The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (FARC-EP) is the largest rebel group in Colombia. Freedom Road Socialist Organization members Kosta Harlan and Erika Zurawski recently traveled to the rebel held territory and met with commanders of the FARC-EP. Fight Back! interviewed these American revolutionaries to discuss the struggle in Colombia.
FB: Who are the FARC-EP?
KH: The FARC-EP is a guerilla army fighting for national liberation against U.S. imperialism. U.S. corporations and wealthy Colombians have been oppressing working people in Colombia for decades—stealing land from poor peasants, suppressing workers, and jailing or killing those who protest. The FARC-EP is leading a revolution to put working people in power. We were excited to meet with these revolutionaries because they are inspiring to anyone who works for peace and social justice.
FB: What role does the U.S. play in the war in Colombia?
EZ: The U.S. has given over $5 billion since the year 2000 to the Colombian government through Plan Colombia. This aid is given under the false pretenses of the “war on drugs” and the “war on terror”. However, according to the Colombian peasants we met with, these dollars pay for the helicopters and chemicals used to fumigate peasant crops and force people off their land, so U.S. corporations can move in. U.S. taxes also pay for the guns that the Colombian military, paramilitary, and police forces use to put down protests and to assassinate peasants, unionists, students and social leaders in efforts to scare the Colombian masses from organizing for their rights.
It is important for readers to know, the FARC-EP is the strongest resistance force in Latin America. Colombia is strategically important to the U.S. because it is rich in oil, gold, and other resources. The U.S. government dominates the Colombian government to guarantee that U.S. corporations have free access to exploit Colombian land, resources, and people. The FARC-EP is against foreign domination of Colombia, and believes that the Colombian people have the right to benefit from their own resources. They are willing to fight for it too. This is what scares the U.S. government the most.
FB: You were able to meet with activists and ordinary Colombians, as well as commanders in the FARC-EP. What is your impression of the revolution in Colombia?
KH: The revolution has had to change tactics since the U.S. stepped up its military aid in 2000. But like a leader in the clandestine movement told me, “An insurgency like ours will never be defeated by bullets.” People are not intimidated—they are fighting. Peasants in a mountain community proudly told us, “If the rich come for our land here, they’ll pay for it—we’ll unite and pick up rocks, we’ll go down to the landowners and fight them there!” Students have turned their campuses into liberated zones, leading huge strikes against President Uribe, and revolutionary graffiti covers the walls—“Popular liberation is not terrorism!” “Our university is free and fighting!”
We asked the FARC-EP commanders who is winning the war. They said, “Our strength is in the fundamentally indissoluble relation with the people. Conditions for social and political organizing are getting better, because the power of the people is consolidating itself along with the advance of the FARC-EP.” My impression is that the revolution is moving to victory, and Colombia’s not-too-distant future is with socialism.
FB: The U.S. government and even some members of the peace movement criticize the FARC-EP for using armed struggle. What do you think?
KH: You have to draw a line between the violence of the oppressors and people’s self-defense. The Colombian people are under attack every day—from the military, the police, U.S. mercenaries, and paramilitary death squads. Electoral politics are not an option. As a student told us, “We can vote, but often we have to pay with our lives.” Many people join the guerrillas because they are targeted for death and would rather fight than die. FARC-EP commanders told us they are “a people in arms.” It is farmers, workers, students, families, and all oppressed people fighting for liberation in Colombia. Peace advocates should stand in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in the FARC-EP, who bravely fight for a true peace based on social justice.
EZ: The revolutionary movement in Colombia is strong and growing. It continues to increase on both fronts – the armed resistance and the mass social movements. The regional commander of the FARC-EP that we met with told us that not only is their resistance growing in numbers, but also in area and influence. The increasing desperation caused by government violence and other policies is forcing the Colombian people to take action. Some decide to take up arms and others choose to join one of the various mass social movements and mobilize to demand better living conditions and justice for the Colombian people.
Colombian peasants and workers continue to protest in the face of violent and often deadly repression. The optimism and the willingness to fight back are so inspiring. In every single meeting we attended we heard someone say, “We are willing to fight until the ultimate consequences”. Colombians know that the fight is long, and that it is not easy, but they are positive that victory is not far, and justice will prevail. When we asked how the resistance in Colombia can prevail if the U.S. empire continues to lend money and support to a repressive government, our comrade of the FARC-EP said, “They may have the money, but we have the people”.
FB: What was your impression of FARC-EP controlled space in Colombia?
EZ: I knew we had reached FARC controlled territory when the guerrilla soldiers started to smile at us, and for the first time in Colombia I wasn’t afraid to see guns. I have been to many different areas in Colombia. I could feel the fear in the air in areas like Arauca and Santa Marta, where paramilitaries have complete control and people are afraid to even breathe the wrong word. For the first time in my visits to Colombia I felt like I could say and ask what I wanted without putting anyone’s life in danger. I noticed that Colombians too, were much more open in talking to me about things like “revolution” and “socialism” without looking around first to see if someone could hear them.
FB: What does the U.S. anti-war movement need to understand about the revolution in Colombia?
EZ: Many people in the U.S. have asked me how I can be an anti-war activist and at the same time, support the armed resistance in Colombia. I agree with what one Colombian comrade said to me, “war is not the best option for anyone, and it should always be our last option.” But it is important to understand where the struggle is coming from, instead of criticizing it from the outside. It is U.S. tax dollars that are allowing the war against the Colombian people to continue, so our first task must be to end U.S. aid to Colombia. We can all unite around that. As defenders of Colombian self-determinationwe must not criticize the route to liberation the Colombian people choose. We must study and understand the struggle. Just like the Vietnam war when many in the anti-war movement backed the Vietnamese fight for national liberation , hopefully more Americans will grow to support the Colombian people’s struggle as it advances towards victory.