From January 2004
Translation from A Verdade, Brazil
A Verdade is the exclusive publisher in Brazil of this interview with Francisco Caraballo, leader of the Communist Party of Colombia (Marxist-Leninist) and of the Popular Army of Liberation (EPL). He was condemned by the Colombian courts of ‘justice’ to a sentence of 40 years in prison. For ten years, he has been held in a maximum-security prison guarded by the army, where he is receiving cruel and inhuman treatment, to the point where he is denied access to medical services and to the medication necessity for his illness.
In this interview, Caraballo denounces the Plan Colombia, the interference of the United States in his country and in Latin America in general, he defends the unity of the revolutionary guerrilla forces of Colombia and affirms that the majority of Colombians are not in favour of the violence that the State is carrying out against the people, nor of the subordination to the demands of the IMF.
Francisco Caraballo is an example of ideological steadfastness and of the valour that characterises the Marxist-Leninist communists. The brutal repression that he faces has not undermined his revolutionary morale nor his conviction in the triumph of the social revolution of the proletariat in his country and on a world scale. At the present time, the International Conference of Marxist-Leninist Parties and Organizations is unfolding a worldwide campaign for the freedom of Comrade Francisco Caraballo and of solidarity with the working class and people of Colombia and their heroic struggle.
A Verdade: Why are you in prison?
F.C.: I have been involved in revolutionary activity continuously for 43 years. I participated in the foundation of the Communist Party of Colombia (M-L) and of the Popular Army of Liberation. I have fought consistently for profound transformations in the political and social reality of the country. That is why I took part in various forms of revolutionary activity. As a rebel I have expressed in theory and practice the contradiction with the established social system and the State that defends it. For many years I was subjected to rabid persecution by the State’s repressive apparatus. On several occasions news of my death was published and rewards were offered for capture, dead or alive, in the manner of the Wild West. For 10 years I have been in prison, first in the installations of the Army Artillery School, then in the Military Police Battalion in Bogotá, and finally I was transferred to the Maximum Security Penitentiary in Itagüi-Antioquia. According to the norms of the Penal Code, I have already completed my sentence; however, I have been condemned to 40 years in prison. This shows that the State is violating its own laws and that justice is subordinate to the interests of the struggle between those who defend the status quo and those who seek to change it radically.
A Verdade: Colombia has vast riches, but its people live in misery. What are the causes of the poverty in Colombia?
F.C.: Colombia is inhabited by 44 million people, of whom 67% are less than 30 years old. It has an area of 1,338,000 sq. km. [514,000 sq. mi], with a very varied topography and climate. The agricultural and livestock sectors are the bases of the economy, with coffee as the main export product. It produces a variety of products in all climates and has favorable conditions for raising livestock and fishing, although these have been downplayed in favor of imports. The subsoil contains oil, which makes up 30% of exports, coal, which represents 40% of the reserves of Latin America, natural gas, emeralds, gold, silver, platinum, iron, nickel, uranium and cobalt. Its territory has an important biological heritage. Industry, which contributes 20% of the GNP, produces textiles, food, chemicals and metallurgy among other things.
Despite such a promising reality, while a narrow elite enjoys all the privileges and benefits, the immense majority of Colombians are forced into misery and are marginalized. The oligarchy, tied to big transnational capital, is responsible for the most serious problems of the country, the backwardness and poverty, because those in power have persisted in fulfilling the dictates of the IMF and World Bank, in applying the neo-liberal model and “economic opening” that has reduced agricultural, livestock and industrial production, besides promoting the increased exploitation of labor and the privatization of public enterprises at the cost of the living and working conditions of the workers.
Imperialist domination, the advances in the concentration and centralization of production and capital, the application of neo-liberal policies, the strengthening of the financial sector, have widened the chasm between broad sectors of society and a small group of large capitalists. It is this group which is the most responsible for the backwardness, misery and violence from which the majority of Colombians suffers.
A Verdade: What are the changes that your Party calls for in Colombia?
F.C.: The Communist Party of Colombia Marxist-Leninist proposes, as its strategic objective, the realization of a process of democratic, anti-imperialist revolution oriented towards socialism. Socialist construction is understood as a complex and long task that logically requires fundamental changes in political consciousness, in the correlation of forces confronting each other and in the accumulation of experiences in the various forms of class confrontation. It is necessary to remove the obstacles which are opposed to social progress, to the exercise of a genuine democracy and to the improvement of the conditions of life of the majorities who have been excluded.
On the level of tactics, the Party demands:
To struggle for the defense of national sovereignty, to contribute to the unity of the Latin American peoples and to internationalism among the workers; all this has to be seen as related to the mobilizations against the interference of the United States government in the affairs that are only the concern of our people.
To reject the neo-liberal policies and, of course, to contribute to defending and improving the conditions of life of the workers.
To promote actions for a genuine democracy, the right to life, liberty, dignity and human rights; against State terrorism, paramilitaries and all kinds of repression against the people’s fighters.
To promote unity on different social levels, as an indispensable condition to carry out the great transformations that Colombia needs.
All the political or social actions that the Party promotes are oriented towards creating conditions for the changes that conform to the character of the revolution.
A Verdade: Recently the Uribe government suffered a big defeat in the referendum. Why did the Colombian people say No to Uribe and the policies of the IMF?
F.C.: It is useful to remember that after his victory in the presidential elections of 2002, the big media, the most important economic groups and some political and social sectors spread the idea that Colombians unanimously supported all the policies of President Alvaro Uribe, and he certainly believed that. But the majority of Colombians are not in favor of the violence that the State is increasingly using against the people, nor in supporting further intervention of the Bush government in the internal affairs of Colombia, nor do they agree to be subordinated to the demands of the IMF. The Colombian people reject the policy of hunger and repression of the present government. That explains why, after fourteen months in the government, President Uribe has suffered successive failures, including the rejection of the referendum. It was a matter of the militarization of national life and the policy of “democratic security,” which has given free reign to all forms of arbitrariness. President Uribe showed his bankruptcy on important matters: he failed to organize a pro-Uribe party and did not receive support for his proposal for presidential reelection, by means of which he intended to prolong his term; he has lost his unanimous support in the big media; he failed to revive the idea of a referendum by means of political maneuvers; he did not receive endorsement for the Special Treaty of Protection for Colombian immigrants in the United States. As consequence of all these factors, the dissatisfaction with and criticism of the main policies of the Uribe government has grown, opening enormous possibilities for the people’s struggles, keeping in mind that this year new measures have been announced that will affect large groups of the population.
A Verdade: What is the Plan Colombia? What is the Andean Regional Initiative?
F.C.: Plan Colombia is part of the strategy of the United States to strengthen its domination in the Americas. This imperialist policy has its precedents in the strategy of the cold war and the doctrine of “national security,” which influences determining factors of the reality of Latin America and of Colombia in particular, given its importance from a geopolitical point of view. In December of 1998, President Andres Pastrana presented Plan Colombia under the guise of a “Change to Build Peace,” which tried to disguise its true intentions. Initially the emphasis was put, formally, on the fight against drug trafficking, but a year later its military content was made clear, that it was to justify the restructuring, strengthening and modernization of the military forces. Together with these measures, the presence of military troops has increased, and intelligence and technical personnel as well as elite Pentagon troops are operating on Colombian territory. The United States government has reinforced its “air interdiction” and has installed radar at various sites in the country. After September 11, under the guise of the fight against terrorism declared by Mr. Bush, that activity has noticeably increased.
Besides the military element, which is the primary element in their plans, Plan Colombia has other components: on the economic plane it is connected to the interests of important oil companies in the United States and Great Britain to take over the energy resources of the country; they took part in drawing up the documents of the Plan and made huge investments in the protection of these resources through agreements with the paramilitary groups. On the political level, repressive measures have been put in place aimed at striking against the forces opposed to or fighting against the government. Recently the Congress approved the Anti-Terrorist Law, which will undoubtedly increase the arbitrary measures against the population. Today the balance is negative and these are dangerous tendencies not only for Colombia but for the whole region.
It is clear that the United States and the transnational companies have increased their efforts to control the resources of the Andean region, not only in relation to the exploitation of oil. As an example, consider the plan for an inter-oceanic corridor between Tumaco, Manaos and Belem do Para, the plan for an inter-oceanic canal between Atrato and Truando and the control of the Amazon River. Their primary interest is in the control of the Amazon region, which is vital for the future of humanity; it produces 40% of the world’s oxygen supply, contains the greatest biodiversity on the planet and is also a huge source of fresh water. But above all, one must consider the extraordinary oil reserves in this region. For oil is linked with the wars that the United States is carrying out.
The Andean Regional Initiative is the second phase of Plan Colombia. It was initially presented as a strategy for Colombia, but subsequently it was presented in its true dimensions. This shows to a certain extent the reality and objectives of the United States government. What began under the guise of the fight against drug trafficking has been transformed into a fight against the peoples and against those who are opposed to the intervention and domination of the United States in these countries. President Bus h is taking advantage of any pretext for aggression and war. In relation to the military component of Plan Colombia one must remember that President Uribe, as a faithful agent of the United States government, is justifying and supporting Bush’s policies; thus he has said that Colombia’s problem is a common enemy for the democracies of the continent and that the Colombian violent groups have a destabilizing potential for all the democracies in the region.
For us this is a warning of the Pentagon’s intention to convert the military base at Alcántara, in the North East of Brazil, into a center of military operations at the service of the United States; the stationing of U.S. troops at the military base of Manta in Ecuador; the reinforcement of the land, air, and sea points of control in the region; the intention of the Southern Command to involve the states bordering Colombia in its plan for a counter-insurgency war, violating the national sovereignty and the self-determination of the peoples.
In response to the policies that the United States government is applying in Latin America, in the first place it is necessary to unite the forces and struggles of the Latin-American peoples for sovereignty, genuine democracy and human dignity.
A Verdade: The E.P.L. [People’s Liberation Army], E.L.N. [Army of National Liberation] and the F.A.R.C. [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] are the main guerrilla forces in Colombia. Is it possible to unite these forces around a program?
F.C.: I think that it is not only possible but indispensable, since it is necessary for the progress of the revolutionary movement. Only by means of unity will there be a greater strength in the forces fighting for the revolutionary transformation of the reality of the country towards a better future for the Colombians. I am convinced that all the organizations wish to advance towards greater levels of unity, keeping in mind that we face the same enemies and we have common strategic objectives, basically oriented by the same ideals. But one must recognize that there is a difference between wishes and practice; that is the truth….
A Verdade: How can you fight for freedom as a prisoner condemned to more than forty years in prison?
F.C.: I think it is possible to fight for freedom, to a greater or lesser degree, whatever the difficulties that one faces. The main thing is the will to do it…. The sentence that the Colombian State has imposed on me is an expression of its revenge; for that reason in my case the State has violated its own norms; in my case, it is not a legal but a political situation; the judges have understood it this way and it has been clear from the moment when they refused to subject me to this farce and I have denounce the immorality of the State and the incapacity of the courts to judge my conduct and my revolutionary activity. Understanding this has helped me face the situation and learn to act in accordance with my circumstances. My main interest has been not to remain on the sidelines of political reality or of my activity as a revolutionary. This requires continuous efforts to overcome the many and permanent obstacles. I am clear that the fight for my freedom is linked to the struggle that is being carried out outside of these bars by large numbers of men and women for their real freedom….
A Verdade: In November we will be commemorating 86 years since the Great Russian Socialist Revolution. In your opinion, is socialism the future of humanity?
F.C.: A Verdade has given me the opportunity to refer to two aspects of this question:
1) The disaster that took place in the Soviet Union was a very important historical fact, which some theoreticians and historians have jubilantly proclaimed as the “end of history,” as the final victory of the capitalist system over socialism. In fact, what we have seen is the complete failure of a model of society and State whose decadence was foreseeable, that it has had nothing to do with socialism for a long time. Since before the sixties, when new Marxist-Leninists organizations began to form and the division of the International Communist Movement became evident, the deviations into which the Soviet leaders had fallen were denounced, and the irreversible process of degeneration of the so-called Soviet model, as actually happened, was noted. From the moment when the end of contradictions and of the class struggle was proclaimed; when the “State of the whole people” was established; when the exercise of liberal democracy was affirmed, which drowned genuine democracy with workers’ participation; when a leading clique was installed in State power on the backs of the interests of the people; when impositions and abuses were carried out against the Communist Movement, in contradiction to proletarian internationalism, the road to the decay of the socialist system and the Soviet State was opened. The rest came as a logical consequence and did not take place from one moment to another, but over a prolonged period. The present reality shows the deep crisis of the capitalist system, the aggravation of the economic situation which continues to worsen the situation of the “developing” countries; the deepening of the social problems including more hunger, unemployment, marginalization, etc.; the proliferation of wars and armed conflicts in various regions of the planet.
2) Marxist-Leninist theory, as a scientific theory, continues its relevance, despite those who have tried and are trying to deny it or distort it, which amount to the same thing. I believe without any doubt in Marxism to orient revolutionary actions that transform society; that is to say in Marxism as guide or reference point for our actions, not as a formula or prescription. I am convinced that socialism signals a definite perspective for revolutionary changes in society. Socialism is the future of humanity, without a doubt.
(Further information on the revolutionary life and work of Francisco Caraballo may be found in the document ‘I Am a Conscious Rebel, a Revolutionist in Consequence and a Convinced Communist’ in Revolutionary Democracy Volume III, Number 1, April 1997).
Courtesy: ‘A Verdade’, journal of the Revolutionary Communist Party of Brazil published from Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil, February, 2004.
Translated from the original interview in Spanish by George Gruenthal.