FARC Victims: “No Peace in Colombia without Freedom in Venezuela”

FARC's victims are around 500,000, but the government inflates the figure for political purposes, says Fernando Vargas Quemba.
FARC’s victims are around 500,000, but the government inflates the figure for political purposes, says Fernando Vargas Quemba. (Blog El Correo)

EspañolAs peace talks between the the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the government continue, many debating positions have been criticized, such as the announcement by members of the guerrilla group that they won’t accept any deal that involves jail time for former fighters, and the creation of a Historic Commission of the Conflict and its Victims (CHCV).

In an interview with the PanAm Post, the president of the National Committee for Victims of the Guerrilla, Fernando Vargas Quemba, argued that the peace process “ignores justice and endorses impunity.”

Fernando Vargas Quemba, president of the National Committee for Victims of the Guerrilla. (periodismosinfronteras)

The Committee is a nonprofit organization founded in 1991 which works to defend the rights of victims and secure justice.

Vargas himself is a direct victim of the Colombian guerrilla, who forced several members of his family off their land and killed others. Around three years ago, he was unharmed in an attempted shooting while he was with his young children — and his judicial complaints to the authorities have since been rejected.

What’s your view of the peace process between the Colombian government and FARC?

We’re determined that the peace process in Havana doesn’t enshrine impunity. We’ve said it before: they can negotiate about whatever they want, but they can’t negotiate away the right to justice.

Guerrilla groups are carrying out extortion, sexual violence, the recruitment of child soldiers, seizing land, and murdering people. Narco-traffickers aren’t the original cause of the violence in Colombia; it was the guerrilla that began murdering and extorting people.

Every Colombian president has tried to negotiate with FARC. We’ve been opposed to this; we’re against impunity. The guerrilla have never attacked Colombia’s political class nor the business elite, they direct their attacks against the poorest.

FARC victims claim previous Colombian administrations have ignored them.
FARC victims claim previous Colombian administrations have ignored them. (Almomento)

When we see that the Colombian guerrilla are supported at the negotiating table and depend on the help of the Venezuelan government and that of Cuba, we can see that this won’t end in peace. What they want to do is to put the FARC and its political cadres before the victims.

The FARC have said that they’re not going to spend a single day in jail, that they’re not going to hand over their weapons, that they’re going to keep their lands. They’ve also asked for the armed forces to be reduced.

What this means is that those of us who don’t die in the conflict, we’ll continue dying in the post-conflict situation. During the peace process, the armed forces are being reduced and the enemy is becoming more powerful.

The left here has hugely manipulated historical memory, and when I say the “left,” I’m referring to the political cadres of the FARC, who are an armed wing of the Communist Party. Nowadays, the Communist Party is not at the negotiating table; the only way to guarantee the constitutional order is for them to sit at the table.

This Historic Commission of the Conflict and its Victims (CHCV) created in December 2014 is another of the propagandistic instruments that the false peace process with FARC has created. The government has set this up with 12 members of the left, one that could be described as neutral, and another that could go either way. They haven’t taken us into account at all.

Do you think that successive governments have abandoned the victims of the conflict?

It seems as though all of Colombia’s governments have supported the guerrilla groups. We’ve never been able to understand it.

In the 1990s, as a result of denouncements at the national and international level, we suffered criminal punishment ourselves: half of the members of our directing council were killed, and we received absolute silence from the government. Presidents Gaviria, Samper, and Pastrana never spoke out about these murders.

It’s shocking that every time FARC threatens us with pamphlets, emails, or phone calls, both the national government and the United Nations don’t say anything. It’s a complete and complicit silence, a clear message to the victimizers that they can go ahead and kill us.

The government has never called on or sat down with the organizations that have historically represented the victims of the guerrilla.

Do you have an approximate figure for the number of victims?

Ten years ago there were 300,000 victims of the guerrilla. Nowadays the government total has put it at 7 million, applauded by sectors of the left. This is totally false: Colombia doesn’t have 7 million victims. By inflating this figure, they earned a huge budget, and within this figure of 7 million victims they included four or five points of the national unemployment figures.

I can assure you that of the 7 million people, we’ll find that in reality there are no more than 500,00 people.

It’s better for the government to say that the conflict has had 7 million victims than to admit that Colombia has high unemployment rates. The unemployment discredits the government more than victims of the guerrilla.

What’s the relationship between the Colombian guerrilla and the Venezuelan government?

In Colombia, we’re still left with the burden of the guerrilla, supported and financed by the Cuban and Venezuelan government.

It’s no secret that when Hugo Chávez was campaigning in Venezuela, he came to Colombia and met regularly with the ELN [National Liberation Army] and stayed in the house of Gustavo Petro, of the M19 [guerrilla movement]. Later when he came to the presidency of Venezuela, he made a speech in which he said that the FARC were a Bolivarian movement.

In Colombia, we know that FARC has a rearguard in Venezuela, that the traffic of narcotics has grown up along routes from Venezuela, and that they’re indoctrinating and giving terrorist training to Chavista organizations in our neighboring country.

We won’t achieve peace while Venezuela doesn’t achieve freedom. As long as Venezuela isn’t free, Colombia will never have peace, because it’s from there that the political and military support of the Colombian guerrilla is undeniably financed.

Rebeca Morla contributed to this article.

Translated by Laurie Blair.

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