Colombia must be the only country in the world where the guerrillas die of old age.
Paramount FARC guerrilla leader Pedro Antonio Marín ("Manuel Marulanda") is still kicking – but he will be eighty years old in May. Here is a translation of a concise but compelling memorandum to the near-octogenarian from Colombian journalist and general establishment-figure Miguel Silva, which appeared on the op-ed page of today’s edition of El Tiempo.
Memorandum to "Marulanda"
To: "Manuel Marulanda Vélez"
Re: The moment to engage in politics
I write this memorandum with the belief that nothing said here will move you a single centimeter. If I thought that a few lines in EL TIEMPO would impress you, they would accuse me correctly of being ingenuous. But in order to say something to you that few would (nobody contradicts even an average rich person in this country, so I imagine that few dare to do so before you), now that you approach 80 years of age, this column is worth the trouble.
There are some who say that politics don’t interest you. That the political FARC leader was Jacobo Arenas [who died in 1989]. That you are little more than a military leader. I, however, believe that you, an expert in military affairs, are passionate about politics. Since you turn 80 years old next May 13, it seems to me a good moment for ideas. After all, that is an age at which only a few years remain to arrange worldly affairs and to leave a last mark on this Earth.
The FARC blindly follows what you say, and although there is a Secretariat and those, like "Raúl Reyes," who have been assuming new functions and acquiring new powers, the power in the FARC is you, period.
The FARC never managed to begin what you might have wanted: a prolonged popular war resulting in victory for what you denominated the FARC-EP, Army of the People, with a clear reference to the organization’s military nature. The FARC does not have the esteem of either the urban masses or the rural population. This does not mean that democratic government institutions have much favor among these groups – perhaps they don’t – but anyone who tries to argue that the FARC enjoys popular support is simply blocking out the sun with his hands. The FARC is feared or hated, not admired.
Nevertheless, the FARC has managed to maintain an armed conflict for 40 years, and although 15,000 men in arms do not seem too many in a country of 40 million people the size of France, Spain and Portugal combined, it is enough to observe the growth of official military spending to understand how the FARC represents a challenge to the government and all Colombians.
But if everything remains the same, there will be no important changes in the balance of power. You and the Secretariat must know that, athough I suppose it isn’t part of your afternoon chats in [the longtime guerrilla stronghold of] La Macarena. There will be attacks on populations that are successful, one or another kidnapping that makes income or headlines, but not much else. More and more, the FARC will see itself isolated in the international panorama. More and more, they will be called terrorists or narcotraffickers.
There is, however, another alternative. The regional moment demonstrates that an organized left can make progress through politics. Our own national experience indicates that too. The mere existence of Chávez would be a guarantee. The door toward politics is open.
The decision to open that door is in your hands. Three unexpected political gestures would be enough to recover the initiative and make the chessboard change completely: to release Íngrid [Betancourt] and the other kidnap victims; to speak of a unilateral cease-fire, in order to initiate a bilateral one; and to accept international intermediation, without which all dialogue with the government will be unfruitful.
I know that these are all prohibited subjects in the world of the FARC, but the day you take these steps, in terms of pure politics, you will have won more for your people and their ideas than what you have won with 40 years of armed warfare. And you will be able to turn 80 in a Colombia that would have to take into account – not because it would like to do so, but because those are the rules of democracy – what you think.