Sen. Gustavo Petro, a former member of the disbanded M-19 guerrilla group, is now a prominent senator from the Democratic Pole, Colombia’s united left opposition party. He has played a central role in the effort to expose links between paramilitaries and state officials.
His inquiries into paramilitary ties to President Uribe’s inner circle led Uribe to call Sen. Petro a “terrorist in a business suit” last February.
Now the hostility toward Sen. Petro is coming from the other extreme. On Monday, the FARC guerrillas posted to their website an attack on Petro written by IvÃ¡n MÃ¡rquez, a member of the group’s secretariat.
In open support of the U.S. Southern Command’s Plan Patriota, a foolish sniper shoots at the FARC from his fatuous trench, a demobilized M-19 member named Gustavo Petro. …
For a while Petro has been spraying around some truly stupid things about the FARC. We cannot feel resentment toward the admirable work of so many democratic and revolutionary leaders in the Democratic Pole. What we do feel is suspicion toward personalities like Petro.
The FARC are angry at Petro for several strong statements he has recently made about them. In early July, after news emerged of the death of eleven provincial legislators whom the guerrillas had taken hostage, Petro wrote a letter to Carlos Gaviria, the president of the Democratic Pole, suggesting that the party’s bloc in Congress hold a hearing investigating ties between politicians and the FARC.
I think that our position with respect to the FARC is not sufficiently clear before public opinion. Even though our statutes condemn violence as a way to resolve the countryâ€™s social and political conflicts, Colombian society has not totally and clearly defined the facts that separate us from the FARC. Despite the high number of militants of the democratic left whom this guerrilla group has murdered, the citizenry does not perceive our absolute and categorical rejection of that movement [the FARC].
Petro went further in an early September interview with the Colombian newsmagazine Cambio.
Q: Why is the Democratic Pole so timid in its rejection of FARC violence?
Petro: The Pole’s position is clear. What happens is that the [Uribe] government and its friends want the Pole to criticize the FARC from the right, but we criticize them from the left – which is the critique that really does them damage. For example, President Uribe calls them terrorists, but we say that they are like Pol Pot’s movement in Vietnam [sic.], one of the most criminal and anti-democratic in history. We say that the FARC are not revolutionaries, that they are not leftists, that in fact that they are right-wingers and criminals.
Being attacked by both Uribe and the FARC is bad for Sen. Petro’s security; the senator may indeed be the most frequently threatened individual in Colombia. But it is a good place to be, politically, for someone positioning himself as a left-of-center presidential candidate in 2010. Having enemies on the hard right and the violent left can only help Petro’s credibility with the average Colombian voter.
Petro’s words, however, have been poorly received within his own party. According to today’s El Tiempo, twenty-three of the Democratic Pole’s thirty-one directors held an hours-long meeting on Monday to talk about Petro.
One of the tensest moments came with the defeat of a proposal to issue a declaration supporting Petro in the face of the FARC’s criticism. Only six of those in attendance were on the senator’s side.
Carlos Gaviria, the party’s president, added in an interview this morning: “Just as the Catholic Church cannot suddenly found a Lutheran wing, Dr. Petro cannot found an Uribista wing of the Pole.”
Why would the Democratic Pole not identify itself fully with Petro’s criticism of the FARC? The party’s leaders say that Petro is behaving like a loose cannon, making very controversial statements on a key issue without consulting the party. (Petro responds, “I don’t have to ask permission to say that a war crime is a war crime.”)
More practically, and perhaps more convincingly, much of the Pole’s membership does not want to close the door to a role in an eventual peace process. They reason that the principal leftist political party should be there to help ease the guerrillas’ transition from violent to non-violent political action. They fear that Petro’s tough talk jeopardizes that possible future role. They worry that it plays into the strategy of President Uribe and other proponents of continued war instead of negotiations.
For its part, the FARC has been making overtures lately to the rest of the Democratic Pole. Guerrilla spokesman RaÃºl Reyes recently suggested that Uribe be replaced “by a coalition … for example a government of the Pole,” in which the FARC would seek to participate. In another interview, Reyes praised the Pole for including in its ranks “true revolutionaries … and many progressive, patriotic and anti-imperialist people.” (Reyes’ statements gave President Uribe and prominent supporters in the media new ammunition for political attacks on the Democratic Pole; politicians dropped subtle hints that an affinity exists between the party and the armed group.)
Why does the FARC suddenly have kind words for the Pole – whose members, it was thought, most guerrillas viewed as “sellouts” for their rejection of armed struggle? It could owe to a new-found guerrilla desire to participate in national politics. Or perhaps it is an effort to divide the Democratic Pole, which is a fragile coalition of centrist and radical leftists seemingly always on the verge of splintering. An internal split would weaken the Pole politically, which might help the FARC by discrediting non-violently “working within the system” as a possible path to power.
That’s what Sen. Petro seems to think. He told El Tiempo yesterday,
The FARC want to divide the Pole in order to defeat it. They are unhappy with the Pole because they know that the possibility of a democratic government is what will make them lose their reason for being.