Alt Left: Updated: How the Armed Colombian Left (the FARC and the ELN) Came to Be

I just updated this post with a lot of information about the assassination of Jorge Eliécer Gaitán in 1948 which led to the massive riots called The Bogotazo, after which a decade of mass killings called La Violencia took place. The assassination of Gaitan, even more than the banana workers strike, jump-started the movement of the armed Colombian Left in the form of the Colombian guerrillas.

In 1948 in Colombia, a very popular presidential candidate, Jorge Eliécer Gaitán of the Liberal Party, was assassinated for the same reason that given for the overthrow of Arbenz of Guatemala seven years later. The Liberal Party was one of two fascist parties of the oligarchy, along with the Conservative Party. See below for more on them.

The Liberal Party was anything but. Yet Gaitán was an interesting figure, part of a socialist movement in the party who advocated very popular candidate who promised major changes in Colombian society a battle against social, political, and economic inequality. He was also a feminist who advocated the uplift of the status of Colombian woman in society. In addition, he broached the subject of land reform, a hot button issue in Colombia.

In fact, as in so many other places in Latin America such as Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador, the endless Leftist guerrilla war against the government is more of a fight over land than anything else. To this day, the Colombian oligarchy has refused to do a land reform, in part because this is where most of their money comes from.

Even Venezuela has had only partial success at a land reform, as it has proven too difficult to break up the big estates or latifundias. Instead, since much of the land lies idle and fallow, peasants have conducted land invasions of fallowed land in the latifundias, which has resulted in a lot of conflict.

Death squads funded by the latifundia oligarchs have murdered over 150 peasant leaders since Chavez came in over the last 20 years. Parts of the Chavista Movement have been aligned with the rural rich for whatever reason, and they have been involved in repressing these peasant movements also.

He was murdered by the Colombian oligarchy or ruling class, which has stayed in power by mass murder for 75 years now. They were even massacring people earlier, as there was a mass slaughter of striking workers at banana plantations in the northwest in a place called La Magdalena in 1928.

Even this early, the US was waging a Cold War against the USSR. The US became very alarmed by the strike, as the plantations were owned by the US United Fruit Company. United Fruit and the US government described the strikers as subversives and Communists. The US threatened to invade if the strike was not put down by the Colombian government.

Under orders from United Fruit, the Colombian military attacked the workers. Many striking workers were killed. The event was memorialized by Gabriel Garcia Marquez in his famous novel 100 Years of Solitude. The event was a watershed in Colombian politics, as an actual Colombian Left was formed around this time.

Gaitan was an excellent speaker and his rallies drew large crowds of union members and poor people. He was characterized as a demagogue, like Juan Peron, who was already rising to power in Argentina. He was also a budding nationalist. He was criticized by the Conservative Party, the right wing of the Liberal Party, and even the Communist Party, which regarded him as a competitor for the interests of the workers.

In 1933, he split with the Liberal Party and formed the Unión Nacional Izquierdista Revolucionaria (National Leftist Revolutionary Union). In 1946, he proposed a Gaitanista Program. It advocated many things:

Development agencies for the advancement of the social, political, and economic advancement of peasants in the countryside. Policies to redistribute wealth in Colombia. Nationalization of public services, a progressive income tax, and the development of a national economy. A land reform and new pro-labor laws.

In terms of foreign policy, it advocated an economic union of Latin American countries so they could serve the interests of their people instead of that of the oligarchies and foreign carpetbagging corporations. His project could be best described as anti-plutocratic and anti-imperialist.

He was assassinated in 1948 by a “lone gunman,” Juan Roa Sierra, along the lines of Lee Harvey Oswald. Two ex-CIA agents have confessed that it was really the CIA that was behind the operation. The assassin took orders from two named CIA agents and the assassination plan was called Operation Pantomime.

This was probably one of the first of countless assassinations of liberal and leftwing figures the world over by the CIA undertaken as part of the Cold War. Sierra visited Gaitan in his office in  the morning and at 1 PM, he shot Gaitan dead.

An enraged mob then set upon Sierra, who was protected by an Army colonel. He was chased to a store where  he holed up. The mob smashed into the store and dragged him outside. He was beaten and stabbed so many times that his corpse was unrecognizable.

At the time of his assassination, a meeting of the Pan-American Conference led by US Secretary of State George Marshall. At this meeting, all members of the group agreed that fighting Communism was their number one concern.

The despicable Organization of American States or OAS, a fake organization of Latin American countries that is actually run by the US and serves to promote the interests of the US and its neo-colonies in Latin America.

At the same time, the Latin American Youth Congress was taking place. It been organized by Fidel Castro of Cuba and was funded by Juan Peron of Argentina. A young Gabriel Garcia Marquez was a law student at the time and was eating lunch at the time  Gaitan was killed. He rushed to the scene and arrived just in time to see Sierra lynched by the mob. He memorialized the event in his book, Living to Tell the Tale.

It is possible that Gaitan, like Oswald and Sirhan Sirhan and James Earl Ray, was a patsy for an assassination carried out by the US Deep State in the case of the former and by the FBI itself in the case of Ray.

Gaitan suffered from schizophrenia, could not fire a gun properly, the gun in his hand was not capable of firing accurately, and he was standing quite a distance away from Gaitan while the murder occurred at a short distance. Further, Sierra was not seen anywhere near the assassination. The first time  he was spotted, he was in between two police officers.

The Colombian government quickly blamed the USSR and the Colombian Communist Party for the murder. They also tied in the young Fidel Castro with the plot. This version seems very unlikely.

Notice that this CIA assassination took place under “liberal Democrat” Harry Truman.

The murder of this candidate was followed by a wild  riot known as the Bogotazo. Many of the rioters were armed and the riots left much of downtown Bogota in ruins. The riots left 1,800 people dead. This was part of a larger reign of violence in the countryside which had started in 1930. By 1948, Bogota was full of peasants fleeing the violence in the countryside.

The Bogotazo led eventually to La Violencia, a truly crazy 10 year period from 1954-1964 in which Liberals and Conservatives, which ideologically are both simply fascist parties, with the Liberals masquerading as social democrats to the extent that they are even members of the Socialist International, massacred each other in huge numbers for no particular reason at all.

The Liberals and Conservatives typically trade off running the country. Although they hated each other to the point of slaughtering hundreds of thousands of each other, the odd thing is that despite their names, ideologically and in governance, there is little difference between. They are both far rightwing parties of the oligarchy.

The armed Left in the form of the ELN, which was created in 1964, theorizes that La Violencia was simply a way for the elite to slaughter the politically active working class.

After La Violencia ended in 1964, a small group of people tired of being massacred settled in some property in West-Central Colombia and declared themselves a semi-autonomous republic. They were also heavily armed. They said that and armed themselves mostly to keep from being massacred. And they did set it up as a “Communist republic” but it was only a small patch of land of no particular consequence and the group’s numbers never numbered greater than 200.

They named this place Marquetalia. Manuel “Sure Shot” Marulanda, the leader of the FARC for the next 40 years, was one of the founders of this commune. The Colombian government became very alarmed that 200 people had called themselves Communists and settled some lands that they freaked out and called for Uncle Sam to come help.

This was under the “liberal Democrat” Johnson Administration. The US also became very alarmed and we sent several generals and a troop of Green Berets down there.

At this time, the Green Berets were advising the Guatemalan government in putting down a Left insurgency that began there in 1960. They put it down via massacres of the civilian population. There’s nothing noble about the Green Berets. They’re simply the US government version of a Latin American death squad.

Anyway, a significant army detachment was mobilized and Marquetalia was attacked with US advisors by their side. There are suggestions that the US and Colombia even used chemical weapons against the commune.

The Marquetalians fought back but were defeated, suffering many casualties. The survivors retreated into the mountains of Colombia. These are really mountain jungles as the mountains are covered in a jungle-like near-rainforest and it’s impossible to find anyone or anything in there.

There they decided that all peaceful attempts at change, including setting up a semi-autonomous commune, were impossible, so they could either sit in the villages and wait for the government to come murder them or they could take up arms so they could at least fight back when the army and death squads came.

The group was called the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), and they are still active to this day, 56 years later. At one time around 2000, they controlled ~50% of Colombia and formed an actual threat to the regime.

The ELN (National Liberation Army) was formed at the same time, in 1964, in Eastern Colombia under obscure circumstances that I’m not aware of.

The original philosophy was Liberation Theology and their leader was Camilo Torres, the original “priest with a machine gun.” Liberation theology can be thought of as “Jesus with a machine gun” and in fact there are murals in Latin America showing exactly this. The idea is that Jesus supported “the preferential option for the poor” and that even armed struggle to achieve this goal was not only valid but very Christian.

One of the original theorists was an educator named Paulo Friere in Brazil who published a famous book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed – also published in the same year that the ELN and the FARC were formed in 1964 -along these lines, advocating a liberation theology component to be the focus of the curriculum in Latin America. Theologian Gustavo Gutierrez could be considered the father of Liberation Theology. He wrote a book called The Theology of Liberation around this same time.

To this day, although the ELN are Leftists, they are still officially a Christian organization and they have many supporters among the Catholic clergy in Colombia, as does the officially atheist FARC.

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One thought on “Alt Left: Updated: How the Armed Colombian Left (the FARC and the ELN) Came to Be”

  1. Merry Christmas

    Gustavo Gutiérrez was a Peruvian theologian who wrote La Teología de la Liberación. The Brazilian educator who wrote A Pedagogia dos Oprimidos was Paulo Freire.

    Regards. James

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