Colombia: Uribe calls for ‘civil resistance’

Colombia's former president and now hardline right-wing opposition leader Álvaro Uribe this week called for "civil resistance" against the peace dialogue with the FARC guerillas. "We need to prepare ourselves for civil resistance," Uribe said May 9 in a TV interview. "Civil resistance is a constitutional form of opposition to this agreement of impunity with the FARC that creates new violence." Accusing the government of making a "full impunity deal" with the "world's largest cocaine cartel" (meaning the FARC), he called for citizens "to vote no or abstain" in the planned plebescite approving a peace pact with the guerillas.

Followers of Uribe's Democratic Center political party in Colombia's congress echoed the call. Sen. Paloma Valencia vowed to resist any moves in congress to formalize peace with the FARC, declaring, "The Democratic Center is in civil resistance… If the government wants to approve this project, it will have to use its majority. The Democratic Center has loyalty to Colombia, and to justice."

Other lawmakers harshly criticized Uribe's announcement. Chairman of the Senate Peace Commission, Sen. Roy Barreras of the Party of the U (Uribe's former vehicle that he broke with over the peace talks), said he is "sad" that while the international community is waiting for peace in Colombia, a former president of the republic and his party are trying to prevent it. Sen. Antonio Navarro Wolff from the Green Alliance party, a veteran of the demobilized April 19 Movement (M-19) guerillas, said it was "unthinkable" to build civil resistance against a peace agreement, and compared Uribe's attitude with that of US presidential candidate Donald Trump. (PanAm PostEl Tiempo, May 12; Colombia Reports, May 10)

This reaction is heartening. The call for "civil resistance" is even more Orwellian than the naming of Uribe's far-right party the "Democratic Center." Of course it was Colombia's genuine civil resistance—popular mobilizations and courageous citizen peace initiatives—that for years advocated for an end to the armed conflict, refusing to cooperate with the warring sides, even in the face of threats and terror. The winding down of Colombia's war owes much to these initiatives, and the appropriation of the mantle of "civil resistance" by the enemies of peace is maddeningly cynical. One depressing result could be further occassion for "leftists" in relatively safe places like the United States to engage in their increasingly fashionable pastime of demonizing civil resistance movements as neocon-conjured astroturf.

Meanwhile, even if political violence in Colombia is now at its lowest level since the war began in the 1960s—that still leaves room for plenty of nightmarish violence. The war is not over by a long shot. The government delegation at the Havana peace talks this week demanded that the FARC explain the killing of five soliders by presumed guerilla snipers in Caquetá department, despite the declared unilateral ceasefire (which the government has still not officially reciprocated). (El Espectador, May 11)

The Colombian government's Victims Unit, established to monitor the conflict and oversee reparations, reports that it has received 5,250 reports of violence related to the armed conflict over the past year just in Antioquia department. (El Colombiano, May 10)

Violence is rapidly escalating at the moment in Chocó department on the Pacific coast—especially the northern Urabá region near the Panamanian border. The UN refugee agency reports that 6,000 are now displaced and another 7,000 "trapped" by fighting in the region. "The magnitude of the situation has overwhelmed the local authorities’ ability to respond to basic needs, including food, healthcare, shelter and psychological support," according to the statement. Urabá is witnessing a three-way war between government forces, right-wing paramilitaries and the ELN guerillas, who remain outside the peace process. (EFE, UNHCR, Colombia Reports, May 13)

A March deadline for finalization of peace accords with the FARC in a national plebescite has passed with no action. The Havana talks are effectively stalled now, with the FARC at odds with the government over its perceived failure to acknowledge the scope of the continued paramilitary problem. Which cuts to another problem with Uribe's pronouncement. Of course the FARC are involved in narco-trafficking and have much blood on their hands—but they were second-fiddle in both categories to the paramilitary networks that Uribe cultivated in his two terms as president, and which still plague Colombia today.