Excellent piece on the civil war in Colombia and the prospects for peace by Fidel Castro. Castro has been writing these rambling articles on this and that ever since he retired.
In this piece, he also discusses the Salvadoran revolution. The party of the Salvadoran revolution, the FMLN, recently won the elections in El Salvador, and they now hold power. However, they are pretty limited in what sort of reforms that they can carry out, and Salvadoran society is still extremely divided between Left and Right, almost as bad as US society.
In the 1980′s, I used to contribute money to the FMLN’s weapons fund. That’s probably illegal now with all the anti-terrorism laws. I understand I could get up to 10 years for that now, but at the time, I think it was pretty much legal. If I want to support some Left revolutionaries in some far-off continent, what business is that of my government? How am I a “supporter of terrorism,” and what does it matter to the US state anyway, since such “terrorism” has no effect on the US whatsoever?
Castro tells about how he advised the Salvadoran rebels to release all of their non-criminal POW’s. Otherwise, Castro said, the enemy will never want to surrender. This is exactly what the FMLN did. They would give the non-criminal soldiers a chance to join the rebels, and if they did not want to, they would release them to the Red Cross.
Meanwhile any rebel in Salvadoran military custody, would, under the advise or US advisers, torture any FMLN captives to death. If they were wounded, they would be denied medical care and tortured to death. Hence a number of FMLN wounded committed suicide rather than be captured.
Castro said he always opposed the FARC taking Colombian army soldiers captive in brutal conditions in the jungle because, he said, that way, hardly any soldiers would surrender. Castro’s advice seems to be excellent. Castro also said he opposed capturing noncombatants. Such tactics have given the FARC a black eye in the eyes of many.
Castro also pointed out that the FARC was never able to defeat a large Colombian force with artillery and air power, while the Cuban rebels were. While the FARC did many amazing things militarily, this weakness implied tha they would not be able to seize power Manuel Marulanda, the former leader of the FARC, always had hopes for an army of 30,000 rebels being sufficient to seize power. Castro did not feel that an army that size would be enough to seize power in Colombia.
Castro also casts doubt on the murder of Roque Dalton, the famous FMLN revolutionary and poet, but Dalton was almost surely murdered by his fellow rebels as a suspected CIA spy. Dalton was probably innocent however.
All in all, a nice, albeit rather rambling, piece by Castro. He has a nice, chatty style. I rather like. Plus he is one my all-time heroes!
Peace in Colombia
By Fidel Castro
This is a topic I promised to write about. It was not easy to do. Other responsibilities have taken up my time. Now I am fulfilling my promise.
Was my analysis of Marulanda and the Communist Party of Colombia published in my Reflection of July 5, 2008, objective and fair? No one can ever be certain his point of view is completely free of subjectivity; one always runs the risk of seeming to be unfair. Whoever affirms anything must be willing to demonstrate what he says and why he says it.
My disagreement with Marulanda’s conception is based on living experience, not as a theoretician but as a political person who confronted and had to resolve very similar problems, both as a citizen and a guerrilla, although Marulanda’s problems were more complex and difficult.
It would be incorrect to think that Colombia and Cuba began with the same set of conditions.
We did share an initial absence of a revolutionary ideology—since nobody is born with it—and of a program to later bring about the construction of socialism. I do not question at all the integrity either of him or of the Communist Party of Colombia; to the contrary, they are worthy of respect because they were revolutionaries, anti-imperialist fighters, a cause to which they devoted dozens of years of struggle. I will explain.
When the respected and popular leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán1 was assassinated on April 9, 1948, Pedro Antonio Marín, a poor peasant who later took the name Manuel Marulanda in honor of a Colombian who died in the Korean War, joined the Liberal Party’s guerrilla movement. He was only eighteen years old.
There are few accounts of his life, although enough to satisfy the curiosity of a reader who wants to get a rough idea of the facts. I have looked into various sources.
The most systematic treatment was by Arturo Alape, the famous Colombian historian, whose investigative rigor I can attest to, owing to his relations with me. It is difficult to imagine even a single detail escaping him. He met with Marulanda and the guerrilla forces many times. He spent months with them scrutinizing the motives and objectives of their difficult struggle. I can vouch for the accuracy of his information.
But that is not the only source. We also have the accounts of Jacobo Arenas, an intellectual and Communist leader assigned by his party to the peasant sector, which is an essential component of the revolution in Colombia.
The Communist Party of that sister country, like the other Communist parties in Latin America, large or small, were disciplined members of the International while it formally existed. They followed the line of the Communist Party of the USSR. During the Cold War they continued suffering repression on account of their ideas. The imperialist and oligarchic media unleashed its fury on them.
The rise of the Cuban Revolution, with absolutely no ties to the USSR but based on the teachings of Marxism-Leninism, stirred up contradictory, although not antagonistic feelings. In our country we overcame these and forged a unity, although not without contradictions or sectarian feelings between the members and sympathizers of the old party with advanced political education, and sectors of the petty bourgeoisie who were radicalized but were permeated with the phantom of anticommunism.
The victories of the Rebel Army, as the guerrilla forces were initially called, were the decisive factor in the subsequent phase of the revolution. This explanation is necessary for understanding the essence of the relations between Cuba and the revolutionaries of Latin America.
We who organized the movement that sought to take power on July 26, 1953, had a clear idea of our objectives, and this remained constant. The combatants came from the poor layers of our people, and none of them were opposed to our aims; the old party was our friend, even before that attack. Everyone who fought against the tyranny contributed to a common cause.
Out of the singular experience on a small island 90 miles from the United States, with a military base imposed on its own territory, came our viewpoints regarding Latin America. We did not have, however, the right to interfere in the internal affairs of any other country apart from the inevitable impact of events.
Unfortunately, the governments of the other countries—with the exception of Mexico, still under the influence of its social revolution at the beginning of the century and the brilliant patriotic and anti-imperialist role of Lázaro Cárdenas—under U.S. pressure, broke both moral standards and legal principles to join in the aggression against Cuba.
They exploited the existence of revolutionary Cuba in order to get crumbs from imperialism. Anyone who resisted was simply overthrown without further ado.
The United States organized armed groups and terrorist groups supplied by air and sea. They planted bombs, burned social and economic installations, including theaters, child-care centers, factories, sugar plantations, warehouses, department stores and other targets, snuffing out lives or maiming Cubans through their traitorous actions. Even teachers and young literacy instructors were tortured and murdered.
This isn’t just my opinion; they are recounted in declassified CIA documents.
One outstanding and notorious fact, known to all, is that on April 15, 1961, combat aircraft and installations of our air force were attacked by planes with Cuban insignia; two days later, mercenary forces backed by the U.S. Navy—including an aircraft carrier—and the Marines, landed at the Bay of Pigs. What did the governments of the Americas, with the exception of Mexico, do? They supported the United States in its genocidal war against the Cuban people.
Later the CIA launched viral and bacteriological attacks against our population and our plantations. What did the governments of our sister countries do?
The U.S. government pushed the world to the brink of nuclear war, because they refused to give up the idea of a direct attack on Cuba, using its powerful military. That would have cost an incalculable loss in lives and destruction, since the Cuban people, as is well known, would have resisted to the last drop of blood.
When the Dominican Republic was invaded in April 1965, the governments of Latin America again supported the aggressors.
It is not necessary to add anything more in order to understand that this was the conduct of the military dictatorships that tortured, murdered, and disappeared hundreds of thousands of people in this hemisphere, in complicity with the empire that encouraged them.
From the earliest days, in mass rallies, the Cuban people sent their message, in the First and Second Declarations of Havana, to the fraternal peoples of Latin America. Starting from this reality, one can understand the interest with which we follow political developments in every country in Our America.
I have reviewed numerous notes, reports, and documents relating to Colombia, among them summaries of conversations with individuals who visited Cuba, with whom we had extensive exchanges on the question of peace in Colombia.
In 1950, when a Communist guerrilla made contact with him, Marulanda, who came out of a Gaitanist Liberal group made up in part by his relatives, had evolved toward positions close to the Communists; he criticized them for excessive military formalism and for specific sectarian tendencies in their conception.
Our idea of the guerrilla force as the developing embryo of a force capable of taking power is not based only on the Cuban experience but also on that of other Latin American countries. In all of them the struggles would be carried out by the poor, independently of their level of education, which everywhere, as the exploited classes—worker or peasant, simple day laborers or even soldiers—it was very low.
In Central America, a region victimized by interventions by U.S. filibusterers or soldiers at many different times, nearly all the countries were governed by bloody dictatorships at the time of the triumph of the Cuban Revolution. Without exception, they were accomplices and instruments of imperialism against Cuba.
In their struggle, the revolutionary groups in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala were divided. Sooner or later members of the Communist Party joined the armed struggle of the peasants and the revolutionary petty bourgeoisie. In all of them, with their specific and inevitable characteristics always present, tendencies arose that held to a conception of excessively prolonged struggle.
Cuba’s efforts were aimed at achieving unity.
The meetings and photos of the historic moments in which unity was achieved attest to this. There were guerrillas who wasted years planning victories for the Greek calends. This was a conception that never entered our minds. It is equally true that the eternal fanatical advocates of capitalism, managed by the Yankee intelligence services, planted extremist ideas in the minds of some revolutionaries.
Central America was the site of a clash of ideas.
I remember that during the Carter years, Bob Pastor, a representative of his who made numerous visits to our country, more than once when meeting with me exclaimed, in a way that seemed naive, “And why do you insist so much on unity, unity, unity?” I smiled to myself when I observed the allergic reaction of this young U.S. official to the unity of Latin Americans.
Carter, nevertheless, was an unusual U.S. president, with ethical principles rooted in his religious faith and did not plan assassination attempts against me. That is why I always treated him with respect. Under his presidency, Torrijos succeeded in winning sovereignty over the Canal, avoiding the kind of massacre that Bush Senior later carried out.
The history of Central America would require a book that perhaps someone will write one day. The revolution triumphed in Nicaragua, which meant hope. Reagan launched the dirty war that cost thousands of lives in that country; in Europe he killed the Siberian gas pipeline project in complicity with Thatcher and the rest of NATO; he put the USSR into an irremediable crisis and liquidated the socialist camp. An entirely new situation was created.
A short time ago I was listening to Tarek William, an outstanding Venezuelan poet and today governor of Anzoátgui, the richest of Venezuela’s petroleum states, and he said that they had named one of their social projects after Roque Dalton, prestigious poet and revolutionary, member of the ERP [Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo—Revolutionary People’s Army], assassinated under strange circumstances in El Salvador.
With sadness he gave the name of the presumed assassin. “It causes me great pain,” he stated, “when the Yankees send him here to tell us how we should do things in Venezuela.” I really knew nothing about the shameful act that Tarek accused him of.
I knew this individual when he was a militant and leader of the ERP, a noted revolutionary organization, combative and firm, with magnificent fighters from the people. The allusions to the death of Roque Dalton had seemed to be simple slanders. I personally devoted dozens of hours to transmitting experiences, ideas, tactics and principles of war to him. He did not waiver in applying them.
The units of the ERP fought Salvadoran battalions trained in the United States using the most advanced techniques. I insisted to them: do not execute prisoners, do not finish off the wounded, overcome these stupid and sterile practices because otherwise not one of them will ever surrender. I should add that the arms with which the Salvadoran revolutionaries fought had been seized in Saigon and given to Cuba by Vietnam after the victory.
As will be seen in chapter 9, revolutionary militants of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) carried out feats unprecedented in the liberation struggles in Latin America, if one takes into account the number of men and the firing capacity of modern arms.
With the USSR and the socialist camp gone, with the Nicaraguan Revolution defeated electorally because of the bloody dirty war imposed by Washington, the time came for the other Central American movements to make a decision.
They asked my opinion. “Only you can decide,” was my answer, “I only know what Cuba would do.” I will add here that the previously mentioned head of the ERP received a scholarship to Oxford to study political science and economics. From what the governor of Anzoátegui said, he is now a Yankee adviser on the art of revolutionary governing.
The Cuban people withstood the disappearance of the USSR without surrendering and were willing to fight to the end, in order that—as Rubén Martínez Villena said—their children won’t have to beg on their knees for what their parents conquered on their feet.
From the material that has been collected and analyzed, a short book has emerged. Its chapters are about of equal length, although some are longer and some are shorter. We did not want the form to determine the content. Texts that are essential for understanding the problems are included. I use the method of selecting basic ideas as found in the documents.
Making available the basic data is a responsibility of those who really struggle for a better and fairer world.
The objective realities of which Belisario Betancur spoke led Pastrana to what he no doubt did not desire when he assumed the presidency of Colombia for his four-year term between 1998 and 2002.
The United States is not a friend of the peoples of Latin America. For more than a century and a half it intervened in Latin America’s internal affairs, stole its territory, robbed its natural resources, attacked its culture, imposed unequal trade, sabotaged unity efforts going back to the era of independence, promoted conflicts between our countries, exploited the great differences in the heart of our societies.
The nations of Latin America have suffered waves of inflation and economic crisis while other parts of the world developed. Despite emigration, the number of people in extreme poverty rose, as has the number of children compelled to beg in the big cities.
During the last fifty years, military coups and bloody tyrannies, supported and encouraged by the United States, have meant hundreds of thousands of “disappeared,” tortured, and murdered in Central and South America. The coup plotters and torturers were trained in U.S. military schools.
Despite the seriousness of the crime committed against the people of the United States by the terrorist act in New York on September 11, 2001 — putting aside the responsibility of the President for his negligence and the deficiencies of his government’s security bodies—there is no justification for supporting the war Bush declared against “sixty or more dark corners of the world,” among which Latin American countries could be included.
Pastrana, who met often with the guerrilla commander, no doubt could sense the difference between Marulanda’s sincerity and Bush’s cynicism. Peace with Bush and war against Marulanda are two completely opposite things.
The problem of drugs, which today causes so much pain to the peoples of Latin America, in reality originates with the enormous demand in the United States, where the authorities have never decided to combat it energetically while assigning this task solely to the countries where poverty and underdevelopment push masses of peasants into cultivating the coca leaf or poppies instead of coffee, cacao, or other products undervalued in the U.S. market.
It was not in vain that Raúl Reyes told Arbesú that the State Department contacted the FARC, interested in collaborating with it in the fight against drugs. “It was the only thing that interested them,” said Reyes. We can add that when they wanted their “collaboration” the FARC weren’t terrorists!
Marulanda advocated replacing these crops with others, along with social programs and economic compensation. With great realism, he did not see any other way to eliminate them.
This is what Cuba did with illicit crops when the Revolution triumphed. For many months when we were still in the mountains we did not even know what a marijuana plant looked like. The few who grew it were the most adept at going back and forth across enemy lines.
Some extremists on our side wanted to begin putting the growers on trial. I recommended waiting until the war was over. That was how these kinds of crops were eradicated, although there did not exist, of course, the serious and complex problem that Colombia faces today.
Raúl Reyes and Manuel Marulanda are no longer alive. They died in the struggle. One, in a direct attack using new technology developed by the Yankees; the other from natural causes.
I disagreed with the head of the FARC over the pace he assigned to the revolutionary process in Colombia. Over his idea of excessively prolonged war. Over his conception of first creating an army of more than 30,000 men; from my point of view this was neither correct nor economically feasible as the means to defeat enemy ground forces in an irregular war.
He did extraordinary things with guerrilla units that, under his personal direction, penetrated deep into enemy territory. When someone failed to complete a similar mission, he was always ready to show it was possible. He once spent two years traveling over half of Colombia with a unit of 40 men.
The FARC, because of its operational conceptions, never surrounded or forced the surrender of a full battalion backed by artillery, armored units and air power. This is an experience we did have, thus defeating even larger units of elite troops. This is not what happened with the FARC, despite the tremendous quality of its fighters.
My opposition to holding prisoners of war, to applying policies that humiliate them or subject them to extremely harsh jungle conditions, is well known. With these policies troops will never lay down their arms, even if the battle is lost.
Nor was I in agreement with capturing and holding civilians who have nothing to do with the war. I must add that prisoners and hostages make maneuvering more difficult for the combatants. I admire, however, the revolutionary firmness that Marulanda showed and his willingness to fight to the last drop of blood.
The idea of surrendering never passed through the minds of any of us in the guerrilla struggle in our country. That is why I said in one of my Reflections that truly revolutionary fighters should never lay down their arms. That is what I thought 55 years ago. That is what I think today.
I invested more than 400 hours of intense labor in this effort. I revised it carefully following the two hurricanes that hit Cuba with such extreme violence. I am satisfied having done it. I learned much. I have kept my promise.
Fidel Castro Ruz
16 September 2008