Lair Of A Squirrel Red


Raul Castro’s Speech to the National Assembly. by korakious
January 12, 2008, 5:05 am
Filed under: Cuba, Latin America

The Lair reopens after the festive season with a follow up to my previous post about the change of guard in Cuba. This is a speech Raul Castro made to the National Assembly shortly before the end of 2007, on December the 28th. It’s quite interesting in that it bears traits of Andropovian self-criticism, as in opposed to being an “everything is great, we shall prevail” tirade. I promise to return shortly with an actual post.

Compañeras and compañeros:

We have had a good meeting on the Economic Plan and Budget approved for next year. Above all, it has been the briefest in history.

The objective of this speech is to share some reflections with you on the economic and social situation of the country.

Without any doubt this last year has been one of intense work with the active participation of all the people. Less than three months have gone by since the conclusion of the 215,687 meetings organized in the context of the discussion promoted by our Party, based on the concepts expressed at the central event for the 54th anniversary of the assault on the Moncada and Carlos Manuel de Céspedes Garrisons.

When our Party called for reflections on what was posed on July 26 in Camagüey, the objective was not for us to get to know about problems. Really, the majority of them are known and I talked about many of them on that occasion, at least on the ones that we consider fundamental to the well-being of the population and the effective socioeconomic functioning of the country.

That our appreciation is correct has been confirmed by more than five million citizens in the meetings for study and reflection that took place during September and October, and described as needed and useful.

Many of the proposals refer to local problems or are related to the deficiencies and errors of specific people; so those will have to be confronted and solved in a direct manner where they are occurring.

In response, the different leadership levels of the Party, government, mass organizations and workplaces have been directed to immediately adopt measures to solve problems that do not have to wait for a higher decision, which has been taking place.

The principal and decisive aim of this great effort has been to find, with the conscious and active participation of the overwhelming majority of Cubans, the best solutions within the reach of the country’s economic possibilities, given that, as I said recently, nobody here is a magician or can pull resources out of a hat.

Moreover, time is needed to study, organize and plan how to attain the proposed objectives with the greatest quality and efficiency. The former is not solely dependent on the will or interest of those involved in solving the problem; to a large extent it also depends on the availability of resources and the authority and qualities of the cadres involved and their constancy.

Experience demonstrates the importance of analyzing problems in an integral way, to conciliate decisions and act with rationality.

Of course, not all of the proposals and suggestions can be applied as a whole. A consensus will have to be forged decide the most rational and appropriate ones, as in more than a few cases, they are contradictory, and certain opinions reflect a lack of information, particularly in the economic sphere.

This process has ratified something fundamental: those occupying a leadership post must know how to listen and how to create an opportune environment for the rest to express themselves with absolute freedom. This is something that must be definitively incorporated into the style of work of every leader, in conjunction with the opportune instruction, criticism or disciplinary measure.

We would all like to move faster, but that is not always possible.

Our people receive information in many ways and work is ongoing to improve those ways and eliminate the harmful tendency to triumphalism and complacency, so as to guarantee that every compañero/a with a specific political or administrative responsibility systematically informs on their brief with realism, in a clear, critical and self-critical manner.

That is the objective of the recent TV/Radio “Roundtables” on national issues, with the presence of the heads of the agencies most centrally involved. These will continue to take place as long as there is something important on which to inform. The same thing should be done in the provinces and municipalities, not just by the media but also directly, in the barrios and in people’s workplaces, where many problems can be solved or explained.

WHEN PROPERLY EXERCISED, CRITICISM IS ESSENTIAL IN TERMS OF ADVANCING

The national press has also contributed to an analysis of the issues that are vital to the population and the country’s socioeconomic development. When it is properly exercised, criticism is essential in terms of advancing.

Many compañeras and compañeros are witness to the rigor with which the 1.3 million proposals put together from the 3,255,344 speeches made are being studied. They constitute a highly useful source of information both for the present and the future.

We are in agreement with those who have warned on an excess of prohibitions and legal measures, which do more harm than good. We could say that the majority of them were correct and just in their time, but more than a few of them have been superceded by life, and behind every incorrect prohibition lie a large number of illegalities.

In relation to one of the issues most raised in the meetings: food production and its high price; the country is working with the urgency that that vital matter requires, given its direct and daily impact on the life of the population, above all on those people with lower incomes.

There have been advances in the studies and we will continue to act, with all the speed that circumstances permit, so that land and resources are in the hands of those who are capable of producing with efficiency, so that they feel supported, socially recognized and receive the material retribution that they deserve.

I have not attempted to fully cover any one of the issued raised; we shall have to return to them time and time again. As we hoped, this has been a critical process, in which the majority of our compatriots clearly stated their support for our social system, the Commander in Chief and the Party.

Millions of Cubans expressed considerations and suggestions directed at improving our socialism. As I said a few days ago in Santiago de Cuba, it has been a sound demonstration of the people’s high level of awareness and political culture.

WHAT PARTICULARLY INTERESTS US IS THAT THE POSITIVE PERFORMANCE OF MACROECONOMIC INDICATORS IS REFLECTED AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE IN THE HOUSEHOLD ECONOMY

Progress in the economy is undeniable, expressed in the growth of the Gross Domestic Product in recent years, but what particularly interests us is that the positive performance of macroeconomic indicators is reflected as much as possible in the household economy, where everyday shortages are present.

Decisions directed at the gradual solution of different problems in education, health, transport, housing and recreation, just to name a few pressing issues, are being discussed, part of which may be resolved or at least improved in reasonable amounts of time, above all those stemming from subjective causes. The most important of these issues was addressed in the reports given to the deputies for this session of the Assembly, and which were previously thoroughly debated in the commissions.

The solution to many difficulties requires increasing the effectiveness of the investment process. Priorities must be established, labor and resources must be better organized and modern technology must be introduced. This effort should contribute to increasing productivity. And something essential: any investments begun must be concluded in the set time frame, otherwise resources are mobilized without any benefits being seen.

Various other complex matters, such as the existence of two currencies and deformations in the systems of wages and prices, require thorough study, which will be undertaken with the moderation, rigor and responsibility they deserve.

We should determine, with the active participation of everyone, what – under our conditions – are the most effective channels for ensuring sustained growth in national production and the country’s export capacity, reducing imports and investing our resources in well-defined priorities, for systematically seeking productive efficiency and improving the enterprise system linked to performance. Moreover, we are obliged to defend the country’s credibility with respect to its creditors, and to guarantee the necessary resources for investments that ensure a perspective of development.

As was said here, conservation is one of the greatest sources of resources for achieving what I have mentioned, but some citizens, groups of workers and institutions still have an insufficient awareness of its importance.

The criticism of the population is a just one regarding the irrational use of resources in certain state entities due to disorganization, a lack of oversight and exigency, while at the same time social and economic needs remain pending.

However, as I explained in Camagüey, not all problems and shortages are due to internal deficiencies. There is also the influence of an international economic situation that we cannot avoid, characterized by accelerated growth in the prices of the fuel and food that we buy, just to mention two basic lines, although in reality, almost everything we import has gone up in price and will keep going up.

In addition to that, as we know, there are the losses resulting from the economic blockade of Cuba and the need to deal with the consequences of natural disasters produced by climate change, which are growing in magnitude and frequency. Suffice it to point to just one of the climatological events in the eastern part of the country, where were forced to spend an unforeseen $499 million.

NOBODY DOUBTS THE FIRM CONVICTION DEMONSTRATED BY OUR PEOPLE IN THE FACT THAT ONLY SOCIALISM CAN OVERCOME THE DIFFICULTIES

As we can see, the challenges we have before us are enormous, but nobody doubts the firm conviction demonstrated by our people in the fact that only socialism can overcome the difficulties and preserve the conquests of almost a half century of Revolution.

A Revolution that belongs to all of us, given that it was born and has grown thanks to the efforts and sacrifice of many generations of patriots. Making it stronger every day until it is invulnerable in every aspect depends on the hands and consciousness of all of us, the Cubans of today and of tomorrow.

It would be suicide not to behave that way in response to a U.S. administration that, as compañero Alarcón has just explained, has intensified its aggressiveness against Cuba in order to satisfy the interests of the most extremist groups in that country.

Evidence of that is the intensification of the economic war as part of the reinforcement of the Bush Plan, which includes measures for putting on pressure and desperate and unsuccessful attempts at destabilizing the country, in order to mount new pretexts for justifying its hostile policy, against which there is increasing international opposition, including among ever-growing layers of U.S. society itself.

Our people take every threat very seriously. That can be seen by Operation Caguairán, which has made it possible to train approximately 430,000 reserve combatants and militia members, as well as other essential tasks like the modernization of our armament, the preparation of the theater of military operations, important maneuvers and the recently-concluded Moncada 2007 exercise, all of which substantially strengthen the country’s defense capacity and lay the foundations that will contribute to the successful execution, at the end of next year, of the strategic exercise Bastion 2008.

Given the intensification of subversive maneuvers and efforts to isolate us internationally, internal stability has been preserved, the country has continued to consolidate its socioeconomic development, and the international prestige of the Revolution has been strengthened.

During the year, as has been mentioned here, significant progress was made in the implementation of strategic programs, which has had a positive repercussion on the economy and on improving our people’s living conditions, such as the “energy revolution,” to cite just one example.

On the political level, the immense majority of Cubans resoundingly demonstrated their determination to preserve and defend the Revolution during the elections for People’s Power delegates this past October, and we are sure that it will be that way this January 20, when we elect our delegates to the Provincial Assemblies and the deputies that will comprise our National Assembly.

In the presidency of the Non-Aligned Movement, Cuba maintained its vitality and influence in important multilateral processes.

Once again, the U.S. government, despite enormous efforts, was unable to impose its attempts to condemn our country in the field of human rights, while at the same time it received a crushing defeat in the United Nations General Assembly record vote against the blockade.

The recent visit by President Chávez, the PETROCARIBE Summit and the progress made by the ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas) have been important steps in consolidating regional integration mechanisms.

Our work in the coming year should be characterized by its systematic character; effective organization, planning and control; working for priorities and using resources rationally; increasing labor productivity and efficiency; and strengthening integration, cooperation and unity in the leadership activities of state agencies, the government, the Union of Young Communists and mass organizations on every level, in order to face together, under the leadership of the Party, the main problems affecting our people.

In the name of our Commander in Chief, of the Central Committee of the Party and of the members of this Assembly, we transmit to our compatriots well-deserved congratulations, despite all the difficulties and aggressions, for everything we have done to successfully arrive at “Year 50 of the Revolution,” which doubtlessly will also be one of modest victories in every aspect.

The deputies that make up this Sixth Legislature have known how to comply with the mandate of our people and deserve our recognition. Some of you have been newly nominated, others will no longer serve in this capacity and will continue to carry out your usual work, because as it is known, nobody earns one cent for being a member of this Assembly. I can assure all of you that one thing that won’t be lacking is plenty of work.

Whatever the responsibility entrusted to us, we will rise to the level of the trust that our heroic people have placed in us, and to the honor of being soldiers of a Revolution led by a Commander in Chief who, with his example and wisdom, has always led us to victory.

Being worthy of a people who for decades has faced, with courage and stoicism, every danger and difficulty; a people whose youth are demonstrating that they are acting in accordance with their glorious history, with one true example being that of our five heroes imprisoned by the empire, who next year will complete 10 years of unjust punishment in U.S. prisons.

I wish all Cuban men and women a happy 2008. Celebrate, rest, recover your strength, you deserve it.

And let’s all work hard!

Thank you very much.

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Por ahora no pudimos by korakious
December 5, 2007, 10:51 am
Filed under: Chavez, Elections, Latin America, Venezuela


I shouldn’t really stress myself so much. I spent the whole of the last week thinking about the constitutional referendum, working out possible scenarios in my head and talking about it with everybody and their dogs. Fuck, I even had dreams about it. The last time I was stressed over a political event that much was just before the Scottish Parliament elections. Both times, anxiety gave way to profound disappointment.

However, having reflected on numbers, results and a series of articles my innate optimism has started crawling back in. This was a serious setback, but we have not been defeated. Chavez has still 5 years left in his term, the opposition barely made any gains relative to the presidential election and the magnitude of the pro SI rallies relative to those organised by the opposition clearly shows that the class balance of power leans heavily to the side of the conscious working class. Certainly, the slight victory of the No vote will give the shattered Venezuelan opposition something to rally around, as the calls for the convening of a Constituent Assembly by former Chavista General Baduel clearly show. However the very fact that the opposition will have to organise centred on a former enemy, around calls for national friendship and unity is clearly a sign of its own weakness suggesting that a well calculated, organised and swift political offensive by the Bolivarians is bound to shatter them. We have to keep in mind that revolutions are not linear processes where one side makes gains against the other until it wins; they unfold dialectically with each victory throwing up new obstacles and dangers and each defeat opening up new roads to success. What where the July Days preceding the great October Revolution if not a decisive defeat, with many good activists dead, leaders arrested and others going underground? The setback suffered by the Bolivarian movement is not even slightly comparable to that.

So what happened? It is evident from the numbers that the defeat of the reforms can be entirely attributed to the inadequate mobilisation of the Bolivarian camp. While the opposition gained a mere 100,000 votes (compared to the last presidential election), the Bolivarians lost some 2.8 million votes to abstention, with turnout reaching a very mellow 56% against approximately 70% last year. A lower turnout, in every situation, necessarily favours the forces of reaction, as the well-fed bourgeois and their satellite strata dutifully turn up to vote every time; it is the impoverished workers and peasants who abstain, for one reason or another. The question is why did they abstain on Sunday, a mere year after they overwhelmingly voted for Chavez routing both the counterrevolutionary and “revolutionary” oppositions?

The answer I believe lies in a combination of factors. First, we have to keep in mind that in any given situation, it is rather unlikely, if not impossible, that the oppressed classes will have achieved full consciousness down to the last person, especially when the situation is still prerevolutionary. For the unconscious masses, it was far easier to grasp the importance of the presidential election, as what was at stake was Chavismo itself; a defeat would have meant a regression back into the quagmire of traditional Washington Consensus neoliberalism. Reports from the ground also suggest that the opposition, with heavy financial backing from the United States, managed to mount a very effective, high intensity campaign of lies and misinformation (and terror), even if their concrete mobilisation was not much too look at. As you have probably already read elsewhere, “the state will take away your children” replaced the now cliche image of the baby eating communist.

This brings us to another, arguably the most important, question. Why did the conscious Bolivarian movement fail to agitate effectively and mobilise the masses to support the constitutional reforms? And also, why did they not effectively respond to the lies and filth propagated by the opposition? I can think of no other reason than the lack of an organised party of the bolivarian movement. In the absence of such, the campaign had to be based on largely ad hoc gatherings organised by the local socialist battalions that will form the basis of the PSUV. While the activist fervour of those should not be underestimated, their effectiveness cannot be compared to that of a integrated apparatus. The lack of a central coordinating organisation meant that the campaign had to be taken up by the state bureaucracy. These people have little in common with the working class and they would have failed to connect with it even if they had actually wanted to. The bureaucrats of the Bolivarian movement want nothing to do with socialism and they will consciously sabotage any attempt to destroy them as mediators of power, including the strengthening of community councils. It is then not really surprising that they made little effort to produce material refuting the outrageous claims of the opposition, basing their campaign on a theme of loyalty to Chavez, despite the fact that Chavez himself had often reiterated that a SI vote was not a vote for himself but a vote for the Revolution. No mention of the 36-hour week, or the community councils!

The entirely reactionary role played by the right wing of Chavismo has been sharply grasped by the radical activist base. The HOV referendum blog reports that on Monday a spontaneous gathering organised through text messages took place outside Miraflores palace in order to express solidarity with Chavez but more importantly raising the demand for a “clearing of the house” and denouncing certain officials as traitors.

The key task facing the socialist movement in Venezuela now is the foundation of the PSUV on an explicitly radical socialist basis. This will require back breaking mobilisation in the very near future (as in from January onwards). For the moment, the organised right wing has done a good job of excluding itself from the formation of the party, but it is certain that the sharper bureaucratic elements will not make the same mistake. Following that, it is imperative that the movement concentrates on a relentless attack against the dual fifth column that fetters is its development. I say dual, for apart from the state bureaucracy and the reformists, a war must be waged against the rererevolutionary ultra left that refuses to join the PSUV, the latter-day WRPs like the Argentinian PO and the neo-Kautskyite democrats who called for a spoiling of ballots at the referendum. Letting them cut themselves out of the working class movement, as they will, is not enough. In such social conditions, the minds of people are open to radical ideas, whether progressive or entirely stupid. Having said that, it must be stressed, despite being entirely obvious, that the prime threat remains the bureaucracy, the enemies within that want Chavez without socialism. They must be removed from the movement and the state at all costs and by any means necessary. Let them join the opposition and expose themselves for the hypocrites that they are. At this stage, without support from the inside, the counterrevolution will never manage to become a serious threat. Bring on the Cheka!



Tension increases in Venezuela by korakious
November 29, 2007, 2:34 am
Filed under: Chavez, Imperialism, Latin America, Venezuela

Venezuelanalysis carries two very important articles today. One is about a CIA plot named Operation Pliers, involving a number of prominent opposition groups, leaders, media outlets and students which came to light after the Venezuelan counterintelligence service intercepted a CIA memorandum, dated November 20th. The memorandum predicts a clear Yes mandate for the constitutional referendum taking place on Sunday and goes on to propose a plan of action for the opposition after the referendum, including challenging its authenticity, inciting unrest and distabilisation with the purpose of throwing the country into a state of ungovernability preparing the way for another attempt to violently overthrow the Bolivarian government; textbook imperialist tactics that is, from Mozambique to Vietnam. Importantly, the memorandum also confirms the large scale clandestine campaign against Bolivarianism that has been conducted by the CIA for some time:

Officer Steere emphasizes the importance and success of the public relations and propaganda campaign that the CIA has been funding with more than $8 million during the past month – funds that the CIA confirms are transfered through the USAID contracted company, Development Alternatives, Inc., which set up operations in June 2002 to run the USAID Office for Transition Initiatives that funds and advises opposition NGOs and political parties in Venezuela. The CIA memo specifically refers to these propaganda initiatives as “psychological operations” (PSYOPS), that include contracting polling companies to create fraudulent polls that show the NO vote with an advantage over the SI vote, which is false. The CIA also confirms in the memo that it is working with international press agencies to distort the data and information about the referendum, and that it coordinates in Venezuela with a team of journalists and media organized and directed by the President of Globovision, Alberto Federico Ravell.

The other article reports on the murder of José Anibal Oliveros Yépez, a Chavez supporter, by a group of anti-reform protesters on Monday. After documenting the entirely unprovoked attack, the article goes on to mention that violence by opposition group is not a collection of isolated incidents but instead, a consistent part of a quasi fascist campaign of bullying that is typical of middle class mobilisation:

National Assembly Deputy Francisco Ameliach and the Mayor of Guacara, José Manuel Flores, who visited the neighborhood to pay their respects to the Oliveros’ family, reported that opposition groups in Ciudad Alianza that claim to represent “civil society” have marked the houses of Chavez supporters, or those they believe to be Chavez supporters, with red paint and “have said they are going to kill them.”

What this goes to show is that the Bolivarian process is one powered by irreconcilable class contradictions within Venezuelan society, rather than merely a national bourgeois project. As the reforms instituted by Chavez increasingly weaken the power of global capital and its domestic crutches, we can only expect an intensification of the struggle as the bourgeoisie tries to overturn the process while it still has some political power left. As the heat rises, class contradictions will be laid in increasingly more stark terms as bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideology will be unable to provide a satisfactory explanatory framework for the rapidly developing (and thus changing) circumstances in Venezuela. Chavez himself demonstrated this shift when, addressing a pro-amendment work place representatives’ meeting Caracas, he explicitly stated that “the working class has to be the vanguard of the revolutionary process for socialist power.”, cautioning against the dangers of bureaucratic degeneration as happened in the Soviet Union. Chavez also went on to speak about the irreconcilable conflict of interests between the working class on the one hand, and capitalism and the bourgeois state on the other. From the IMT website:

The Cuban revolution has lasted a long time due to a deep relationship with the masses. In Nicaragua the road of reformism led to tragic results. You cannot adapt to capitalism. It doesn’t work. No to reformism, No to Bureaucracy! […]He emphasized again and again that the working class is the vanguard but he also castigated many trade unions for not being able to rise above the arena of purely trade union demands. If this does not happen then the political level of the working class won’t rise to the level needed to carry out the task of being the motor force of the revolution. This process will determine the timing and direction of the revolution. We should pass onto the offensive as under capitalism we use defensive actions to protect conditions. The only way to guarantee Popular Power is if the working class plays the leading role.

Under the constitutional changes, he continues, the workers councils in the factories will establish relations with peasant, student and community councils [in effect setting up embryonic soviets – DC]. If this happens then what happened in the Soviet Union and Nicaragua won’t happen. The aim of all of this is to establish Socialism in the country of Bolivar and – in response to a cry from the audience – in all of the Americas.

Yet the devil is in the detail. On the one hand Chavez sees the councils in different areas as alternative organs of power more closely related to the people and therefore theoretically more responsive. This is also a way to bypass the cumbersome and obstructive State bureaucracy. As he stated, “…workers councils will come into being in the factories, in the workplaces, but they should reach out to the communities and be fused into other councils of popular power: community councils, students councils, etc… What for? To shout slogans? To go around shouting long live Chavez? No!… To change the relationships in the workplace, to plan production, to take over piece by piece the functions of the government and to finish up by destroying the bourgeois state.

The current stage of the class struggle in Venezuela will have to come to a decisive political outcome one way or another sooner than later; this dual-poweresque fragile balance of class powers is not a sustainable social equilibrium. The division and increasing weakness of the bourgeoisie makes it ever more difficult for them to defend against the advancing working class, but it should be kept in mind that the proletariat too does not yet have a unified political leadership with a clear programme, ready to seize power and embark on the construction of socialism. The PSUV might come to play that role, but that will depend upon the programme and the organisational structure that will be adopted by its coming founding conference. We can only hope that the majority of principled socialists in Venezuela have joined the party and have not been carried away by the calls for ideological purity by the WRP clones of this world.

Until the foundation of the PSUV however, it is imperative that the Bolivarian movement takes whatever measures necessary to safeguard itself from reaction. Extreme attention must be paid to the tactics of the opposition and resources of all kinds will have to be mobilised to ensure that Operation Pliers does not come to fruition. This will necessarily include state crackdowns (although I am sure that those who lamented the suppression of RCTV’s “democratic” right to support fascist coups will cry “authoritarianism” here as well) but it is of crucial importance that there is also grassroots working class political organisation in the form of demos, counter demos and patrols among other things. As Chavez (and Lenin) said, the workers (to the last cook) must gradually take over the functions of the state.



An Interview with FARC Commander Simón Trinidad by korakious
November 27, 2007, 12:54 am
Filed under: Human Rights, Imperialism, Latin America, Venezuela

FARC is an organisation about which not many people know a lot or even a bit. It is old enough (it’s been almost 40 years since the armed struggle in Colombia started) to have receded from the spotlight, but it is still active and thus cannot be studied in a standard academic historical manner. What is more, its case is quite interesting in that it creates much division amongst the left over whether it should be supported or not with accusations of it being a drug trafficking cartel without any politics left after four decades of guerilla warfare often thrown around. With the opportunity provided by the Colombian government’s decision to terminate Venezuela’s role as a mediator in hostage exchange negotiations, the Lair republishes the following interview with FARC commander Simón Trinidad, originally published in Columbia Report. It is an interesting read and provides some counterbalance to the First World’s narrative about the organisation.

An Interview with FARC Commander Simón Trinidad

by Garry Leech

In January 1999, newly elected Colombian president Andres Pastrana ceded an area of southern Colombia the size of Switzerland to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas as part of an agreement to begin peace talks. Although there is no cease-fire agreement while the talks are being carried out, the Colombian Armed Forces and the National Police have withdrawn all their forces from the region known as the Zona de Despeje (Clearance Zone).

The FARC’s headquarters in Los Pozos, a small village located 18 miles from San Vicente del Caguan in the Zona de Despeje, has been host to the peace talks as well as public conferences where all sectors of Colombian society can come to participate in discussions about Colombia’s future. On June 14, 2000, I traveled to Los Pozos to interview Simón Trinidad, a FARC commander and a spokesman for the guerrilla organization. Trinidad was a professor of economics and a banker before joining the FARC 16 years ago.

Q. What is the current status of the ongoing peace process?

A. In May 1999, the FARC and the Colombian government established a common agenda consisting of twelve points. This agenda was created with an agreement that both parties would bring their proposals to the negotiating table–things that they considered important in the discussion and in the search for a resolution to the conflict and to make the changes that Colombia needs.

At the moment, they are only discussing one item: unemployment. There have been 13 or 14 public conferences here in Los Pozos about this topic featuring businessmen, workers, university students, teachers and rectors. This Friday there will be a conference with the African-Colombian communities. On June 25 there will be a conference with unemployed women and on June 29 there will be one on illicit crops and the environment. The FARC and the government are discussing all these items that they consider important in the search for a political solution to the social conflict in Colombia.

Q. Why do you think the United States is focusing on the FARC and campesinos that cultivate coca here in southern Colombia instead of the paramilitaries and the narco-traffickers?

A. That’s a good question. Because the FARC is the only political organization that is in opposition to the Colombian oligarchy that keeps Colombians in poverty, misery and a state of underdevelopment. We are fighting for a change in the Colombian economic model and for a new state. For a state that has at its center the men and women of Colombia and to provide a better life and social justice for Colombians. With the riches in this country and after 180 years of republic living, Colombians must live better. We’ll make better use of the natural resources and provide jobs, healthcare, education and housing so that 40 million Colombians can live well.

Who are those that are opposed to these social, economic and political changes? They are the people who monopolize the riches and resources in Colombia. A small group that monopolizes the banks, the industries, the mines, agriculture and international commerce, including some foreign companies, especially North Americans. For these reasons we are the principal target in the war against narco-traffickers. But we aren’t narco-traffickers and the campesinos aren’t narco-traffickers, they are using it as an excuse for fighting against us.

If the United States government really intends to combat narco-traffickers, all the people in Colombia know where the narco-traffickers live. They live in Bogotá, Medellín, Cali and Barranquilla. Therefore, to seize the narco-traffickers the police have to do certain things. They have to leave their houses and search for them in order to put them in prison. But no, they confront the poor campesino with repression that not only hurts the illicit crops, but also legal crops like yucca, bananas, and chickens and pigs because the fumigation kills everything. It damages the earth, the vegetation, the water and the animals.

Those responsible for making Colombia a producer of narcotics are the people who have become rich from this business: the narco-traffickers, and they are happy. Who else benefits from narco-trafficking? The bankers and those who distribute the drugs in the cities, universities, high schools and discos of North America, Europe and Asia, the greatest consumers of marijuana, cocaine and heroin. Who else benefits? The companies that make the chemicals for processing cocaine and heroin. These companies are German and North American. They are industries in the developed countries. It’s a great business for the chemical companies.

The poor campesino has lived in misery for many years and will continue to do so. The war is for them and for us. We are planning a different solution for the problem of narco-trafficking. It consists of providing a better life for the poor campesino through agrarian reform, by giving them good lands, technical assistance and low-interest loans to change from growing illicit crops to legal crops; such as, coffee, yucca, bananas, sugarcane and ranching. An alternative development that facilitates commercialization for these products. But it’s a slow process to change them, it´s not just destroying the illicit crops and then telling them to grow different ones. We have to educate the campesinos about how to produce them. Give them tools, credits and time so they can make a living from these crops and become a different kind of campesino.

Q. Last year, FARC spokesman Raul Reyes claimed that the FARC could eradicate coca cultivation in the regions it controls in five years. However, there have been accusations that the FARC is forcing campesinos to grow more coca here in the Zona de Despeje.

A. This is the story of the police, the army and the narco-traffickers. We live in the country, and it is in the country that the coca, marijuana and the poppy have been grown for thirty years. We know that the campesinos grow illicit crops out of necessity. It is specifically a socio-economic situation. They are obligated to cultivate illicit crops because of a government that has neglected them for many years. We have made it clear that we will not take the food out of the mouth of the poor campesino. We will not leave them without jobs. They work with the marijuana and coca leaf because they don’t have any other work. This problem is caused by the economic model of the Colombian state, and it is the state that has to fix the problem. We are the state’s enemy, not their anti-narcotics police. The state has to offer people employment, honest work, and social justice to improve their lives.

Q. The FARC has introduced its own system of justice in the Zona de Despeje. What are the codes of justice and how are they implemented?

A. It’s not true! We haven’t introduced a justice system in the Zona de Despeje. For 36 years we have been working to solve the social problems of the campesinos that have a relationship with us. For many years the state hasn’t been present in many regions. There have been no state judges, no justice system and no public administration in many regions of the country. The society has had to resolve their own problems because they don’t believe in the ministry of work, they don’t believe in Colombian justice, they don’t believe in the Colombian army and police. They came to us and we were there for them in the country.

For example, there was a conflict between two people regarding land and cows. The cows belonging to one of them entered the other person’s land and destroyed his crops. He came to us looking for a solution to this problem. They don’t go looking for a state functionary because they don’t come to the country. So we told him to come here tomorrow with his neighbor to talk about the problem. We listened to both versions and we asked them for a solution. If they don’t find a solution, we propose some solutions in an attempt to apply justice. We want to see that they can resolve their own problems. We are a witness to their agreements.

Another example is a bad marriage. When the husband drinks all the money, hits the wife and leaves his wife and children. They don’t have the money to travel to a city where the family court is located in order to resolve this problem. The process takes one, two or three years before he is told to provide milk for his children. We call the mother and father and tell them that he has to give part of his salary to his wife and children and that he can’t drink too much anymore. We come to an agreement.

Workers in factories in the cities that were dismissed from their job without reason and without severance benefits go to the jungle in search of the guerrillas to resolve this problem. We send a note to the administrator, boss or owner telling them they have to come and talk with the guerrillas to resolve the problem. Some don’t come, but others do come and we listen to them. We don’t always believe the workers, we listen to the businessmen because maybe the worker is lazy, or a drunk, or a liar, or irresponsible. We resolve these kinds of problems for people who live in the country and the cities. We do this in other regions of the country where the guerrillas are.

Here in San Vicente del Caguan, when we created the Zona de Despeje, the campesinos stopped the guerrillas in the street for solutions to their problems. Now, people have to go to the Oficina de quejas y reclamos (Office of Claims and Complaints) and we listen to both sides of the problem. We didn’t create this system now in the Zona de Despeje, historically the FARC has done this where the state has lacked a system of justice and where a majority of people don’t believe in the Colombian justice system. We are doing it in the Zona de Despeje in an office. The people come and the guerrillas listen to them and find a solution. It is not only about money.

For example, who gets custody of the children when parents get separated? If the mother is a prostitute, doesn’t care about her children and consumes drugs, then the care of the children is given to the father. These are the types of problems we resolve. This office also resolves problems concerning guerrillas when they are bad. For example, if they go out and get drunk. Sometimes we make mistakes and we like it when other people tell us where we failed.

Q. What will happen if the United States Congress authorizes increased military aid to the Colombian Armed Forces and they launch an offensive against the FARC here in southern Colombia?

A. I don’t want to think about it. I don’t want to think about it. We have more faith in a peace process with dialogue. I don’t want to think about a war in this region of the country. The war won’t resolve Colombia’s problems. Colombia has 18 million people living in absolute poverty. These people don’t have electricity, water, jobs, land, education and healthcare. Another 18 million Colombians are poor with a salary that doesn’t cover all their necessities. They live restricted lives. In many cases the mother, father and one or two sons have to work to provide transport, housing and clothes.

We are 36 million Colombians living poorly out of a total of 40 million Colombians. Of the other four million Colombians, some are rich and others have a good life working in industries, businesses and farms. They have a solution to their problems of healthcare, education, vacation, work and social benefits. Is the war going to resolve these problems?

If this is about the narco-trafficker problem then you know where the narco-traffickers are. For example, the governor of the department of Cesar, Lucas, is a narco-trafficker and he is governor for the second time. His brother is a senator in the National Congress and is in alliance with the president of the Congressional Assembly, Pomanico, who is being investigated for stealing $4.5 million from congress. There is an alliance between narco-traffickers and common politicians, both Liberals and Conservatives. Also, between paramilitaries and the narco-traffickers, everybody knows this.

If you go to Barranquilla the people will tell you where the narco-traffickers are. The police and the commanders of the army battalions and brigades know this. Will the war waged against poor campesinos solve these problems? The war won’t resolve the problems for the hungry and unemployed in Colombia.

Q. How will the FARC effectively implement its new political front, the Bolivariano Movement, if its members remain anonymous?

A. The idea of the Bolivariano Movement is not ours, it doesn’t come from us. It was born with many Colombians 16 years ago when the members of the Patriotic Union were assassinated. It was a legal movement, a democratic movement that participated in the presidential, congressional and municipal elections. And then they began to get assassinated.

When the armed forces, police and paramilitaries began to kill the members of the Patriotic Union they came to us and said, ‘We want to work with you, we like the FARC’s policies. But because of this they will kill us.’ They wanted to work with us, but alone. But the FARC said, ‘No, you can’t work alone. You have to work with your father, your mother, your brother, your neighbor, your girlfriend, your wife, your co-workers, and your classmates. You have to organize, because if we are divided we can’t win.’

But to work in secret? They are right. At this moment was born the idea for the political movement. A political movement that works to recover Colombian society in secret, a movement that’s militant and clandestine. There will be campesinos, students, workers, women and intellectuals who will fight the political confrontation without saying they belong to the Bolivariano Movement. They will not participate in elections because there are no guarantees and conditions that they will not be killed.

First we have to change many customs in this country, like the oligarchy killing political contradictors. This is Colombian history. The world doesn’t know of another country where political contradictors are killed like in Colombia. All of them since we gained independence from Spain. They assassinated Sucre, they tried to assassinate Bolivar, and they assassinated many leaders of the nineteenth century in civil wars. They killed Rafael Uribe Uribe. They assassinated Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, Jaime Pardo Leal, and the Liberal guerrillas that laid down their arms under the government of the dictator Rojas Pinilla. They assassinated 4,000 members of the Patriotic Union, cleansed the Patriotic Union with bullets, and they have followed this practice to kill labor leaders, student leaders, campesino leaders, everybody that has opposed this tyrannic regime. For this reason the Bolivariano Movement remains clandestine.

Q. Many international human rights organizations have demanded that the FARC stop recruiting children. Where does the FARC stand on this issue?

A. In our statutes we have decided that we can recruit 15 year-olds and up. In some fronts there may have been some younger, but a short time ago we decided to send them back home. But what is the cost? In the last year a girl arrived at the office in San Vicente, 14 years-old and wanting to join the guerrillas. When the mother found out that she had joined she contacted the guerrillas and cried and said her daughter is only 14 years-old. In March she was sent back home because the FARC’s Central Command said they would return to their parents all those younger than fifteen. Two weeks ago I met this girl and asked her what she was doing. She said she was working in a bar from 6pm until sunrise. I asked what she was doing in this bar and she said, ‘I attend to the customers.’ When I asked in what way does she attend to the customers, she lowered her head and started to cry. She is a whore. She is 14 years old. A child prostitute. She was better in the guerrillas. In the guerrillas we have dignity, respect and we provide them with clothes, food and education.

And there are millions of others like this girl in Colombia that are exploited in the coal mines, the gold mines, the emerald mines, in the coca and poppy fields. They prefer that children work in the coca and poppy fields because they pay them less and they work more. It sounds beautiful when you say that children shouldn’t be guerrillas, but the children are in the streets of the cities doing drugs, inhaling gasoline and glue. They are highly exploited.

According to the United Nations: 41% of Colombians are children; 6.5 million children live in conditions of poverty, add to this 1.2 million children living in absolute poverty; 30,000 children live in the streets without mothers, fathers and brothers; 47% of children are abused by their parents; and 2.5 million work in high risk jobs. These children meet the guerrillas and they don’t have parents because the military or the paramilitaries killed them and they ask the guerrillas to let them join. We are executing the norm that no children younger than 15 years of age join.

Q. How many women are there in the FARC and what happens when they become pregnant?

A. Aproximately 30% of the guerrillas are women and the number is increasing all the time. The women guerillas are treated the same as the men. Some FARC units have female commandantes and the FARC office in San Vicente is run by a female guerrilla named Nora. Some of the women have relationships with male guerrillas and we provide contraceptives because we do not want pregnant women in the guerrillas. But some do get pregnant and if they don’t have an abortion it is necessary that they leave the guerrillas.

Q. What does the government have to do for the FARC to agree to a cease-fire during negotiations?

A. Stop the fighting on both sides. This cease-fire must be established for a specific time: a month or two months. And besides, it must be verified for both sides. This we understand to be a cease-fire. It was tried many times. Seventeen years ago with Belasario Betancur’s government, when we signed a cease-fire Manuel Marulanda Velez gave the order to all guerrilla fronts to suspend fighting on May 28, 1984, and the president did the same. But the next day, there was an opposing order from the Commander of the Army, General Vega Uribe, saying they won’t comply with the cease-fire order because they have to abide by the Constitution.

We have many times during this presidential period called unilateral cease-fires for Christmas, Easter, elections, many times. The most recent unilateral cease-fire was December 20, 1999 until January 5, 2000. But if we are going to discuss this theme it would be under bilateral proposals with defined times and mechanisms of control and verification. To verify who broke the agreement and why.

This article originally appeared in Colombia Report, an online journal that was published by the Information Network of the Americas (INOTA).