In this guest piece for the CPB’s International Bulletin, former guerrilla commander of FARC-EP and current communist politician, Pablo Catatumbo, provides an update on the conjuncture in Colombia in the lead up to historic presidential elections later this month. Having laid down his rifle as part of the 2016 peace agreement, Catatumbo, now a leader of Partido Comunes, discusses communist strategy and responds to the question “What Is to Be Done?”
I am invited by the comrades of the Communist Party of Britain to write for their International Bulletin, a real honour I cannot refuse.
Trained in the principles of proletarian internationalism, during a lifetime of struggles we became accustomed to follow the deeds, triumphs, and setbacks of all those who – anywhere in the world – rose up in defence of the rights of the workers and the humble. Now that I am writing these words, it is inevitable to avoid my memories of the solemn moments in which we sang, among mountains and jungles, the beautiful lyrics of The Internationale, the immortal hymn that identifies the workers of the world… “Up with the poor of the world, stand up the slaves without bread…”.
Besides asking me to refer to the current state of the Peace Agreements we signed with the Colombian State five years ago, the comrades ask me to reflect on the elections and to end by answering the same question that at the dawn of the 20th century the great leader of the Bolshevik revolution, Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov, Lenin, asked himself: “What Is to Be Done?”.
So, let’s get to work.
The Peace Agreement that we built with so much effort during more than four years in Havana must be understood in a historical perspective that includes historical and cultural political aspects as a true Peace Treaty between two politically and militarily opposed parties that put an end to an internal war that lasted for almost 60 years.
Undoubtedly, the Peace Agreement, together with the Constituent Assembly of 1991, represents one of the most important political events in our country that seeks to overcome the conditions that originated and allowed the political, social, and armed conflict to continue for so long.
Our approach is that the Agreement should be interpreted in two dimensions, the first has to do with the signing of the Peace Agreement as a political fact and the second, the lack of will to implement the agreement by the government in power because of the fear and pettiness of the class in power to comply with the agreement as a democratizing element that allows changes in favour of the majorities of the country.
Apart from precariously attending to the needs of the former combatants of the FARC, the government of President Iván Duque has not taken steps to fully implement what was agreed, thus not only wasting a historic opportunity to establish a firm and lasting peace in the country but has once again demonstrated the deceitful and petty behaviour that characterizes Colombia’s elites.
The comprehensive agrarian reform for which our landless peasants have been clamouring for centuries has been left in the dustbin; the political reform through which our country could have advanced in the broadening of its democracy, making it more inclusive and universal, has been left in the freezer; point four of the Agreement, which offered a sensible and safe route for the substitution of coca crops, has been left on paper. All the above, within the framework of aggressive campaigns against our legal political party (Comunes) and its militants. Since the signing of the Accords, 320 former combatants who signed the peace accords have been assassinated amid governmental indifference and the impunity of the judicial apparatus.
Against this backdrop, the country recently witnessed the first of three election days this year.
The legislative elections of March 2022 revealed the crisis of traditional institutionality and sounded a thunderous alarm bell announcing the irruption of progressive and leftist currents on the national political scene, which we not only celebrate but also strongly support. New battles are looming at the polls on May 29 to define who will be the new president of Colombia. I have no doubt that these are the most crucial elections in our history, and we are convinced that Gustavo Petro, candidate of a Pact of diverse forces -among which our party is included- will govern Colombia between 2022 and 2026. Petro has committed, among other urgent tasks, to implement the Havana agreements, which could lead to a complete and definitive peace.
“What Is to Be Done?” the comrades of the International Bulletin ask me, perhaps paraphrasing Lenin. My answer is simple: persevere.
We do not lay down our arms to sink into a nostalgic and comfortable retirement, but to continue – by other means – to fight for a better country and a better world. The Comunes Party is young and vigorous; it carries an invaluable heritage of heroism and resistance that will allow us, sooner rather than later, to be great protagonists of the transformations that are looming on the horizon of Colombia.
Bogotá April 19, 2022.