It was a hard decision to make but I chose not to march yesterday. I decided instead to reflect on the death of the people´s president that never was, Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, and pray for the victims of Colombia´s conflict.
Disconcerting then, that the overwhelming number of marchers appeared to be Marcha Patriotica supporters, unsettling too to see thousands of MP branded t-shirts and flags among the hordes flocking down the Carrera Septima in Bogota en route to the Plaza de Bolivar.
These white shirts, presumably funded by the MP, bore the message “bilateral ceasefire” (something the FARC have directly asked for). Not the end of the world perhaps, but these shirts were accompanied by banners demanding an end to “neoliberalism”, for the castigation of ex-president Alvaro Uribe, and for “social justice”. There were those that shouted “Uribe, fascist”.
This was not a peace march. This was a political march.
There is nothing more moving and beautiful than seeing a people march for peace, but when that peace is politicized, when the march has such a clear agenda, it sullies and cheapens the event.
Of course it´s also true that there were plenty of “ordinary” folk who joined in the march. Public workers too were out en masse, having been given the day off. No one can claim that this march was entirely Marcha Patriotica, but that it was organized by them and that they were there in such huge numbers meant its focus was wrong.
April 9 is traditionally a day to remember the victims. It is distasteful and disrespectful to the memory of Colombia´s victims, the murdered, the disappeared, and the kidnapped, to turn the date into a day for politics.
On April 9, 1948, the great Liberal Jorge Eliecer Gaitan was murdered sparking a near revolutionary force that ripped apart first Bogota and later the rest of country. The “Bogotazo” was a unified cry of anguish of hopelessness and despair as the people realized the oligarchs of the state had crushed their hope for change.
Gaitan shone a light on a Colombia in which a true democracy was possible, in which the idea of government by for and of the people was a real possibility. As they extinguished this light, the governing classes unleashed an armed conflict that is still with us today.
The FARC has its origins here, in the exclusion of all political actors not belonging to the Liberal Party or the Conservative Party hegemony; the stitch-up that followed the “Bogotazo” was an agreement which saw both parties alternate power, sharing between them the wealth and bureaucratic jam of the state. This, to the explicit exclusion of all others.
Colombia remains governed by this elite. Look at a list of her top politicians and you´ll see sons, nephews, and grandchildren of those who lead the country during the dark days of the second half of the 20th Century.
Gaitan´s death was in vain, perhaps.
But the FARC´s answer, to seize power by brute force, is not the answer. The problems of democracy are always solved with more, not less democracy.
Clearly no march will bring us peace but perhaps, just perhaps, the peace talks in Havana will lead to Colombia´s largest and most recalcitrant guerrillas to give up the fight.
One day the guerrillas will leave us in peace. One day they will stop recruiting children to fight their dirty war. One day they will let their rhetoric, and not the lead of their bullets do the talking.
One day the full truth will also out on the role of the paramilitaries in this conflict.
The simple truth is that the right wing militias and the left wing terrorists have no role to play in Colombian politics. There is nothing democratic about using violence to impose political will.
We are all victims.
I want peace, I want the FARC to demobilize and fight for votes, to exchange the bullet for the ballot box. But equally I believe that any march that even whiffs of the slightest minutest show of support for them – or for any other violent actor in our politics – should be avoided like the plague.
Yesterday the vast majority of Colombians stayed at home. The white shirts of the Marcha Patriotica were hardly seen outside of Bogota. The cities of Manizales, Medellin, Cali and many others reported a pathetically low turnout of people.
Does this mean Colombians don´t want peace? Does this mean Colombians don´t support the peace process? My guess is that the answer to both is no. The reality is that the vast majority of us did not feel it appropriate or right to join a march so obviously political, with such an obvious agenda.
Gaitan would turn in his grave!