Interview with FARC president Rodrigo Londoño, Timochenko

Rodrigo Londoño speaks of the current political issues and challenges facing Colombia.

His name is Rodrigo Londoño, better known by his guerrilla name, Timochenko.

He has been a high commander of the Colombian guerrilla movement, FARC-EP (Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces - People’s Army), the biggest (in number) and old guerrillas in that South American country.

Timochenko is currently the President of the People’s Alternative Revolutionary Force Party (FARC). As part of the Final Peace Agreement signed by the FARC and the Colombian government the guerrilla movement transformed itself into a legal political party.

Suffering from a health problem in the middle of the electoral campaign during the first round of the presidential elections, earlier this year, Timochenko had to withdraw from the contest.

The FARC party contested the parliamentary elections in March but its main commitment is ensuring the Final Peace Agreement is implemented.

While the guerrillas have complied with all aspects of the agreement involving them (from the abandonment of arms to the organisation of projects for the reintegration of former fighters to civilian life), the government has not complied and in fact the victory of the right wing candidate, Ivan Duque, at the presidency of the country certainly makes things more difficult.

Indeed, paramilitary structures have not been dismantled and this is one of the biggest problems when it comes to the implementation of the Final Agreement.

Safety and right to life are the main concern in Colombia right now: the past one month 19 social leaders and human rights defenders have been murdered. The number increases to 128 if we count from the beginning of the year.

Many former guerrillas have also been killed and so are family of the former fighters.

FARC President Timochenko talked to ANF English service about the political and institutional issues concerning Colombia as well as the current challenges that go beyond the conjunctural phase in search for the new country the ex-guerrillas continue to fight for.

The first question is personal but also required. How is your health?

The recovery in health is practically finished. I feel perfectly, and I have already assumed the various political tasks at the head of the party leadership.

Let's talk about the recent Colombian presidential election with a winner, the uribista and right wing Ivan Duque, who has spoken in rather concerning terms about the peace agreements.

To what extent do you think Duque can reverse the Havana agreements?

The Havana Agreements are that, agreements of will from which obligations derive for both signatory parties.

The Democratic Centre has been characterized by its open policy against peace and reconciliation solutions in our country, and now, as it came back to the Presidency, it will try to fulfill its purposes unilaterally.

However it will have serious difficulties in doing that. The country has changed, it is not the same Colombia of the first years of Uribe's government.

The Havana Agreements are protected by constitutional norms and international recognition. And there is a huge number of Colombians willing to defend them in the streets.

The class struggle did not stop with the Agreements, it assumed, this is true, different forms. And we are working within these forms.

Recently the Colombian Parliament made some changes to the JEP (Special Jurisdiction for Peace), and there is talk of more substantive ones coming.

How can you prevent the JEP from being denatured?

If something seems to worry the Colombian far right, it is the possibility that the country and the world know the truth about the half a century long Colombian conflict.

The integral system of truth, justice, reparation and non-repetition that was agreed upon in Havana, and of which the Special Jurisdiction for Peace is a fundamental component, is therefore the favourite target of civil sectors engaged in great crimes. They will make every effort to prevent their historical impunity from being touched, no matter what.

But just as I told you before, the country is no longer the same. The uribista charm has declined considerably and other criteria will end up prevailing.

The negotiations with the ELN (National Liberation Army) do not seem to have many perspectives, especially in a national and regional context marked by the advancing of the rights.

How do you see the options that Peace as an objective is a true, real and definitive process for Colombian society, as well as stated in the agreements of Havana.

Peace, the end of the armed confrontation among Colombians, is a latent aspiration in the heart of the immense majority of our citizens.

The right seeks to humiliate the adversary, reduce it and punish it in an exemplary manner, subjecting it to derision and presenting it as the one responsible for everything that happened.

There lies the great difference. We Colombians have the historic task of unraveling what really happened and is happening. It is a long process that has gone through very important stages such as the Havana Agreements with the FARC.

The ELN seeks to find its own way and it is important that it boldly assumes the new challenges of the struggle. We believe that peace can no longer be reversed, that Colombia will end up overcoming the era of violence.

What assessment have you made of the first experience in the political-electoral field as a party? And how are you organizing work in the society?

We are a new force that arrived on the electoral scene preceded by a campaign of defamation and enormous discrediting.

The big media, owned by powerful economic interests, have been taking action against us for years and that plays an important role in the mentality of the people.

The electoral reform that was agreed in Havana was not carried out and we were the target of numerous official sabotage, as happened with the hold off of resources for the campaign. The fact that our candidates to the Congress in any case occupied seats, whether or not they won the necessary votes, moved many people to lean towards other options with a practical sense.

We also had to deal with our inexperience, with the improvisation that the immediacy  of events impose on us. In any case, we obtained considerable support, for each militant there were at least five voters.

We are just beginning. But look at the election result in the presidential elections.

The vote obtained by Petro is the vote of the people who are for peace, for the implementation of the Havana Agreements, for great transformations. It is a vast and growing movement .

The case mounted against Jesus Santrich, along with other actions such as the threatened cancellation of some ETCR, are certainly bad signals.

One can look at the negative elements and throw on his back the darkest of pessimisms. But you can also look at the great advances of consciousness, organization and mobilization of nonconformity in our country.

For the first time in history, all the forces of the right, militarism and corruption were forced to join in a single front to avoid defeat at the hands of the progressive, democratic and revolutionary sectors.

This means that there are great expectations and hopes for change. The fact that we cross with obstacles and traps along the way is to be expected: we fight against a historically treacherous oligarchy.

A revolutionary cannot stop taking risks, on the contrary he/she must know how to prepare and organize himself to defeat them.

That is what it is about and that is what we are.

There is someone who complies (the FARC) and someone who, on the contrary, of course, makes very little effort.

How is society reacting to this? And how is the left more generally reacting, since a broad front has voted for Gustavo Petro at the Presidential elections?

The reaction of Colombian society has been the very high vote that Gustavo Petro achieved at the presidential elections.

These are conscious votes for peace and the implementation of the agreement, contrary to the votes for Duke, obtained through a campaign of lies and tricks.

I do not know to what extent it is valid to differentiate Colombian society and the left that voted for Petro. I think rather that the left has managed for the first time to overcome its traditional consent vote and has reached many non-conforming Colombians who want a change.

The Havana Agreements were endorsed by very diverse international actors. What role do these countries, and personalities, guarantors and supporters, need to play in order to comply with the agreement?

It would be wrong to want to draw lines of action to the international community. Composed by the European Union, various governments of the old continent, the United Nations, etc., it played a very important role in the final concretisation of the Peace Agreements.

The Santos government felt, to a large extent, international pressure to accelerate and deepen the implementation of the agreements.

We believe that the pressure will be greater for Duque, to whom a sector of his party, the most radical, aims to push towards a bolder breach and unilateral transformation of what was agreed in Havana.

Different international mechanisms will end up playing their role, we are sure. The credibility that the FARC won in the community as a result of our compliance with the word we gave, will end up turning against any tricky government.