‘Sooner or later there will be peace talks’
FARC is entering legal politics and becoming a political party. We spoke with writer Metin Yeğin about the Colombian peace process on World Peace Day.
The “peace process” between the Turkish state and the PKK is long gone. The path Recep Tayyip Erdoğan set on for a solution ended with an increase in security policies and turned into war. Even though the war has reverted to what it was, and even took a worse form, the possibility and inevitability of “peace” still stands.
A “peace” is not visible in the near future for the Middle East and Turkey, but Colombia continues to mend the wounds of the decades long war. Efforts for a peace treaty continued for a year and resulted in concrete steps in 2017, and as a result of the treaty signed between the Colombian state and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC), the FARC is taking the next step of becoming a legal political party. With the laying down of weapons in such a short time as only six months and with UN approval, in just one year, the treaty is being implemented. Journalist-writer Metin Yeğin spoke to the ANF about the FARC choosing legal politics on September 1, the conditions that paved the way for legalization of FARC and the Colombian peace talks.
A peace treaty was signed between the FARC guerrillas and the state in Colombia. Now FARC is taking the first step into legal politics. Can you tell us how these concrete steps are reflecting in the country?
One of the points in the peace treaty was the FARC being able to engage in legal political struggle. The biggest problem in Colombia since the guerrillas first emerged was indeed the inability to pursue legal politics. This is included in peace treaties signed by other guerilla organizations too, of course, but it was quite important that one of the peace points be the transition into a legal political party. Before this, the first step was the laying down of arms. This was completed quite fast, unlike in other countries. For me that was surprising. It happened in just six months, and when I asked the FARC Secretary General Ricardo Tellez during my time there, he said: “We know very well what we have, and we will have delivered the arms in 6 months. Because we have a high degree of control over our situation.” It could be said that more or less that is what happened. 90-95% of the weapons have been delivered to the UN, and the UN approved it. The right-wing politicians had little left to say after that. Because they claimed the promises wouldn’t be kept, but that is not what happened, and concrete steps of the peace treaty were taken accordingly. The FARC will participate in the elections to be held in 2018, and they have been given a guaranteed ten deputies regardless of the vote they get. So they will be in the parliament under all circumstances. I believe they will easily achieve that number of votes in any case. But still, there is this, guerilla organizations don’t usually achieve great success in the first elections, even though they may be in alliance with other legal parties.
For instance, the FMLN Front (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front - Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional) experienced this in El Salvador in the first elections. And the guerillas in Guatemala were not successful right away. I asked a guerilla leader in Guatemala why that was, and he said: “Think of it this way: You were playing basketball before, and now you switch to football. So, it’s an issue of two completely different forms of organization.” So the legal political process will not be easy, at all. I’m not sure if it’s alright to say this, but in a country like Colombia where violence has seeped into the very core, it will be extremely difficult.
The articles in the peace treaty are being implemented, but the human rights defenders in the country still say that the Colombian peace is precarious. They say this is due to the paramilitary forces influencing the field. You also mentioned violence seeping into Colombia’s very core. Will that reignite war in the country? Or does the state have any practices to disband the paramilitary forces?
The guerrillas were very insistent in defending peace. When the paramilitary forces attacked, they considered it a conspiracy against peace talks. One of the commanders I met with when I was there has been abducted, he is in their hands still. Even as they laid down arms, these attacks started. The attacks were there during the referendum. 17 people were abducted in one day and there were murders. But they kept the peace process going despite everything. What’s going to happen is this: The paramilitary forces will continue with their attacks. The peace treaty does, in fact, include the disbanding of these paramilitary forces, of course, they don’t want that. There is a commission with international and guerrilla observers for the disbanding of the paramilitary forces, but it hasn’t been completely implemented yet. Of course, it’s also important how things will proceed in the future. I think the vote the FARC and the governing party will get will be determining this. So we will see an increase in the attacks. Human rights activists and local leaders who support the ecology struggle will be targeted. In areas with gold mines and large scale dams, in particular, the paid paramilitary forces and the mercenaries will carry out more frequent attacks.
So, wouldn’t the development of legal politics or the disbanding of the paramilitary forces be a solution to this violence you say has seeped into the very core of this society?
That is our hope, of course, but I don’t think it’s going to be so easy in the near future. Because El Salvador and Guatemala went through similar phases… So much so that all the paramilitary groups in El Salvador were disbanded actually. The government did directly do what they promised. The guerrillas there were also very strong, and 20 percent of the guerrilla forces joined the police forces as per the treaty. This was an important point to avoid a possible coup. This way, the paramilitary units and the death squads were actually disbanded. But the violence still did not disappear, in fact, it increased. Violence just changed form. Mafia organizations sprung up in their place. In the past, it was a war where 7-8 people died, now it’s a downward spiral of violence where 20-25 people lose their lives. What is peculiar is that El Salvador is a country with a population of 5 million. 100.000 of the population were in the security forces. This was reduced to 20.000 in the peace process. As required by the peace treaty, 20 percent of this 20.000 were the guerrillas. Now the government and the FMLN, the former guerrillas, want to increase that number due to security concerns. And that is a contradiction, after all it was their peace treaty that reduced the number in the first place. This just goes to show how difficult it actually is. Maybe if the “land reform” in the FARC treaty can be implemented in an organized way, and if these lands are partially democratized, maybe a stronger peace can emerge, I’m hoping.
As a journalist who followed closely the peace talks in Colombia, do you think it is possible for a similar situation to re-emerge in Turkey?
It has to be. Maybe it will be difficult in the short run because the government is actualizing itself through more violence, we can say they are trying to keep their bases. All governments are like this, of course, but here it was more prominent. Governments and guerrilla organizations throughout the world don’t sit down for peace because they love each other so much, they do so because they can’t defeat each other. This reciprocal inability to defeat the opponent will continue, in my opinion. So, sooner or later there will be peace talks. Looking back now, if the solution process ended positively, of course, that wasn’t the case because of the government, but if it had, Turkey would possibly become the strongest country in the Middle East. The balance in the Middle East today would be very different. I think people who think everything happens due to outside influence are strange, but in this case, I do feel like the failing of the peace process did involve intervention from other forces as well.
Peace will eventually be achieved. But we must look at how much we will be involved with it. Peace doesn’t come through sitting and watching, unfortunately. I believe one of our biggest mistakes was to put the responsibility for the peace process onto the shoulders of certain social groups and remain as spectators on the outside. The peace process calls for participation.