The Marcha Patriótica

Jun 1, 2012 | News

By FOR Colombia
Friday, June 1, 2012, 11:54am

The Marcha Patriótica’s Potential Role in Ending the Colombian Conflict

Up to 100,000 Colombians marched in Bogota on April 23, launching the “Patriotic March,” the Marcha Patriótica. Alejo Vargas Velásquez comments.

The important protest formalized the creation of a new social and political movement of great relevance in Colombian life, the Marcha Patriótica (MP). The MP movement groups together not only traditional communist and agrarian reform groups, but encompasses rural farmer movements, student groups, unionists, and other liberal groups. The MP refers to an important sector of leftist political opinion, which has the right to be respected and not be stigmatized.

This new movement cannot be considered just a new edition of the Union Patriotica (UP), even though survivors of that party are part of this new group; the genocide that wiped out the UP in the 1980s is a painful and embarrassing chapter of our Colombian democracy. The Colombian Left is in a process of reconfiguration, which may include the creation of new sectors in the political and social Left that would be great for Colombian democracy. Perhaps in the 2014 elections, we will see new leaders in the Left.

Some voices in the Colombia media have considered the creation of the MP to be contradictory while there is still an armed conflict on behalf of the FARC. In response to this, it is necessary to state that these are two separate things. One dynamic is the armed conflict, which will not end until the armedFARC members and the state themselves make the decision to end the fighting. The second dynamic is the political movement that has created the MP. These are two separate things and we cannot equate one with the other, as doing so puts members of this new political movement at extremely high risk.

However, the question persists of what sort of role the political Left and social organizing, particularly theMP, could have in politically ending the internal armed conflict.

With reason, it’s difficult that leftist social movements accept being discussed in the same political space with the leftist armed organizations. A unified left could play an important role, with the rest of the political parties, to make a stage where legitimate social demands from different regions and sectors can be discussed. It could be something like two parallel scenes: the first between the state and armed organizations in which the fundamental issue is that of legal and political plans for current members of these  organizations. And the second between the state and political organizations in which the fundamental issue is to create a social agenda in response to the structural effects of the armed conflict. This would be the space to discuss public policy and plans such as the restitution of land, restitution for victims, and land granted to the most impoverished. In the second space, leftist social and political movements, particularly the MP, could be legitimate spokespeople for the social demands of distinct social sectors, particularly in regions that have historically been heavily impacted by the perverse effects of the internal armed conflict.

The political and social Left, playing clearly within the rules of democracy, could be a protagonist not only to create favorable social environments for the end of the armed conflict, but also to convince the insurgent armed groups themselves of the necessity to end the cycle of the armed fight. In this respect, the most important step would be to promote discussion within these groups about the necessity to end the use of violence in Colombian politics and convince them of the large role these groups could play in contributing to the peace process and creating a fair and democratic social and political Left.

Obviously the social and political Left also has the option not to wish to play this important role toward peace for Colombia and continue as a protest movement; equally the state has to be willing to take on the role of guaranteeing democratic conditions. The Colombian state has the responsibility to guarantee the social and political Left safety, just as it has to guarantee all other citizens safety, so that they can carry out their work without being persecuted for their political practice or beliefs. In the same vein, the mass media has the obligation to inform the public in a responsible way, without stigmatizing these political movements. And obviously, the social and political Left has the responsibility to act clearly within the rules of democracy.

Alejo Vargas Velásquez is a professor at the National University of Colombia, where he coordinates a research group on security and defense. This article was translated by Gina Spigarelli and abridged fromSemanario Virtual Caja de Herramientas.