Extract from the interrogation by the General Office of the Public Prosecutor of the Republic of Colombia of the Commandant of the People's Liberation Army and First Secretary of the Communist Party of Colombia (ML), Comrade Francisco Caraballo.
I completed my Bachelor's from the Pinillos National College in the city of Mompox in 1957; besides I did a semester of Natural Resources in the Jorge Tadeo University of Bogota in the first semester of 1958, and two and a half years of law in the University of Cartagena from 1959. Towards the end of 1958 I worked as professor in a college in Mompox, I don't remember the name now, but in any case that college disappeared afterwards; while studying at Cartagena also I worked in a college; subsequently I was Secretary of the Penal Court of the Township of Sucre. I later got involved with the Liberal Revolutionary Movement (MRL) and finally with the guerrilla movement to which I belong till date.
The only material inheritance that I possess are the things that I have on at this moment. I do not know what judicial record I have. Once I surrendered to the investigations, accused, I think, of being in illegal possession of arms, this must be in the year 1964, in Valledupar, I do not remember before which judicial office; I was confined for a few days because the inquiry had coincided with the festivities of Holy Week, after which I was freed (...)
Question: Please inform the Public Prosecutor if you know or can guess the reason for which you have been arrested and brought before this investigating authority free of the judicial constraints of oath, represented by the defending council in the presence of the Public Ministry?
Answer: I understand that I have been brought before this investigating authority for having committed the offence of Rebellion. I do not know for sure what are the other crimes that I have been accused of by the Public Prosecutor. I understand well that the introduction that Madam Public Prosecutor made was in the spirit of a free and spontaneous statement.
Question: In your legal particulars you have shown that for many years you have been a guerrilla, please give us a clear, precise and detailed account of your activities from the very beginning of your guerrilla activities.
Answer: First of all, about the offer of negotiations on the issue of penalty or reduction of penalty, in general and in particular of what refers to the setting free of my wife, Beatriz Helena Muņoz, on condition that I satisfy some of the demands made by the Public Prosecutor's Office, in my opinion amounts to extortion which is unacceptable for me as a revolutionary militant and a man of integrity. It also seems contemptible to me the treatment which is being meted out to my son as another form of pressure tactics, which I reject as a violation of Human Rights. I am referring to my son who was left alone at the farm without any resources to fall back on. Secondly, I want to make clear that the women arrested, among them my wife, as well as my son do not have anything to do with my activities and therefore are not responsible for the acts that I may have committed.
To conclude this part, two more things. One, it does not seem proper to link the possible freedom of my wife with the things for which I am being questioned and two, some members of the security bodies in their own words have made it known to me that the well-being of my wife and my children depends on how I conduct myself... With the conditionalities of the case, I authorize Doctor Luis Guillermo Perez Casas to provisionally assume the custody of my son while my relatives are being located who will then take charge of him. In addition I want to inform Madam Prosecutor that I am neither physically not mentally feeling well, and hence if it is possible I would request that this enquiry be suspended to be continued later (...)
The interrogation continues in the following manner:
Question: In your legal particulars you have shown that you have been a guerrilla for many years. Please give a clear, precise and detailed account of your activities since the beginning of your guerrilla action.
Answer: I wish to make clear in the first place that my revolutionary activity during the entire period of its development is related to a social and political framework which cannot be omitted. I was brought up in a humble family which ingrained in me the principles of respecting society and the rights of other people. I had at the same time a cultural upbringing which, because of its characteristics derived from the cultural tradition of Mompox, did not create bases in me for the formation of any delinquent tendencies.
For these reasons I seek to expose a few aspects of the existent social and political reality through my social and revolutionary activity. In my capacity of a conscious rebel, a revolutionary in consequence and a convinced communist, I will not passively assume a defensive position. Yet I take advantage of this situation to express my point of view as an accused of an unjust State, which is unfortunately supported by a partial judiciary, subordinated to an arrogant and excluding presidentialism. I want to explain according to the terms that this state concedes, my opinions without acting under pressure of any kind. One cannot understand my conduct and my revolutionary action if one isolates or separates them from the social and political context in which they occur. I am not an isolated, headstrong political delinquent but a product of the disgraceful reality that our motherland has lived in these years. Hence some historical references are indispensable as antecedents to the events that happened during the seventies, in the beginning of which my activities as a revolutionary began.
It is opportune to remember that the blood-thirsty dictatorship of General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla was installed in the name of 'peace', in the name of 'national unity' with the formula 'motherland before the parties', and with the so called 'Binomial people armed forces', raised as a demagogic stunt which compromised the military forces of which he was the chief, with his dictatorial purposes.
It is already known how during this period the Colombian soil was cruelly bloodied for the benefit of the big landowners, and in the first place how they strengthened their dominion in the developed areas of the homeland. The sharpening of contradictions in the higher places of the Oligarchy, between General Rojas Pinilla, who aligned with the big landlords and an industrial sector which was looking for new horizons, gave rise to the Frente Civil (Civil Front) against the military dictatorship.
Before continuing I wish to specify that this acute violence of the fifties, although I certainly did not suffer it directly, engraved in me in an indelible manner the enormous injustices which the owners of power in our country are capable of inflicting. I want to record that in the beginning of the seventies the majority of the population lived in the villages, (60%); and a huge part of this rural population was soiled by the blood spilled during the fifties and was affected by an accumulated and irreconcilable hatred. The peasantry in its vast majority without land or dispossessed of it, saw itself subjugated to a cruel process of breakdown which allowed the enriching of the old and the new landowners through the use of force.
It is the same violence of the higher ups, always linked to political power, a constant feature for decades which has become the main hurdle in the road to the country's development and to the fulfilment of the most basic aspirations of the majority of the Colombians. During this period, the cities kept burgeoning with men and women with families completely uprooted from their smaller homelands, but without a trustworthy bigger one, only looking for a little peace or a little bread for survival. These huge masses only saw their miseries increased and started suffering new and bigger anguishes, like the distrust, the inhuman marginalisation, the abandonment by the State and the severe police repression.
As can be observed, the consequences of a tremendously unjust fight kept giving blows to major sections of the population with the further difficulty that this was in great measure designed by the state itself which actively participated in it and also benefitted by it. That was the other situation which marked my conscience forever and made me share with these humiliated, isolated and downtrodden people their miseries. Meanwhile, in the majority of the population there brewed a growing desire to end the armed encounters, the bloodshed and the sufferings associated with prolonged violence. But we know that their desire was suppressed through brute force with the physical elimination of most of the leaders who had participated in the confrontation, some of them taking refuge in the 'peace' plans of the government. It can be observed that history has kept repeating itself in our country.
The seventies passed with the hopes put in the National Front, but this was not the solution that some people announced and which many believed, above all because it was presented as a solution for peace. Actually the National Front represented a few agreements from above of the chiefs of the liberal-conservative oligarchy, and a few formal changes in the political arena. The profound differences existing in the heart of society, the accelerated impoverishment of the working masses, the repressive state system, the use of force as a predominant aspect in its answer to the demands of the needy, remained intact despite the fact that they talked of reconciliation, the expansion of democracy etc.
I support the above observations with two examples:
First, a major part of the armed movement of the fifties took refuge in the 'peace' policy of the government and in the 'rehabilitation plans'. In many Colombians there flowered again the hope that the process of reconciliation could really be worked out. The reintegration of the Colombian family and improved conditions of life and work could be achieved; however, yet again the government and the privileged groups took advantage of the situation to consolidate their domination in the economic and political planes. All this indicates that the promises of peace were diluted before the tendency to keep utilizing violence to stifle the protests, and, primarily to put off the struggles that were being waged to effect change in the country's reality. With the pretext of finishing off the bandits, the unsuspecting nuclei of the civil population were brutally attacked. Hence the Colombian youth saw the doors closed to their possible aspirations at a time when Latin America was extending to aspirations of freedom of great scope.
Secondly: the growing lack of conformity with the reality of the country, charged with injustices, the desires to effort basic changes, the rebellious impulse of the youth, caused the emergence of different groups; movements, political organisations, among which I want to emphasize the Liberal Revolutionary Movement, the National Liberation Army and the Communist Party of Colombia (Marxist-Leninist), with different characteristics, but with the same interest and desire to fight for effective transformation of our country's reality.
The MRL was a forceful expression of non-conformity and protest; in which gathered people from prominent sections of the bourgeoisie such as Alfonso Lopez Michelsen and others in different regions to the vast sectors of masses suffering from poverty and despair. I recall that the criticism of the 'heliotropes of the oligarchy' and the 'Sepoys' who sold national sovereignty to get subordinated to the service of the North American master, struck a sympathetic chord in the people wanting change.
Thus, the MRL not only opened new doors of hope but also allowed for a process of political education which was comprehensive and transcendental. Many of us Colombians were able to understand with greater objectivity the causes of misery and of so many injustices that the people of our country suffer. On the same plane, the youth of the Revolutionary Liberal Movement (MRL) had a very important and transcendental role as harbingers of new ideas and new political projects. I want to make note that I joined the ranks of the MRL and the JMRL. These organisations contained the seeds of the revolutionary movement which would flower and develop later. I remember that in these organisations I found myself in the company of Alfonso Lopez Michelsen, Ramiro de la Espriella, Maria Elena de Crovo, Alvaro Escallon Villa, Luis Villar Borda, Servio Tulio Ruiz, Eduardo Umana Luna, Hernando, Garavito Muņoz, Armando Solano, Marco Palacios, Guillermo Puyana, the Vasquez Castano brothers among others. It is not strange, on the contrary it is very logical, that in this period different popular movements emerged, as a result of the desire to change the system, as is the case of the United Front, led by the priest - Camilo Torres, on whom as in other cases, police repression was unleashed by way of threats, persecution, confinement etc. which forced him to find protection in the ranks of the National Liberation Army, it was never his vocation to have anything to do with weapons.
Herein we find again an example of how the intransigent behaviour of the state pushes a lot of people to radicalize their positions. Nobody could say that Camilo had a military vocation, nor did he have extremist attitudes; nevertheless he was attracted by or forced to join the ranks as a militant guerrilla which was not his forte as a political man. I worked with Camilo in his civilian life and I can bear witness to his political ideas as well as his philosophical orientation; because of which the experience of his life and his death, of his militancy as a progressive man, also accumulated as part of my political life.
It can be said that the JMRL as an organisation underwent a process similar to that of Camilo as a person. In fact, many members of the JMRL saw that the possibilities of continuing the struggle through normal means of legal political action were closed and they were forced and instigated to look for other ways without even having adequate military training for it. In this way there emerged diverse guerrilla organisations in our country, of which the ELN and later the PLA were a part, to propagate, defend and fight for revolutionary objectives.
The growth of these organisations with popular support demonstrated that they had chosen the correct way during those times. 1 should clarify that although I was very much associated with the emergence of the PLA, I did not take the same way in that period. It is in the fitness of things to show that the gestation and the subsequent birth of the revolutionary movement, which proposed to take over political power by force was a natural product of the sharpening of the political and social contradictions.
In general, I have referred to the violence in terms of armed confrontation, with blood; but I wish to show that violence also expresses itself economically, socially, politically; culturally etc. forming a complete fabric which cannot be destroyed only by armed means. Does not the imposition of hunger, misery, malnutrition, illiteracy, disease, unemployment the abandoning of the invalids, prostitution, lack of essential services, the imposition of these evils by the oligarchy on the working people, while an all-powerful minority enjoys all kinds of privileges, luxuries and honours, does not this repudiable reality express most grave and mortal forms of violence that the dominant classes inflict on the have-nots?
I would say that it is a form of genocide that is happening every moment before which the big lords of money and masters of power turn their backs with the consent of an indolent state.
If a young Colombian is not moved to the depths of his conscience in the face of this situation, it means that he had turned his back on the miseries of a vast majority of our people. Because of this I wish to show that during this period - we are talking of the seventies - the youth in general had a very important role in the promotion of ideas and struggles of non-conformity and search; their convictions, their valour and their consequences were submitted to difficult tests and the truth is that they came out triumphant, although they did not achieve the great objectives that they proposed. This is valid and I dare say, that they will keep sustaining new struggles even if there are no actual changes in the society and in the state, in the social relations and in the political order.
There is need to insist that the search for the path of armed struggle was not at any moment the product of a voluntary or enlightened decision but it was imposed by the crude reality in which we, the youth, lived and acted during that period. Violence in our case, I am referring to the youth of this period, was not a product of surcharged young minds, but an exigency of a reality which had closed the door to any other way.
Within this framework the Communist Party of Colombia (Marxist-Leninist) emerges on the scene, pushed by the search for political, ideological and programmatic identities and helped by the differences that existed in the heart of the traditional Communist Party. Logically, this new party also was influenced by the revolutionary political atmosphere of the country. In it therefore gathered many men and women of the villages, of various backgrounds, but united in their desire to contribute in the best manner to the development of society. There was no predominance of military or guerrilla tendencies; however there existed the consciousness that the fight for achieving revolutionary objectives, profound transformations or even significant democratic changes, was not an easy task, and we know from the experience lived that it was indispensable to prepare conditions for armed insurgence, once the conditions and the moment came.
I participated in the creation and organisation of the Communist Party (ML), since 1964, along with Pedro Vasquez, Pedro Leon Arboleda, Francisco Garnica, Libardo Mora Toro etc. This organisation was formed in June 1965. I was later associated with the formation of the first nuclei of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), in the River Sinu and in the River San Jorge in the department of Cordoba. The PLA appears on the national scene in December 1967. I have been Commandant of the PLA since its inception, although on some occasions I also functioned as a Political Commissar. I will come back later to the activities of the PLA.
I have included the FARC in this memoir, because the military attack against the movement of self-defence in this period was also a sui generis an expression of the pretension of the government to do away with any vestige of rebellion. History demonstrates that this behaviour of the state only contributed to the growth of a guerrilla force which represented, with its particularities, interests wanting a transformation in the country. The seventies pass with the same state behaviour towards the non-conforming forces. The police assault on the peoples' organisations which demanded just revindications, the persecution of the political leadership, whether democratic or revolutionary, the hunting down of persons considered dangerous or subversive, the operation 'rastrillo' (rake), the frequent raids and burglaries, were permanent lines of behaviour during these years and the ways to change continued to be closed; closed till such a point that in 1970 the dominant classes did not recognise the electoral victory of general Rojas Pinilla and the National Peoples' Alliance that certainly in its political thought did not contain anything revolutionary. A sector of that movement also had to take to armed protest and assumed the slogan of 'Power through Arms'. As is known, in this period, there emerged in 1973, the M19, with proposals of struggle that combined the initial ideas of the ANAPO, of the nationalist court and of social reconciliation, with some of the other revolutionary proposals.
This reference is to show how the repression by the masters of power and their state have obliged many people of distinct thoughts, having distinct objectives and interests, to take to armed struggle which is painful and bloody as there was no other way left. I repeat that the governments during these years emphasized the use of force in reply to the growing non-conformism of the impoverished masses; at the same time I want to make clear that with respect to the armed struggle, the state always assumed the same attitude: the idea of drowning it in blood, the promise of annihilating it in every possible operation and of course the increase in combat actions. In this way a whirlwind of violence or this vicious circle of war is formed in which we Colombians are involved.
In this phase, the government of Turbay Alaya stood out for its toughness and also for its stupidity of such ungrateful remembrance for the democratic forces in the country. In the eighties very significant political events occurred for democratic life but such events also gave an opportunity to demonstrate to what point in the high levels of the oligarchy is engraved the opposition to any road other than that of armed violence to oppose the changes that the country is demanding.
During the government of Belisario Betancur possibilities of looking for an alternative other than armed conflict were opened. An interesting stage of political confrontation, of proposals, of a search for accords between the armed movement and the government developed, and, certainly assumed real possibilities of finding a road towards a political opening that many of us desire. We must remember that the PLA gave its political support to this possibility with firmness and honesty and in the middle of constant threats marched ahead with its political proposal for a Popular Front. This shows, undoubtedly, the democratic character of the PLA, without renouncing its ideas of revolutionary movement. Therefore along with other armed organisations it committed itself to the front with this purpose.
Why did these efforts that could open new horizons of peace for the Colombians fail? Primarily, I think, because the owners of big capital felt that they would lose a lot, and the traditional political class, intoxicated with power, felt that the privileges that it enjoyed would go forever. And so unfortunately some real democratic possibilities ended. If the guerrilla organisations, including the PLA, went back to armed activities, it was because they were stopped by the guns of the state which impeded any advance of possible peaceful solutions. The peace policy of Betancur also failed because the state was not capable of strengthening or defending the changes that the situation was demanding. And hence violence arrived again as a counter-response and we went many steps backwards, even more aggravated because new wounds had been inflicted. This brought into light the lies of the state and the government, and its incapability to fulfil the agreements. How can we not remember the vile and brutal manner in which our comrade Oscar Williams Calvo was assassinated, he was the spokesman of the PLA in the dialogues with the government, leader of the Popular Front, and a fighter for peace in the country.
It is necessary to emphasize that the armed movement made a valiant contribution towards the purpose of seeking viable agreements, not only between the guerrillas and the government but for the vast needy masses. It was a period of political experimentation, full of teachings, open to possibilities, including the possibility of signing consistent peace agreements. But it all failed primarily because of the closed opposition, or why not say it, because of the stupidity of the militarist sectors of the country.
I am making clear that in this period the armed movement assumed a very serious position which was based on its interest, both implicit and explicit, of contributing towards the realization of real transformations of the society and the state. These projects, however, remained unfulfilled much to the misfortune of those who needed it and to date continue needing it. I want to underline at the same time, that the armed movement has not stopped marching ahead searching for ways to achieve changes which are just and indispensable for the progress of the nation. Precisely for these reasons it has insisted on proposals for a political solution to the acute conflicts that the country is experiencing.
What happened later? The oligarchy, having taken lessons from the dialogues with the guerrillas, followed a policy of cheating, which combines the demagogy in words with violence in deeds, which affirms being available for dialogue or negotiations with the guerrillas but with the simple condition that they give up without any condition. An oligarchy or a government which promises changes, democratic openings, but which in practice is incapable of providing it. Because of these reasons it is understandable that an armed revolutionary movement continues to exist along with the spilling of blood and the brutalities of a war which has continued for many decades; as well as the many traps and deceits organised by the people in power.
Proceeding in the same order of ideas, I consider and am convinced of them, that peace is a possible objective; besides it is necessary if we want the country to develop for the well-being of all Colombians, if we want society to progress in conformity with the exigencies of the present and of the future. But if development favours only the privileged who arbitrarily appropriate the benefits of progress, the objective of consolidating peace can never even be achieved in Colombia.
I affirm, without any doubt, that the crisis of the state and some extremely unjust social relations are the principal causes of the various forms of violence that are going on in Colombia. To my mind, it is a very serious situation that neither the state nor the constitution have served as guarantors of national unity and social harmony. They have in them germs of all kinds of contradictions that breed mistrust among governmental institutions and the citizens, and even among themselves.
It is opportune to remember that the PLA in the beginning of the eighties, proposed to call a Constituent National Assembly in which were to be present representatives of different social and political ideas etc, that conform to the Colombian nation. The idea was to contribute to the formulation of a new constitution that not only would reflect the new realities of the country but which would also give a solution to the sharp social and political contradictions. Unfortunately, the constitution of 1991 did not become the Peace Pact that we proposed, not even the way to the reconciliation of Colombians. Besides I can affirm that the little progressive element that was present in its content, I am referring to what is there on paper, have been getting diluted according to the requirements of certain political strata that did not conform to the content of the new Charter.
(June 29, 1994)
In view of the fact that until now the examinee has limited himself to expressing positions which are strictly political in nature and which have impeded proceeding on concrete aspects which are the objects of examination in this inquiry, it is required that he may be specific in his answers. He is informed that, at the end of the inquiry, if he wishes to make any other statements, add something to what has been already expressed or make clarifications, he will have the opportunity to do so on the aspects which have been dealt with from the beginning of the inquiry.
At this point the defence sought to speak on record and, given the chance to do so, stated:
Firstly, I wish to note that, on the request made by Mr. Caraballo to look into the fate of his son who remained in the house of the raided farm, I went yesterday to the farmhouse and found a military camp within the farm and a machine gun fixed to the front door of the house. We were told that the son was not in military custody; however, he was and is still not only under military custody, but it is also difficult for anybody to visit him. Therefore, I request the Office of the Public Prosecutor and the Home Ministry that once the purpose of the raid is served, the clearing-out of the farm may be ordered immediately, as this has prevented the friends and class-mates of the young boy from even daring to visit him.
On the other hand, as the defence for Mr. Caraballo and with the prior permission of the Public Prosecutor, I came with his sons, yesterday in the evening, so that he could meet them, and I observed an aggressive attitude by some military persons, who showed their indignation at my having requested the Ministry to look into the fate of the minor. They accused me that I 'being a leftist, was slandering them' (inverted commas used on the request of the defence) with reference to the military presence on the farm. I want to add that as a defender of Human Rights and a defender of political prisoners, a profession in which I have been working for more than six years, I have always acted according to the Constitution and the Law, but it seems that intelligence work has already been done on my professional and political activity, and this is seen in the change in attitude and behaviour of the military persons towards the signatory. Thus I insist once more before the Office of the Public Prosecutor and the Home Ministry to accept that Mr. Caraballo may be shifted to an ordinary jail, according to Constitutional and legal norms.
On the other hand, I want to observe, in view of the requirement of the Office of the Public Prosecutor, that the statement, as has been said from the very beginning, is a free and spontaneous version and that a guerrilla commandant, founder of a guerrilla organisation is being tried, and in this respect, he is absolutely free to narrate any philosophical, political, economic or ethical fundamentals that he considers relevant, so that the acts for which he is being tried or for which he is condemned are understood in terms of the complex crime of Rebellion. I consider it a form of pressure to tell him to concretely limit himself to the events in order not to lengthen this inquiry. Likewise, in the time foreseen by the law, the juridical situation of the implicated can be resolved.
The Home Ministry seeks to speak to state the following: as the defence counsel was asked to personally establish the condition of the minor in the earlier inquiry and today he has expressed some anxieties which are recorded. Once this inquiry is complete, the norms will be followed, a visit of a delegate from the Attorney-General's office for Human Rights will be sought in order to verify whether the situation described by the defence is correct. On the other hand, knowing fully the rights under law which are granted to anyone facing an inquiry, I want to state to the defence counsel that the office is not trying at any moment to exert any kind of pressure. On the contrary, the inquiries which have proceeded until now have always preserved all the guarantees and have respected Mr. Caraballo's and the defence counsel's positions. There has only been an attempt to reach a conclusion.
The examinee then continued as follows:
In the first place, I wish to record my protest against the presence of troops in the area where my son, who in any case has nothing to do with my activities, is staying. Although I cannot say that he is traumatised, it is certain that he is deeply worried because of what he knows of the country's situation. It worries me that officially we were told that the area is completely free of troops. In any case, it also becomes a source of worry and above all of psychological pressure in the inquiry which is taking place.
I also use this opportunity to place a request for resolving my wife's legal situation, who like my son, is not responsible for my acts. Thirdly, I want to record that at this moment I do not find myself in a comfortable situation to continue the inquiry but nevertheless, I am prepared to continue in view of the fact that I am also interested in concluding this examination as soon as possible.
I want to state once more that the reason for the exposition that I am presenting is to show a picture of the environment that grounds my activities and my behaviour as a revolutionary. I clarify that I have been presenting a brief summary because of my interest in getting out of this trying situation as early as possible. I want to know if it is within my rights as a Colombian citizen, which I still am, to continue with the last part of my intervention.
(The office states that the examinee is effectively free to continue with his statements; however, it is requested that these may be as concrete as possible).
The examinee continued:
I was explaining some considerations on the problem of peace. I want to make it clear that the PLA as an organisation and Francisco Caraballo as a revolutionary leader have, has and continue to have valid ideas and proposals to contribute to the quest for peace which Colombia needs so much.
I have no doubt whatsoever that in order to advance towards peace it is necessary to propitiate and undertake profound transformations in the national reality, with more realism than a lot of exaggerated fuss, with more seriousness than demagogy; but at the same time I think that it is necessary and possible to proceed towards creating an atmosphere in which the contradictions can be expressed and resolved without resorting to the elimination of the adversary or the contradictor, by murdering or silencing.
The PLA has maintained a solid and clear position in the quest for certain peace; I continue to think that this is achievable; especially from the 80s we have been persistent defenders of this possibility and we have presented the most varied proposals in this respect, despite the fact that we have had to pay a high price for this.
Article 22 of the National Constitution says 'Peace is a fundamental right and a duty.' Article 2 prescribes that one of the main objectives of the State is to assure peaceful coexistence; Article 67 establishes that education must teach the Colombian respect for peace along with respect for Human Rights and Democracy. Despite the fact that these are stated with utmost clarity in the Charter, the government and the State, who should be its main promoters, are passive in complying with it. Therefore, in accordance with the above, I accuse President Cesar Gaviria of negligence in complying with these constitutional precepts. I express my agreement with the content of the Declaration of the Meeting of Bishops entitled 'The Duty of Peace' of April 1994 where it says: 'peace is not simply the absence of war, the silence of arms or military victory over the adversary; peace is also not a dangerous equilibrium of adverse forces or of truces. In this sense, stopping confrontation or militarily overpowering the adversary does not achieve peace; the strategy for peace is to overcome it, eliminating the causes which give rise to it, the validity of a juridical, democratic and participative framework based on an inalienable respect for human beings, constitutes a necessary instrument for achieving a just order.' It is not surprising that the bishops know the reality better than warring governors.
I am sure that owing to the particularities in which war has developed in our country during such a prolonged period of time, the consolidation of peace is not possible to achieve in one effort. These are very difficult objectives to achieve. The experience of agreements signed between governments and guerrilla groups teaches us many lessons, but above all, the warning that this path can never lead to true peace mainly because they laid stress on superficial or circumstantial matters, on satisfying the exigencies of the moment or on the spectacle of the mass communication media over finding possible means of attending to the basic problems, if these were not immediate ones. In my opinion, peace must be understood as a process which favours guaranteeing solutions in the economic, social, political, military and other orders.
The PLA has shown its support in achieving direct negotiation, which would require dialogues with the participation of all the political, social sectors, the unions, the church, the intellectuals, etc. to update proposals and projects. Only in this manner can one reach a wide agreement guaranteeing continuity of the process. Hence, some sensible premises must be established for negotiation which must exclude impositions or disqualification.
Peace must be conceived as a means of national reconstruction; its projects must contain democracy, social justice, a dignified life, respect and guarantee of Human Rights, political, social, civic, cultural rights, etc. It is indispensable, thus, to change the conception and the regulations of a right which has been established for war, by a democratic, juridical space.
These appraisals are valid to refute those who label us guerrillas in order to justify their own crude attitude against peace and their militarism at all costs.
The PLA as an integral part of the CGSB has presented, along with the rest of the armed organisations, valid proposals, some of which are still relevant. Let us recall a concrete example - in the second semester of 1990 the CGSB insisted on having contacts with the government or the parliament. As the government adopted a negligent, evasive or disciplining attitude towards this requirement, contacts with political personalities, the church and other leaders were sought. Contacts were made with different mass communication media to insist upon our anxieties and opinions and logically, to present concrete proposals.
The Co-ordinating Group presented solid and viable proposals on the Constituent National Assembly. However, the government remained adamant, insisting that the guerrilla movement unilaterally submit to the scheme of 'peace' proposed by the government, that is, submitting to its will and denying the bilateral nature of dialogues which may have been very fruitful for the interests of the nation. More serious was the fact that while contacts were being made with some political leaders, the government ordered firing which put in danger the lives of those, who along with the CG were trying to seek a way out of armed conflict; and even more serious was the enormous operation against Green House which took place on the very day that the members who were to form the Constituent National Assembly were being elected. This is yet another lesson of how the government has turned its back on possible paths to peace. I repeat, this cannot be achieved without commitment to a vision of the well-being of all Colombians and not only for the predominant castes in the country.
There is an adverse factor to national reconciliation which must be kept in mind: the big mass communication media, with a wide circulation and audience, are entrusted with manipulating information as if they were annexed to the psychological management of war. I want to record that this is causing very serious damage to Colombia; this attitude cannot promote a favourable attitude towards construction of peace. Please note that a guerrilla is never presented as a rebel with a cause. He is always presented to the public as a third-rate anti-social, a sick person or an incorrigible criminal. In case of a possibility of peace accords, how will those who take to arms receive the confidence of civil members if they are presented as criminals capable of the worst atrocities? Does not this attitude of the government and the media favour the prolongation of violence, and not a distancing from it and a quest for peace?
To begin with I want to clarify that the notes in my handwriting from which I have been reading bear an explanation. I seek to establish that my activities have deep ideological and political motivations. Moreover, I am not used to improvising: I have always preferred thinking, meditating; as it is my misfortune now to do so in this cold space, and then reasonably give opinions, I present some brief considerations relating to my position on the Colombian State before going on to more specific positions.
I have maintained that the Colombian State is violent, oppressive and closed because it is based on a liberal democracy which excludes.
Please note that in Colombia, in the last hundred years, no other political organisation other than the Conservative or Liberal party or a coalition of the two has been in power. History tells us that since 1886, during the reign of Nuņez, conservative hegemony dominated until 1930, that is, for 45 years; then the Liberals ruled till 1946, that is, for 16 years, which was followed by periods of alternation, dispute or coalition between them. Largely the attempts of new parties to consolidate themselves in order to rise to power have failed, but what is more serious is that in recent years some tremendously dangerous events have unfolded: the physical elimination of the Patriotic Union, the assassination of three presidential candidates of the Republic, corruption at high levels in the State and private spheres, criminal influence of narco-traffic which has infiltrated all the pores of the State. Thus a true democracy cannot exist.
Let us not allow ourselves to be confused by words; behind the banner of democracy the exclusions and outrages are hidden, equality of rights can hide a deep abyss and the invalidity of many of these in actual practice. The supposed legal guarantees can exist with intimidation and arbitrariness; that is why we have deeply criticised Colombian democracy on several occasions for its falseness, because behind formal words lie hidden the anger of oppression. As the Colombian State is weak, lacking the real support of the majority of the Colombian people, it very often uses uncontrolled force in violation of its own laws as well as Human Rights. That is why, in my opinion, rebellion and the revolutionary struggle is justified.
What I have expressed above allows me to underline the transcendence of 'resistance to oppression' as a natural fact, which is also an inalienable right. In the French Revolution this right was recorded and later universally accepted; it was included in the Political Charter of the United States and later in the United Nations; it is contained in Colombian legislation and as these were approved by the Parliament; and Article 93 of the Constitution establishes that Universal or Regional Declarations on Human Rights prevail over internal legislation. But the Colombian State contrives to respect judicial norms, to defend Human Rights as and when it is convenient; therefore I justify my criticism and question the right of such a State to judge my conduct.
As regards the activities of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) from the period of its founding, I wish to state the following:
Firstly, I wish to say that the PLA has a political and ideological basis, revolutionary in character; hence its activities have always been framed within revolutionary objectives, a profound altruistic principle inspires us, which is linked to rebelliousness against the State; I wish to specify that the PLA, a short while after its coming into being, established some moral norms to guide the conduct of its leaders and its members, among which I can cite from memory the following: 'To treat women as our mothers and children as our own', 'Preference to the old, the weak and the sick', 'Respect to the popular masses', 'Humanitarian treatment of prisoners of war', 'To be valiant in combat and just in victory'.
One must keep in mind that the PLA was constituted in the 60s and it came into existence in 1967, this means that the remnants of the violence of the 50s was our fate and many of those who joined our ranks or became soldiers of the PLA had experienced this bloody period. For example, there were many farmers who had become accustomed to the practice of finishing off the wounded (that is those who did not die of a gunshot were killed by machetes). Thus we had to undertake the hard task of education so that the rank and file of the PLA would be free of such atrocious customs and, in practice, we became defenders and propagandists for Human Rights application under difficult conditions such as having to fight against the wounds of past violence.
In recent times, as is well known, there was a division in the ranks of the PLA which lead to demobilisation of one sector in 1991; it is lamentable that during this period, customs and habits contrary to the revolutionary morals on which the PLA was founded were encouraged. The government owes part of the responsibility for the harm caused to many young people who were incited towards extremely harmful activities for any revolutionary organisation or social group, like for example the use of alcohol, prostitution, disinclination to work, etc. This undoubtedly affected the PLA.
Along with this, I wish to note two other factors which have to be kept in mind: one is the autonomy which each front has had in its area of operations; this means that on the basis of general guidelines, each front operates or acts in the area that corresponds to it; and the other, that we have faced many difficulties, sometimes insurmountable, in communication between the central unit and each front. With the above, I wish to state that it seems unjust to me that all the actions are appropriated to the commander, or that the entire responsibility is his. Let me illustrate this point: Americas Watch says: 'In some regions and in some well-known cases, there is clear evidence of a collaboration between regional chiefs of the army and high level officials of the intelligence to facilitate crimes committed by private armies and death squads.' I wonder if the President of the Republic who is the commander of the army can be blamed for these acts? Can the Minister of Defence be held directly responsible? I think that on the political plane this is possible given the characteristics of the Colombian State, but at the legal level, this question remains unanswered. I do not seek to justify the abuses or the excesses with these clarifications; I hope that the difference between the excesses and abuses of some fronts and individuals of the PLA and the politics and the official conduct of the organisation has been clarified so that the responsibility of the organisation and its commander is set aside from the responsibilities of some individuals and fronts. As Commander of the PLA, I have always assumed all my responsibilities.
I wish to refer to some of the cases initially presented by the office of the Public Prosecutor. (...) I wish to present them in the same order and not in their order of importance. As a result, I will first refer to the situation in Uraba.
For this, it is necessary to refer to what happened after the demobilisation of one sector of the PLA in 1991. I understand that not all the members of the PLA belonging to this sector gave up their arms, and I think that is where we can find the source of the worsening situation, because armed confrontations were witnessed; initially these were partial and later they became more generalised throughout the region. What is more serious, and I wish to condemn this, is that the government encouraged the consolidation and the criminal activity of some of these groups. In 1992, Dr. Ricardo Santamaria, the peace counsellor promoted, along with the leaders of Hope, Peace and Liberty, the formation of the 'Popular Commands'. Logically, with this official support, these groups intensified their criminal activities; which was not only in supposed 'self-defence' but in order to consolidate their power in these areas. In the beginning of 1993, several leaders of Hope, Peace and Liberty, including Senator Anibal Palacios, sought that the government give these Popular Commands official recognition of self defence, for which they argued for the need to defend themselves from attacks by other guerrilla organisations. Later, in April, the government found the proper answer, legalising the existence and the activities of the Popular Commands as active members of the rural DAS in Uraba. The characteristics, functions, links, etc. are found in a declaration of the Director-General of the DAS, published this month.
This logically aggravated the contradictions and the military confrontations in the zone. These confrontations were mainly between these Popular Commands, which have been converted into DAS, and guerrilla organisations, like the PLA.
Two clarifications are in order: Firstly, for us it is clear that many of these confrontations are between armed 'Popular Commands', linked to the DAS or otherwise, and guerrilla organisations; in other words, they are not simply cases of the assassination of civilians from the political sphere, as has been said publicly; secondly, the commander of PLA has at no point and under no circumstances, ordered the execution of any of the members of Hope, Peace and Liberty.
Rounding off the substantial part of the declaration, I reiterate without any hesitation that I am a conscious rebel, a revolutionist in consequence and a convinced communist. I am sure that the Colombian state is not capable of understanding this as it is established to exercise hegemony, exclusions, pernicious and vicious presidentialism and unlimited arbitrariness. For this reason I have decided to unflinchingly reiterate the rupture from this state and its institutions. I have no faith in the state on the basis of all that I have said till now. I wish to make it very clear that I do not nurse any ill-will towards the Judges of the Republic in general, nor any animadversion against Madam the Prosecutor, nor against the rest of the officials present in this session.
Lastly, I wish to state that when history will quieten these winds of injustice and wretchedness which are blowing throughout our country, it will be clear that I have been a total revolutionary, a Communist, perhaps an idealist, but never an enemy of society. On the basis of what I have said I declare that the state may place the entire weight of its law upon me if it so considers fit.
Translated from the Spanish by Meenakshl Sundriyal and Vijaya Venkataraman.
Click here to return to the April 1997 index.