Thursday, September 11, 2008

Hector Mondragón's Personal Response to False Accusations in El Tiempo


On my choice for civil resistance
Hector Mondragon
September 7, 2008

Translator's introduction: this statement is a response to an August 29/08 article in El Tiempo, Colombia's most important daily newspaper.

Colombia's national newspaper, which claims that an email to Hector Mondragon was found on the laptop of FARC guerrilla leader Raul Reyes, who was assassinated by the Colombian government in March 2008. We read
this claim as an attempt to draw nonexistent links between the social
and political movements of which Hector is a part, and the guerrillas,
of which Hector is not, to delegitimize the former and justify
government violence against them.

The following is Hector's Response to the charges:

"To those who know me well, those who work with me, there is no doubt
that I live and practice a total commitment to nonviolence. Risking
everything, giving my whole life to this commitment, I have dedicated
myself to civil resistance, to the struggle for individual and
collective human rights, in a country where the powerful use violence to
impose their interests and where armed groups believe that violence can
be stopped with violence.

Those who know me know very clearly that I am not part of the FARC
(Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), because I disagree with their
strategy, their political line, and their methods.

For 18 years, I have publicly and privately differed from the FARC's
strategy. That strategy is centered on the role of the guerrilla
converted into a revolutionary army, through which the people can seize
power and transform society. Mass mobilization and popular movements are
relegated to a secondary role. This conception has been demonstrated to
be completely inapplicable to Colombia. The FARC were once stronger than
other organizations that emphasized the military over the political:
later, for reasons that were probably related to the way that the Union
Patriotica were massacred*, the FARC came to underestimate mass struggle
and dedicated themselves to military strength as a first priority. This
is a political error. It has become a tragedy for popular struggles. It
has permitted the strengthening of the extreme right, which today is
running the country. Not only has it failed to stop the displacement of
hundreds of thousands of peasants and afro-Colombians, but it has
actually exacerbated that process, and even provoked the forced
displacement of indigenous peoples in various parts of the country.

In the majority of Latin America, it is mass mobilization that has begun
to provoke change and challenge neoliberalism, the dominance of the
transnationals, and the concentration of lands (latifundia). Even in a
country where the agrarian sector has a greater proportional weight,
like Bolivia, mass mobilizations have a primary role in social change.
In Venezuela, too, social sectors in conflict resolve their
contradictions on the terrain of mass struggle.

In Ecuador, in Argentina, and in other countries, the masses have led the way. In each
of these places the level of mass consciousness determines the success
or failure of these torrential mobilizations. In Colombia, on the other
hand, the military conflict has served as a curtain behind which the
extreme right has managed to massacre the union and peasant leadership
and thus impose the destruction of labor rights and the legalization of
displacement from territories.

Despite the tragedy suffered by the Union Patriotica, despite the
physical extermination of 3,000 of its activists, the party had earned
the love of the people. Their struggle for a democratic peace accord
that would open the way to popular participation had won the hearts of
the people. Even though it would have been absurd to continue to expose
senators, representatives, councillors and leaders to assassination on a
daily basis, we need not confuse the need to go into hiding from
murderers and take measures to avoid assassination with a policy of
moving the struggle on to the terrain preferred by power, on the path of
an indefinite war. Many revolutionary and democratic parties in many
parts of the world have had to pass through a period of clandestine or
semi-clandestine work but have maintained a policy of nonviolence
centered on the organization of the people and their mobilization for
their vital interests. In this moment the vital interests of Colombians
are to stop the advance of neoliberalism, defend labor rights, social
rights, and public enterprises, and to win a democratic peace.

The 1991 peace accords could have opened the way for Colombia, which by
now could have been part of the Latin American movement. That Colombia
is an exception to that movement is partly because of those who signed
the accords but abandoned the struggle for social change, but it is
mainly because the accords did not progress to encompass the two largest
guerrilla groups, the FARC and the ELN (National Liberation Army).
Negotiations took place in Caracas towards accords, but they were
frustrated. It is obvious that the right, especially the landholders,
narco-politicians, and some of the transnationals knew they would not
benefit from peace and dedicated themselves to the stimulation of
paramilitarism, assassination, and massacre. But it must be said that
these two guerrilla groups, FARC and ELN, lacked a strategy congruent
with peace accords and lacked an analysis that allowed them to
understand the decisive importance of mass mobilization as the true
focal point for the change we need.

Other serious errors flowed from this mistaken conception of the
guerrillas. The underestimation of the masses, their consciousness and
their struggles, allowed the FARC to justify and to use methods of
warfare, such as pipe bombs in populated areas, that harmed the people,
as I wrote about in my 2005 article 'Toribio attacked'
.
The kidnapping of civilians, which years ago the FARC considered a
mistaken method of struggle, has become a central tactic of theirs,
reaching the point where one FARC front ended up displacing some groups
of Nukak indigenous people in order to maintain an area for holding
hostages. For some years we have known that some of the murders of our
beloved popular leaders or activists were actually committed by the
FARC. In various cases activists have to fear not only the government or
the paramilitaries, but the FARC. This has especially affected the
indigenous movement. How could the majority not reject these actions by
the FARC? What I have written here I have also said every day in the
indigenous and peasant regions where I have worked. I have tried to say
it so that they could hear it, in the hopes that it might produce some
change in their actions, but even though they have at times responded to
the demands of indigenous peoples, the problems keep occurring because
they are based on erroneous conceptions.

I wanted to state these strictly political concerns first, to summarize
the analysis that I have held to and deepened over 18 years. To these I
must also add my personal commitment to nonviolence, which, although it
is also essentially political, need not be shared by those who do not
share my faith, nor by those who consider the legal right to the use of
violence in self-defence to be legitimate.

The guerrillas came into being as self-defence for peasants against the
assassinations and massacres perpetrated by agents of the state and
landowners. The paramilitaries were formed with the pretext of fighting
the violence of the guerrillas. The country has has suffered a chain
reaction of violence. The beneficiaries have been the mafias, the
'gamonales' (politically-connected major landowners), and especially
transnational capital, interest groups who continue to change the rules
to tilt the playing field in their favour.

Since 1994 I have opted for a personal commitment to nonviolence as the
way to contribute to radical social change. I renounced the use of arms
in self defence under any circumstance. I got rid of two revolvers that
I had legally carried since I had been threatened with assassination for
my belonging to the Union Patriotica. I stopped working with bodyguards
because I did not want to save my life at the expense of another. I
ended up abandoning all routines, and thus the possibility of a stable
job, in order to avoid being assassinated. I believe in the struggle for
radical social change but I believe it must be accompanied with a
radical change of method, the abandonment of armed struggle and the
abandonment of the notion that the end justifies the means. The radical
means of nonviolence can help us reach the objective of truly radical
social change.

I have publicly maintained my commitment to struggle for radical social
change. Radical change, as Carlos Gaviria teaches, means going to the
root, not believing that a cosmetic change is a deep one. It is not
about replacing one corrupt, right-wing government with another. It is
not about exchanging one set of gangsters for another, so that our
friends can rule instead of our enemies. It is not about demonstrating
“governability” without meeting the basic needs of the 80% of Colombians
who live in poverty. Colombia needs deep changes, especially on the land
and in its relationship to the transnationals. And the only way to win
these changes is to deploy the widest civil resistance, to construct
alternatives from the base, and to have massive and committed civil
mobilization. Absolutely everyting I have done in these years, every
single day, has been to work towards this with all my strength and all
my experience.

Today, I still carry wounds from the torture that I suffered in 1977 and
also from 20 years of being threatened with death, pursued by the
paramilitaries. Sometimes I lose hope, especially when I know that some
of my friends have been killed. I ask myself why continue in this
struggle with indigenous people and peasants, why not give up. But then
I am struck again with the passion for the people I love and the
certainty that they deserve lives with dignity, and solidarity. They
failed to kill my body but today they are threatening to kill my words,
and I feel it like a re-opening of my old wounds. But the word is a seed
and it grows, whatever happens, in the peasant on the land, in an
indigenous person in her territory, in Afro-Colombians returning to
their communities, in those who live in the popular neighbourhoods of
the cities who will eat better after the land reform that we will win,
in every working family that will get a just wage for work, there the
word will live. They won't be able to kill it.

Hector Mondragon is a Colombian activist and economist.

/*Translator's note: the Union Patriotica were a political party and
movement of the left, with similar left economic and political positions
and ideas as the FARC guerrillas, that tried to enter the Colombian
political arena in the 1980s. Thousands of them were assassinated./

/-Translated by Justin Podur/

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