From Principled Revolutionaries to Disillusioned Drug Traffickers: barriers to the Farc peace talks

A major step has been reached in attaining a peace deal between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc). At negotiations in Cuba, the government representatives have agreed to Farc’s future political participation, adding to a recent partial agreement on land reform.

Despite these positive steps, four other areas need to be agreed upon for a peace deal to be concluded: disarmament, illicit drugs, rights of Farc victims and the implementation process of any peace deal. The first two items seem particularly difficult to resolve given Farc’s resemblance in recent years of little more than heavily-armed drug dealers.

Farc rebels have become synonymous with guns and drugs
Farc rebels have become synonymous with guns and drugs

As the mirage of revolutionary success has gradually slipped away over the years, many of the Colombian rebels have abandoned their revolutionary principles and attempted to profit materially from their endeavours, recruiting a variety of violent hooligans, traffickers and murderers along the way.

An idea of the more principled nature of some of the early Farc rebels can be gleaned from British Foreign Office documents, and one story from 1976 is particularly illuminating.

At the beginning of that year, members of the Anglo-Colombiano private school travelled to the small village of Uribe on the eastern foothills of the Cordillera, on the edge of the Llanos, to establish a literacy and agricultural education programme for the local populace.

Modern-day Uribe, on the edge of the Llanos
Modern-day Uribe, on the edge of the Llanos

During a stopover in Uribe, the British deputy headmaster of the school, in addition to other staff and pupils, were awakened in their dormitories by the arrival of a group of Farc rebels. Eight guerrillas shepherded the group into the small town square. Despite being afraid of the intrusion, the deputy headmaster acknowledged that none of the Farc were brandishing weapons.

As local villagers were corralled into the square with the school personnel, a 24-year old rebel, calling himself ‘Miguel’, assured the people that they would not be harmed. Rather than harangue the ‘prisoners’ in the town square, Miguel welcomed them and thanked the delegation from the Anglo-Colombiano school for their efforts to initiate a regional literacy programme. It was then that Miguel made his political stand:

He spoke against the government of Lopez Michelsen, the rising cost of living, the lack of health and educational facilities, and American imperialism. The answer to these problems, he said, could only be found through workers’ control. 

Delivering his speech in the pitch dark, Miguel apparently captivated the 100-strong audience, all of whom enthusiastically joined in with the singing of ‘viva las fuerzas revolucionarias’ and ‘viva el comunismo’. Miguel finished by telling the people that his men had no intention of committing robbery or assault, rather they had come in search of food and medicine for which he said they would gladly pay. (This is in stark contrast to some modern Farc rebels who, rather than protect the common villages and workers, pillage their land and extort their businesses).

The only alarm expressed by the deputy headmaster was when, having been returned to their dormitories, he realised that a female student was missing. He was relieved, however, to find that the girl had remained behind talking to one of the rebels, who she described as “muy simpatico y muy churro (dishy)”.

This whole event was later deliberately misinterpreted by the Colombian press, which suggested some 200 guerrillas had invaded the helpless Uribe. This justified an armed response of paratroopers and attack helicopters by the government.

Such personalities as Miguel and his troupe helped win the Farc support amongst both the rural poor and the educated liberal middle class during the 1970s which led to the belief that the communist militants would one day assume control of Colombia.

That they never achieved this may be a blessing given the problems inherent in communist states, yet it has led to the Farc metamorphosing into a quasi-revolutionary, criminal gang, loosely organised under a command incapable of instilling the founding principles of the movement into its current members.

The Farc are still active throughout north-western Colombia, although centralised control is diminishing
The Farc are still active throughout north-western Colombia, although centralised control is diminishing

The peace process undoubtedly still has a long way to go.

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Communism in British Cyprus: where were the Russians?

Cyprus has dominated European financial news for the past few weeks, with the protracted and antagonistic bailout of the country’s banks negotiated between its politicians, the EU and the IMF. An oft-neglected outpost on the Mediterranean, the recent events leading to Cypriot attention would no doubt have displeased its inhabitants.

One of the more unsavoury revelations to emerge from the Cypriot economic crisis is the publicisation of the heavy presence of Russian capital in the country and the suspicion that the sources of such capital are ordinarily tied to criminal enterprises using Cyprus as a money laundering front. 

Russian cultural influences in Cyprus are growing commensurately with the investment of capital
Russian cultural influences in Cyprus are growing commensurately with the investment of capital

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia and Cyprus have developed increasingly close ties. Not only is Cyprus a destination to “hide” illicit Russian funds but the two countries have also tried to solidify military ties. The 1997 negotiation for Cyprus to buy 40 Russian Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAMs) outraged the Turks, leading to a protracted dispute that ultimately led to the missiles being diverted to Greece. Unperturbed, Russo-Cypriot military ties in the form of training, technology transfer and logistical support persist. Furthermore, the two countries seem to share a close intelligence network, particularly when it comes to Russia’s national interests. In 2010, when the United States uncovered a network of Russian sleeper agents within American borders, one of the “Illegals”, Christopher Metsos, fled to Cyprus where he was detained. Before he could be handed over, however, Metsos was mysteriously released on bail and fled, presumably back to Russia.

These close relations testify to Russia’s attempts to counter continuous EU expansion in the Mediterranean. It is therefore ironic that, during an earlier period in Cypriot history, the Russians were not willing to offer the island similar support.

During the 1930s, when Cyprus was a British dominion (1878-1960), a perceived communist threat materialsed on the island that the British believed presented a challenge to their rule. Heavily influenced by the prominent communist movements in nearby Greece, a number of left-wing communist groups and labourers movements emerged in Cyprus.

Hoisting the Union Jack at Nicosia. Britain worried about a communist revolution in 1930s Cyprus
Hoisting the Union Jack at Nicosia. Britain worried about a communist revolution in 1930s Cyprus

The British felt sufficiently concerned about the “red upsurge” that they resorted to legalistic debate about how best to eliminate the budding communist threat. Foreign & Commonwealth Office papers dating from the 1930s highlight the amusing and rudimentary British tactics for justifying a crackdown on communism. Among their chief concerns were:

The difficulty of proving in a court of law that the accused is a member of the Communist Party unless he is found in possession of a card of membership.

The difficulty of satisfying the court that Communism, as such, necessarily implies violence and revolution, although everybody knows perfectly well that it does.

The difficulty of getting some of the subordinate judges to realise the seriousness of the offence of uttering words and writings of a revolutionary character.

The British administration was clearly pained by the fear that it could not lock up all the communists quickly enough and that, were this the case, Cyprus would fall victim to a violent socialist revolution. They should not have been so worried.

In a ‘Plan of Development and Application of the Communique to the Nicosia Branch of the Cyprus Communist Party’, the author laments that:

With the exception of 2-3 groups which are regularly paying their subscription the secretaries of the other groups as well as the groups themselves simply exist on paper. The monthly or weekly contributions are not regularly collected from all members on account of a lack of endeavour.

The Cyprus Communist Party (KKK) was effectively bankrupt. Like any popular, insurrectionary group, funding from wealthy patrons was required to boost negligible or non-existent member subscription fees. After all, the majority of members from left-wing movements were poor and unable to make a significant financial contribution. Given that the Cypriot elite was in cohorts with the British administration and saw no wish in upsetting its prestigious status, support would be needed from elsewhere. With the exception of minor Greek backing this was not forthcoming.

If only the Russians, then the global bastions and founders of the communist state, had taken note of Cyprus. The island’s history may have been so different. As it is Russo-Cypriot ties have developed at a historically intriguing stage when the former Soviet giants have seemingly turned their backs on communism to negotiate their way through the economic quagmire of the capitalist world.

The Progressive Party of Working People has a substantial following in Cyprus although it is a far cry from its KKK predecessor
The Progressive Party of Working People has a substantial following in Cyprus although it is a far cry from its KKK predecessor