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Wednesday, 03 January 2018 16:15

Interview with Victoria Sandino

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It was in the context of political violence against the Patriotic Union (5,000 assassinated in the 80s and 90s of the 20th century) that Victoria Sandino Simanca (Tierralta, Córdoba, 1965) joined the struggle of the FARC-EP. It was December of 1992.

Much earlier, in 1964, some 50 peasants from the Marquetalia region founded the guerrilla movement led by Manuel Marulanda and Jacobo Arenas. Victoria Sandino had fought in the Communist Party of Colombia and the Patriotic Union.
In the FARC-EP, the oldest guerrilla in Latin America, she worked on multiple activities: political work of relationship with communities, territories social and women organizations; education, literacy and communication with comrades, among others.

At a later stage - the peace negotiations with the Santos government - the former guerrilla commander coordinated the Gender Subcommittee on behalf of the FARC-EP and was plenipotentiary at the Havana Negotiations Table.
Victoria Sandino is currently part of the National Political Council of the People’s Alternative Revolutionary Force Party (the former Marxist-Leninist FARC guerrillas), for which she is a candidate for the Senate in the presidential elections on May 27.

This interview took place on December 5, the day after the presentation in Valencia of the documentary “It will be dawn and we will see. Women protagonists of peace in Colombia", by journalist Sergi Tarín and produced by the NGO Atelier.

At the end of November, 142 organizations of victims and human rights denounced before the International Criminal Court that the Colombian State had modified, in the last year, the Havana Peace Agreement in accordance with the interests of “high rank”  political, economic and military sectors . The document criticizes the "mantle of impunity" for those most responsible for crimes against humanity, among other reasons for the modifications in the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP). Agreed by the Government and the FARC in September 2015, this mechanism includes a Court for Peace, Chambers of Justice and establishes as a principle "a peace without impunity".
What was sought with the JEP was Justice, Truth, Reparation and not Repetition for the victims. To the JEP had to appear in principle all the people who, in one way or another, had caused serious damage in the context of the armed conflict. We are talking about the insurgency, the military, the State as a whole and individuals or "third parties".
Establishing this Jurisdiction was mandatory, because Justice in Colombia does not work: it is very corrupt and very politicized. For this reason, a special mechanism was sought to elect the judges of the Court for Peace and the Chambers. But the Law of Regulation of the JEP approved by Congress on November 28 is created only for the military and, in particular, the insurgency. Outside the Jurisdiction are the State as a whole and the "third parties" -like paramilitaries or landowning groups that have financed the paramilitaries-, who will only appear voluntarily.

At the beginning of November, Jaime Alberto de Jesús Angulo Osorio in Santa Rosa de Osos (northern Antioquia) was arrested by order of the General Prosecutor's Office of the Nation. The reason, his alleged participation in the Aro massacre, perpetrated in the Antioquia municipality of Ituango by ACCU paramilitaries that occurred in October 1997: 17 peasants were killed and 1,200 people were displaced. Is it an example of paramilitary impunity?
The great massacres that occurred in the 80s and 90s of the last century, for example against rural communities, with 20, 30 and more than 50 deaths in a single action have not been prosecuted. Work of paramilitary forces, the massacres were ordered, financed and promoted principally by landowners. They are not in jail nor has justice been done, which is precisely what was sought with the Special Jurisdiction for Peace.

The Semana magazine echoes a global list on the concentration of wealth in relation to GDP, published by the German newspaper Die Welt with data from Bloomberg. In Colombia the fortune of the five richest people is equivalent to 12.5% ​​of the GDP, which places this country in the fifth largest in the world regarding the hoarding of wealth. In addition, according to the World Bank, Colombia is the second most unequal country in Latin America and the seventh in the world. Is it an unfavorable context for justice to be delivered?

There is also another reality in Colombia: congressmen are the same landowners and bosses of the territories, who have benefited from forcibly taking all lands from the peasant communities. Some have gone to jail now for "parapolitics", but because their participation is obvious, the way to kill the people and the leaders in particular. They are legislating for their own benefit.

Is President Santos a member of the ruling classes or, on the contrary, do you consider that there are powers that transcend him?
Santos is part of the national oligarchy. And those "other" powers to which I refer are regional and of the departments. In the Parliament many representatives come from the territories, where they have been elected, and of course they will not legislate against what has been their practice. For this reason they have decided that declaration to the JEP is voluntary, given that, should it be otherwise, many of those sitting in Congress would have to appear. I do not say all, but many of them. In addition, the Political Reform, which was fundamental for the participation of democratic sectors, did not succeed.

The Colombian Ombudsman's Office has reported that between January 2016 and March 2017 there were 156 homicides, five forced disappearances and 33 cases of attacks against social leaders and human rights defenders. It attributes part of the phenomenon to the presence of armed groups that try to establish themselves in areas abandoned by the FARC. The United Nations has also reported in 2017 a total of 105 homicides of defenders and leaders of social movements in Colombia, in 59% of the cases carried out by mercenaries.
What happens is that policy has not changed. The State and the Government, starting with President Santos, have to draw up specific plans - based on the Havana agreements for countering and dismantling paramilitarism, and this has not been done. For example, since the beginning of 2016 the director of the Special Investigation Unit constituted in the Office of the Prosecutor had been appointed to dismantle the organizations responsible for massacres and paramilitarism; and it was at the end of November when the Attorney General appointed the new director of the Unit for the Dismantling of Criminal Organizations, Martha Jeaneth Mancera. In addition, the Office of the Prosecutor has documentation on 15,000 cases related to the action of civilians during the armed conflict, but no progress has been made judicially. What happens? The Attorney General of the Nation, Néstor Humberto Martínez, has been a lawyer for multinationals and has been linked to companies that financed the paramilitaries: it would be like attacking your friends.

In your Twitter account, you define yourself as Fariana, feminist and fighter for peace with social justice for Colombia. What is the weight of feminism in the People’s Alternative Revolutionary Party?
There are 111 people participating in the national leadership of the party - the National Council of the People, 26 of these are women. Among the 15 members of the Executive Committee of the FARC, there are four women. This is not really very serious, since we are part of a political party in transition from guerrilla life to civilian life.
The presence of women in the People’s Alternative Revolutionary Party is greater than in traditional parties. On the other hand we come from a political-military hierarchical structure - which in practice was very military -, and we have been doing a very hard job since the beginning of the peace negotiations, in September 2012, to open spaces for the participation of women and for the recognition of our role in the conflict. Obviously we continue fighting for greater representation, and that also means political education as well as gaining confidence in public life. However we don’t have public and political exercise established as a practice yet. But we are getting there.

On May 27 presidential elections will be held in Colombia, in which you participate as a candidate for the Senate for the FARC along with Iván Márquez, Pablo Catatumbo or Griselda Lobo. How will you contest them?
With the hope of participation and with great concern. We hoped that not only us, but also other parties and social movements with aspirations to participate in political life would be enabled to do so. But it will not be possible, because the Political Reform was not approved. We also have to compete the vote with very complicated practices, suffrage in Colombia is not mandatory and people are offered anything: a lunch, building materials, zinc, cement, a wire roll for their land plot. Many people give their vote in exchange for this, it is not a conscious choice.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia recalls that senior state officials have declared, before the media, that murders of leaders Community and human rights defenders "are due to skirmish, fights among neighbors and illicit rents." According to the United Nations, "this is very dangerous since it seems to want to justify the murders". On the other hand, women of the FARC denounced in a press release that they will not allow anyone to “play” with their honour, using the issue of sexual violence to run a smear campaign against their male comrades.
This and other things are being used. For example sexual crimes committed during the conflict have been left out of the JEP. We had asked that those crimes shouldn’t be benefiting from neither amnesty nor pardon, and this would have apply to everyone.
We wanted those crimes to be judged by the JEP since they had never been judged by ordinary justice. Indeed in Colombia women are raped every day, and every three days a woman is killed in the countries, while there are 55 sexual abuses daily. Now that the Congress has approved to take out sexual crimes from the JEP and get them judged by ordinary justice, there is a campaign in the media saying that some of our people have committed sexual crimes.

The National Centre for Historic Memory stated that 15,076 people, women, and children in over 90% of the cases, have suffered from sexual violence during the 60 years of armed conflict. Has the body of women being used as a war weapon?
I think so, especially by the paramilitaries and the public security force. In the territories where paramilitaries were present, massacres and rapes were committed, and this is what we want to come out in the Truth Commission, because it was never investigated. It was said that massacres had occurred but it was never investigated what happened before and during those massacres. The Democratic Centre and the extreme right are currently busy trying to show that our men were involved in sexual crimes or drug dealing.

What makes a Fariana, a woman of the FARC?
The women of the FARC are a collective that has gained important quotes of equality inside the organization. Our struggle practice has not been just for the right of women but for the rights of the people of Colombia. This in a country so reactionary as ours. where women have been confined to the exclusively private world. In a collective way, the women of the FARC have built their proposals and guidelines - I don’t say theory, I am not that pretentious - around a feminism we call “insurgent feminism”, in which we affirm the emancipation of women and of the whole of society.
To elaborate this thought we have drawn on our insurgent practice, when we were equal men and women as in the revolutionary practice we have broken the established roles.

How would you define the project of the FARC Party?
I believe that as far as theory is concerned we have learned many lesson from the international context. The point is not whether our ideological and political line follows the marxist-leninist socialism, or is social-democratic or trotskyist or maoist. First of all we defend the self-determination of the peoples. The Colombian people as a whole needs to agree which kind of country they want. We then promote some principles like that of “well living” and social guarantees for the population. In other words, a more just society, call it socialism or whatever you want. We work for a more just society, “a la colombiana”.

What would you say has been the biggest achievement of the FARC since its foundation?
The Peace Agreement, because it put the basis for a different society and the elements of  “well living”. In the Agreements we addressed the issues of victims, land, democracy and participation. Colombia is a country where people get murdered to think differently.

Which memories have affected you most during the war?
There have been very hard experiences, the hardest the loss of human lives. Comrades we have lost in the war, like Alfonso Cano. I was in his unit and he was my commander for many years and we had a very close and human relation. His loss affected me a lot. Like the loss of comrades who had stayed under my command. I remember Laura Gonzalez. But we also experienced many nice things, the collective life we lived and how we relate to each other. We had almost nothing, but the little we owned was shared. Now we are more dispersed, we have our single place in the territories or communities. There is more privacy.

Source: www.prensarural.org

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