Yesterday’s marches in Colombia and around the world are the third massive outpouring in just over a year of rejection of the FARC and its practice of kidnapping. (Large-scale rallies took place on July 5, 2007; February 4, 2008 and July 20, 2008.)
These emotional events are proving to be a very effective way to weaken the guerrillas. If the goal is to make the FARC feel isolated and besieged – thus complicating recruitment, encouraging informants and deserters, and discouraging international solidarity – these marches are more effective than military operations.
They are the biggest demonstrations Colombia has seen since 1998-1999, when the guerrillas were at the height of their military capacity. Then, hundreds of thousands of Colombians took to the streets calling for the government and the FARC to negotiate peace. Now, millions of Colombians are calling on the FARC simply to go away, freeing their hostages in the process.
The marches reflect a national mood in which only a minority of Colombians are willing to support negotiations with the FARC, beyond terms of surrender. They rest appear to prefer to pay the cost – which could total several years, thousands of lives, and billions of dollars – of a continued military campaign.
Of course, the FARC have made that choice easy, as they have given very little evidence of flexibility on peace talks or even the terms for negotiating a hostage exchange. It appears that the FARC wants to continue fighting.
All of this benefits President Ãlvaro Uribe, whose hard line that seemed so radical in 2001 is now Colombia’s conventional wisdom.
Where, though, does that leave Colombia’s democratic opposition? What is left for people who support neither Uribe nor the FARC?
Those who believe that the war should be brought to a negotiated, political end are in a bind, because the FARC themselves do not appear to be interested yet. How, then, do they join in efforts to exert political pressure on the FARC without appearing to boost a president whose policies they oppose? How to express anger at the FARC, but also express anger at a president who defends the military’s hardest line, has numerous political supporters tied to paramilitaries, picks ugly fights with the justice system, routinely attacks human rights groups, and calls his political opponents “terrorists”?
Colombia’s opposition has not figured out how to square this circle. The main left opposition party, the Democratic Pole – whom columnist Daniel Samper this weekend compared to a bunch of hippies who take an hour to argue about what drink to order in a restaurant – is on the ropes.
After some internal debate about unduly supporting the president, the Pole decided to participate in yesterday’s marches, but their statement revealed the contortions they had to perform in order to justify doing so. “While the Humanitarian Accord, in the view of Polo President Carlos Gaviria, is still a valid option, ‘the guerrillas must take note and be conscious that the citizens are asking for kidnappings to stop and the conflict to cease.’”
The Democratic Pole’s message continues:
It is important that these citizen protest marches against such abominable acts as kidnapping become institutionalized, but also for causes like forced disappearances, unionist killings, the rule of law, peace and the peaceful resolution of the conflict.
Broad-based citizen marches for these causes would be a wonder to behold. But in the current climate they are sadly unlikely.
In his last column for El Espectador, former BogotÃ¡ mayor Luis Eduardo Garzon, a founder of the Democratic Pole, aimed his frustration at the FARC.
The only successful blow they [the FARC] have dealt is to weaken the opposition. Every day it is harder to exercise opposition, not just for lack of security guarantees, but because the guerrillas’ actions end up giving Uribe more to work with. Those who oppose re-election, those who defend the justice system’s decisions, those who want to warn about the economic and social catastrophe that awaits, those who believe that this must end in a political negotiation and those who wish to humanize the war, among other issues, end up being seen as accomplices of the FARC.
Yesterday’s marches illustrate the opposition’s dilemma. The FARC have left the opposition with no ability to dissent from President Uribe. “Ni con uno, ni con el otro” is not a message that resonates with most Colombians.
Colombia’s non-violent left is being asphyxiated, but right now the FARC are sucking away more oxygen than Uribe is.