cities.
Additionally, more than 200 social leaders — trade unionists, human rights defenders, journalists, environmental activists and community organisers — have been murdered during this period.
In the midst of such a crisis, Ms Daza said there was “no fear” but there were many challenges and obstacles.
“The first one is to defeat the scepticism towards the peace process, which is not on our part but on the part of the people,” she said.
Ms Daza believes scepticism is there because of all the commitments and obligation included in the peace agreement.
“The Farc no longer exists as a guerilla organisation. It has complied with all its obligations and yet the government has complied with almost none, but, as a new party, we confront these challenges. We are optimistic and we believe that a new Colombia is possible.”
Despite the peace process, groups that are successors to paramilitary groups continue to be active in Colombia. Since the agreement was signed, they have killed 242 popular leaders, 38 former Farc combatants and at least one other combatant has disappeared.
One of the first laws within the peace agreement was the release of 8,000 former combatants and members of the insurgency from prison. It was supposed to be applied immediately, yet there are still 622 members of the Farc in prison despite its reformation as a political party.
“The Farc was an insurgency previously, was an armed political organisation,” said Ms Daza. “Today it is a political party without arms, but it has the same projects and the same ideological proposal. The only difference is the means of struggle.”
Farc faces severe difficulties in its campaigning, including regular acts and threats of violence against its candidates — part of why it decided to withdraw from the presidential contest.
“It faces a highly discriminatory campaign, which is unjust and slanderous,” said Ms Daza. “These attacks are led through the mainstream organisations in Colombia.
“Journalists say that the Farc can’t be candidates because they are criminals and murderers and that they should go to prison rather than public life.
“No armed organisation in the world would negotiate a peace process if it was going to be sent to prison. In this case, it is better to continue fighting in the mountains or in the jungle than to go to prison.
“They say we are criminals or murders, but it was a war and all wars have deaths. The armed forces also killed a lot of people.”
Ms Daza told me another difficulty they faced was the lack of economic resources to administer the party and to organise the electoral campaign. Although the Colombian government has the obligation to give economic support to parties for campaigns, it has not provided Farc with support.
International support can play an effective role in influencing human rights and freedom of expression breaches across the world. We spoke about what people in Britain could do and how trade unions could work together to raise awareness.
She said it was important for people in Britain to be vocal about what is happening in Colombia, not just regarding political parties but social movements too.
“It is also necessary to support trade union organisations so they are able to organise themselves better and to establish projects with other affiliated groups. We need help from trade unions here so that more workers can organise themselves in Colombia.”
There is a large amount of history of violence against trade unions in Colombia. Many workers do not get involved with unions because they believe it is dangerous.
The government has used killing trade unions as a means of getting rid of people who challenge them and as propaganda to stop further involvement.
Ceren Sagir is a Morning Star reporter.
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