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." 36 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- fare. 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- bia.) 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- ties? 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 socially. 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- ing? 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- lessness. 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 3 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 force. 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 guard? 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- tioni **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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