Colombia - Turbay & M-19 View Betancur

September 25, 2007

Political forces in Colombia
have been developing rapidly
since the mid-1970s, which saw
both the beginning of the coffee,
marijuana and cocaine bonanza
and the rise of the guerrilla move-
ment. First, the traditional par-
ties-the Liberals and Conserva-
tives-have experienced high
electoral abstention rates, accen-
tuating the decline of their elector-
al "legitimacy." The upsurge in
popular political activity in turn has
required the government to take
even more extreme steps to main-
tain control of public order, giving
even greater power to the Army.
Second, several new political
alternatives have appeared on the
scene, representing sectors of the
population that have grown out of
the economic transformation of
Colombian society in the 1970s.
The strongest of these appear to
be the "new nationalists" headed
by Conservative president
Belisario Betancur, on the one
hand, and the opposition forces,
especially the M-19, on the other.
The M-19 could potentially bring
together broad sectors of the pop-
ulation, effectively integrating
them into the political process for
the first time.
Meanwhile, the old guard
refuses to accept new forces on
the political scene. Former presi-
dent Julio Cesar Turbay Ayala, who
governed between 1978 and 1982,
is one of the best examples.
Turbay-a Liberal-launched a
wide campaign of severe political
repression, which he justified by
the need for "national security."
NACLA Associate Ramon
Jimeno interviewed both old and
new during the first week of Octo-
ber 1982 (see NACLA News.) A
month and a half later, Congress
approved the fifth and most recent
amnesty for Colombian guerrillas,
under which about 400 political
prisoners were released along
with an offer to the guerrillas to
come above ground and surrren-
der their weapons.*
In the first interview, former presi-
dent Turbay talks about amnesty
and its effects, saying that it
represents a victory for the guer-
rillas and that it can lead to a "col-
lapse" of Colombian democracy. In
the second interview, Alfonso Ya-
qui, member of the Political Com-
mand of the M-1 9, talks about how
the organization has established
itself as a political force, for the first
time advancing the struggle in Col-
ombia beyond simply guerrilla war-
The government and guerrillas
both know that the guerrillas' strug-
gle does not originate or end with
the release of their political prison-
ers. What is taking place is a dis-
cussion of how political and social
change will come about in the
Colombia of the 1980s, who may
participate in the debate and under
what rules.
These interviews, excerpted
and edited, present two views on
*None did so, stating that the question was not
about guns but about social transformation,
and calling for an open national dialogue. The
government did not respond. Betancur is
under pressure from the Army and conserva-
tive wings of both parties, and the guerrillas'
rejection, which was expected, could be the
justification for a new era of bloody repression.
Betancur's political opening. (The
May-June issue of the NACLA
Report will be devoted to Colom-
Julio Csar Turbay Ayala
Dr. Turbay, do you think that
Colombia's recent militarization of
the Carribbean will deter the rise of
guerrilla movements?*
The guerri...the subversives can
be detained insofar as we effective-
ly control our own borders and do
not permit the penetration of more
arms to strengthen them.
Then you think the Colombian guer-
rilla problem is fundamentally a
question of arms?
Of arms, yes.
It is not a problem of social inequali-
No, in every country there is a
breeding place for inequality. That is
not to say that [inequality] leads
necessarily to armed revolution.
Following this line of thought we
would have to conclude that peace
is only a benefit for the rich, and that
the poor countries are condemned
to armed confrontation and this is
not my opinion. My opinion is that
we must try to better distribute the
wealth, stimulate development,
bring it to all regions. These prob-
lems clearly are more likely to
create a favorable climate to revo-
lution in countries that suffer misery
than in those not suffering misery.
But I hope it is also clear that revolu-
tions occur irrespective of whether
a country is highly developed or
less developed.
But why then when you began your
presidency did you initiate a policy
of repression (mano dura)?
When I took office the Colombian
people were clamoring for security,
because insecurity reigned. People
*See "Colombia-Another Threat in the
Caribbean?' NACLA Reporton the Americas
(Sept/Oct 1982).
NACLA Reportupdate * update * update e update
Former Colombian president Julio Cesar Turbay Ayala in 1982.
i amnesty will help pacify the coun-
% try?
There are some very serious
social factors that will prevent com-
plete pacification. You can make
peace with one sector, with those
sectors that accept the amnesty, but
others immediately arise with more
force, knowing from the start that
precedents are set for another
future amnesty-even when it is
stated that there will be no amnesty
to those who commit the same
crimes. I wanted to avoid expansion
of the subversive movements
under the shelter of amnesty, as
some crimes really cannot be par-
doned without affecting society....
were taken from their houses and
assassinated in the streets. People
lived in a climate of terror. So when
people ask for security, you cannot
give them relaxation. And security
does not improve under a regime
which acts with disregard for the
law [impunidad], but under a regime
of justice, in which whoever violates
the law is actually condemned
Then the cause of insecurity is arm-
ed political insurrection?
It is one of the essential causes.
The other part to some degree is
terrorism. We regarded crimes like
the bank hold-ups, the assaults on
factories, as the work of common
criminals. It now turns out that these
are political crimes tied up with arm-
ed insurrection.
Why didn't you initiate a dialogue
with the guerillas as Betancur is do-
Because when I took office they
did not give me a chance. When I
assumed office I found a declara-
tion on my desk that stated: "There
can be no agreement with you. We
[M-1 9] will not resolve this problem
with words but with bullets." So I
was notified that they did not want
to negotiate with me.
JanFeb 1983
But in spite of your policies, insecur-
ity continued. Street assassinations
continued and the Army is accused
of many of them.
As commander in chief of the
armed forces for four years, I do not
accept that. On the subordinate
level, of course, there may be some
failure in discipline that could be
punished. But of the armies of Latin
America, the Colombian Army is to-
day the most genuinely profes-
sional-witness the fact that here
there is no danger of uprisings in the
garrisons, as in other democracies.
When amnesties were worked out
in the past, did you ever participate
in the negotiations?
Yes, as minister of foreign affairs
[in 1959] it was my duty to sign the
decree that granted amnesty so that
the country could be pacified. But at
that time the violence had typically
national characteristics: it was
Conservatives and Liberals con-
fronting each other, whereas now it
is simply the government versus
the marxists. Now it is systems that
are confronting each other; before it
was parties.
Given the country's troubles, do
you not think the most recent
And why could amnesty be given to
the Liberal guerrillas and should not
be given to the guerrillas of today?
I am not against giving amnesty
to the guerrillas. What I want is that
amnesty strengthens peace and not
subversion. For example, the
amnesty that was proposed to me
stated that first the prisoners should
be released, and afterward those
who were involved in armed strug-
gle would give up. Such an amnesty
would strengthen subversion,
because the freed prisoners would
rejoin [the guerrilla camps]. The
best thing that could happen to an
armed group is that they receive
amnesty without having to give up
their weapons. They could then
establish themselves as a political
party after amnesty-a privileged
party, with their own army.
Something of this is going on with
the Colombian Communist Party,
with FARC as their armed branch.
What future do you see for Colom-
bian political institutions?
I believe that the institutions can
come to ruin at any moment if there
is no great awareness of the
dangers threatening. [...] I know
that when a country's democratic
alternative is nonexistent and the
37update * update . update update
o o
Two M-19 commandos with members of the Interamerican Commission of Human Rights in the Dominican Embassy, 1980.
two alternatives that exist in the
case of Colombia (Liberal Party and
Conservative Party) are discred-
ited, then a collapse will come.
[. ]
It seems to me that the country
needs a climate of harmony, which
is not the same as a climate of law-
Why did you give the military such a
large role in your government?
I did not give the military such a
large role. I gave them the role the
Constitution indicates, which is to
maintain public order. What hap-
pened is that we had a common
understanding of the policy that I
established as president. Fortunate-
ly, this is no longer my responsibili-
ty. We succeeded in calming down
the situation considerably and
checking the growing power of the
guerrillas. We greatly restricted the
capacity for subversion, but did not
restrict liberty.
Does this mean you think subver-
sives and other opposition forces
should be excluded from political
participation while the two tradition
al parties continue to share power?
What I do not believe is that the
people who join the new political
movements enjoy the support of
public opinion.
And if they do?
Those who come to power
democratically will remain in power
because here there are profess-
ional armed forces.
... empowered by the Liberal
Party and the Conservative Party to
defend their own institutions.
To defend the institutions under
the protection of which all forces
have access to power.
Alfonso Yaqui
Let's talk a little about the develop-
ment of the movement.
Our first action was to recover
Bolivar's sword for the people,* as
a symbol of liberty. Then came the
seizure of thousands of arms from
Colombia's most important military
garrison, and afterward the occu-
*In 1975, after much preparatory publicity, the
M-19 took Simon Bollvar's sword from the
Bolivar museum in Bogota.
pation of the Embassy of the Domi-
nican Republic. These were emin-
ently urban actions, with national
and international impact and
significance. They presented M-19
as a political force to be reckoned
with, one which the state was forc-
ed to recognize as an opposition
These actions also inspired a
political-military option with a larger
conception of what must be done.
That is, it is not just a group of guer-
rillas, but rather in the development
of a strategy of war that it was
necessary to call for the creation of
a popular army. It is a strategy that
M-19 is implementing in Colombia
for the first time. For us, political-
military action became a form of
political participation. Contrary to
what happened to earlier move-
ments which only confronted the
state's military apparatus, the Army,
our actions always had a clear poli-
tical objective-to force the govern-
ment to face the problems of the
country and seek popular support.
The construction of a people's
army also implies the formation of a
NIA Reportupdate * update . update . update
force whose objective is the con-
quest of political territory.
What guarantees are there that
when thatsituation arrives, and new
kinds of elections are held, that the
structures you propose will not fall
again under the control of the old
That is the main problem: the
democratic opening. Once we have
amnesty we have to renegotiate the
conditions of the democratic open-
ing so that there can be peace. That
is why for us peace is not only
amnesty. Amnesty is only a bridge.
Will the present national-populist
government of Belisario Betancur
also be incorporated into the new
power bloc?
We have told the President of the
Republic that the enemies of his
government are on his right. They
are not among the people, or in the
nationalistic and democratic oppo-
sition. What we are saying to
Belisario Betancur is that the miss-
ing ingredient is his process of
reorganizing the state is the people.
("Echele pueblo!'"). Make the pro-
cess more participatory! And if it
becomes necessary to defend the
democratic conditions which are
planned by Betancur's government
with arms, this would be consistent
with our position as democrats.
We are not calling for the estab-
lishment of a new political party.
What we are calling for is the
establishment of a nationalist move-
ment, consistently democratic, in
which the country's social forces
are realigned.
We are calling for the establish-
ment of a new decision-making pro-
cess. We are calling for the state to
be pluralist and democratic. Today
all forces other than the Liberal and
Conservative Parties have been
extinguished, drowned by their ex-
clusion from the National Front.
Jan/Feb 1983
The image of our country as a
democratic republic is completely
false. The history of our republic is
the history of our innumerable civil
wars. The people have never
known authentic democratic partici-
pation. In Colombia new political
forces are beginning to gain power.
Look at the phenomenon of Betan-
cur: could anyone state that Betan-
cur is Conservative? Could it be said
that he represents the doctrine of
the traditional Conservative Party?
And when military confrontation is
the only alternative, what strategy
do you see for the people's army,
taking into account Colombia's
diverse geography?.
We think that a great civil storm
has to be created, that is a broad
coalition around one political force.
At present we feel that the develop-
ment of a people's war is still a task
for a vanguard. We can have no illu-
sions about this. But if through poli-
tical-nilitary action we succeed in
becoming a widely supported
movement, the plan to establish the
people's army will be furthered.
Having legally established a force
the people will have to go out and
defend that force.
That implies arming the people and
a direct confrontation with the mili-
tary apparatus of the state.
Peace can only be achieved
through war. If we succeed in carry-
ing out our proposal, popular parti-
cipation will take care of everything.
M-1 9 has been destroyed several
times. Truly destroyed. How do you
think that while more than ten men
from the High Command were in jail
for four years the plan developed
anyway? And there was great pop-
ular participation, relative of course
to the clandestine nature of our
movement. But we grew, we made
ourselves into a recognized political
force. That is why we realized that
we were capable of awakening a
civil mobilization....
It is clear to us that organizing a
political party or a movement is
something more complex. We hope
to construct a new popular and
democratic bloc that will lead to the
reorganization of the state. For
example, the most serious thing
that has happened to the country
politically was the constitution of the
National Front in 1958. This was a
pact between Liberals and Conser-
vatives which determined that only
they could take part in government.
So our first problem is to reorgan-
ize the state administration. First,
we plan to transform the presidency
into a kind of republican parliamen-
tarianism, which means that the
head of state is not the head of
government. This suggests a pro-
cess from the bottom up: mayors by
popular election, governors by
popular election,**and at a lower
level the formation of local adminis-
trative boards of popular origin.
In some ways this proposal coin-
cides with one made by the Conser-
vative Party. But we are not afraid of
tactical alliances. What it really
means is the establishment of a new
historical, political and social bloc.
And what of the political support
that M-19 is earning, what is it? Why
the devil are we in existence? If we
were simply guerrillas out there in
the southern jungles of the country,
hidden away, we would not be the
problem that we represent today!
On the other hand it would be ex-
tremist on our part to say that Col-
ombia is ripe for a model of state
organization of the traditional inter-
national socialist type, where there
is one state, one party. This is im-
possible with a people that has
never participated. Here what we
need is an authentic republican
revolution like the French revolu-
**Governors are now appointed by the Presi-
dent. They in turn appoint mayors.

Tags: Colombia, Julio Cesar Turbay, Carlos Betancur, M-19, Interviews

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