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The march for peace: neither plebiscite nor failure, a step forward

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The March for Peace Democracy and Defence of the Public sector that took place on April 9 (2013) is a clear reflection of the path taken by Colombian society --  social and political forces -- in the face of the process of peace,  and it gives us a reference point to foresee what could happen in the future.

With respect to the participation of demonstrators one must underline the mobilization of Bogotá.  There was a great multitude.  Hundreds of thousands of people marched from various meeting places in the city.  Nevertheless, at the national level it was only in Pasto (Nariño), Puerto Asís and some other departmental capitals (Villavicencio, Bucaramanga, Pereira) that the presence of demonstrators was important.

It should be noted that this is the first occasion where there has been a general call to citizens to join en masse in support of the peace process that is taking place in Havana (Cuba) to reach an agreement on the end of conflict.  As a first step it was fully successful.

One cannot say that it was a historic march. Much more is needed.  It should involve several million people across the country.  It should exceed the mobilization for peace of 1997 and that called by Uribe against the FARC in 2008, in order to constitute a real plebiscite for peace.  Nevertheless, this demonstration is a great step forward in the effort to mobilize the majority of Colombians in this direction.

Evolution of positions and attitudes

In addition to the decision shown from the beginning for those behind the Patriotic March and the participation of Gustavo Petro at the head of the mayor's office of Bogotá,  the outstanding feature of the day was that the government of Juan Manuel Santos -- including those commissioned to take part in the negotiations in Havana -- even though somewhat delayed,  showed an opening to join the demonstration and call on the Colombian people to take part in the march.

In practice the president of the republic didn't fully take part in the march to the Plaza de Bolivar in Bogotá.  He did it symbolically in a parade with State employees in honour of the victims that assembled in the Centre of Historic Memory where, with Gustavo Petro, a tree was planted.  Santos shows that he is still subject to pressure from those who call for "not meeting with terrorists or with those who sympathize with terrorists", and that greater commitment is needed in the struggle for a negotiated peace. He is testing the waters but little by little is casting off.

In any event it is a step forward on the part of the government.  They have begun to take action to mobilize the civil population for the theme of peace. This step is motivated by:

-- The severe attacks against the peace process on the part of "Uribism" and other enemies of the Havana conversations and the need to find popular support for the process itself.

-- The conviction that the signing of an agreement for ending the conflict with the guerrilla organization FARC (and later with ELN) will not happen -- as was hoped -- in clear, speedy and short terms.

-- The imminence of an electoral campaign that is already begun and that makes it necessary to seek out the population to approve the steps taken in the process.

The fact that the government has moved from a vacillating and timid attitude towards greater decision and resolve is evident, and should facilitate steps forward not only at the negotiating table, but in the social climate that these conversations require in order to create an appropriate ambience for the achievement of peace.

One should also underline the support for the peace process on the part of the staff of Antioqueñan businessmen organized in "Pro-Antioquia" for president Santos in Medellin the same day. This is significant.

"Marcha Patriótica" marked an important political success in taking the initiative and making it possible for other national and district forces and governments joined the initiative.  As the principal initiative, Marcha Patriótica made possible a step forward in proposing an action of this kind together with Progressives of Petro and with the national government.  They have shown that they are not afraid of multiparty alliances and that they are thinking in terms of large popular majorities -- the ones that are not organized -- that should be called upon with a wide and inclusive vision.

Gustavo Petro played a key role in symbolically unifying the demonstrations.  He was with Santos in the commemoration of the victims and was at the head of the march in the Plaza de Bolivar.  Alongside Piedad Córdoba he headed the call to unite the majority of Colombians around the cause of peace without fear or small-mindedness in the fact of the fact that a substantial advance in the peace process could --objectively -- have a positive impact on Santos's reelection campaign.

Meanwhile the Polo Democrático Alternativo (PDA) indicated support for the peace process but did not call upon their rank and file to take part in the march because the Santos government had responded to the convocation.  The fear that they might appear to side with those who support the reelection of Santos led them to refuse to engage in the struggle for peace in the political arena where greater capacity for action and risk is demanded.

Strict balance

It is important to weigh carefully the factors involved in order to avoid easy optimism and willful exaggeration of the facts. Look:

-- At the national level it has not been possible to mobilize the ordinary citizen.  In Bogotá and Pasto the impact was somewhat greater.  It had a significant impact but was not enough to overcome the skepticism that remains in the population at large.

-- The government of Juan Manuel Santos scratched the surface in its first mobilization for peace.  Their participation was centred on the theme of the victims of the wars in order not to scare the military forces.  Still, it amounted to a step forward, a step in the right direction.

-- The attitude of the majority of mayors and governors was hesitant, fearful and calculating. The government was involved at the last moment and did not achieve a generalized national impact.

-- Three sectors joined in the march for peace.   Marcha Patriótica launched a call for action, Gustavo Petro and progressive elements joined decisively and finally the national government -- under pressure from Uribist attacks -- decided to call on the people to march.

-- The Polo Democrático Alternativa once more made a grave mistake.  They showed themselves to be fearful, small-minded and insecure.  They opted for short-term political measures in the face of a significant and major question such as the achievement of peace.  They were isolated and ended up siding with Uribism.


Colombian democratic forces (progressive and revolutionary) want Santos to commit himself to the cause of peace.  They want him to face the enemies of peace without fear on every level.  They want him to call on the people to join this cause.  We want him to join the tens of millions of Colombians, to take part in the marches and other events and add the weight of government to the process.

The cause of peace will be achieved with this overwhelming torrent of public opinion and the massive participation of ordinary citizens.  The participation of "organized" groups, whether those on the left or those of progressive democracy, is hardly enough. It is only through the participation of these solid majorities that we can advance as a nation and as democratic forces.

Petro -- one can say -- is closer to the wavelength of different scenarios, of institutions, including the military (they have to be involved) as well as organized sectors.  Inside the Marcha Patriótica more clarity is needed beyond the notion of "we support the process of conversations but we do not support Santos".  The reality is that those who support the present peace process partially supports Santos (as Piedad Córdoba clearly does), but this is not the same as a marriage or a divorce with a possible Santos candidature.

In the face of all this we can affirm that the whole Colombian left needs a unified political strategy (including electoral strategy).  This would allow us to act with greater coherence and readiness in the struggle for public opinion and the support of popular majorities. Such a strategy will enable the left to come to grips with Santos as well as with other sectors that are either vacillating or opposed to the process of peace.

Democratic and leftist groups can create a basis for social justice in the peace process if they develop such a wide and inclusive strategy.  If this is not done, everything will be played out and decided in the narrow framework of the Havana negotiations.

P.S.   The March for Peace comes at the same time as the strengthening of the FARC delegation at the table in the conversations and negotiations in Havana, with new people in the representation of this insurgent organization. This is good news.

(Translation: Jordan Bishop)


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