Peace process in Colombia: From the jungle to Congress, former FARC guerrillas acclimate to politics | International

Julián Gallo, also known as Carlos Antonio Lozada, in his office as a Colombian congressman.
Julián Gallo, also known as Carlos Antonio Lozada, in his office as a Colombian congressman.Camilo Rozo

It is Tuesday, a day of intense legislative activity. Senator Julián Gallo hurried down the stairs the seven floors of the new Congress building, guarded by three bodyguards from the National Protection Unit who were guerrillas like him. Go through the tunnel that connects with the National Capitol, a neoclassical building with a century behind it located on the south side of the Plaza de Bolívar, the heart of Bogotá, a few meters from the Casa de Nariño, the Government Palace. The same institutions against which he took up arms before signing the peace agreement five years ago between the Government of Juan Manuel Santos and the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), now disarmed and converted into the Communes political party.

Negotiator in the Havana dialogues, he is better known as Carlos Antonio Lozada, his name in the war, but in the First Permanent Constitutional Commission to which he belongs, one of those desired by the congressmen, he answers present when they call him Gallo Cubillos Julian. He is one of the five senators, of 22, who attends in person this morning. The others are connected via Zoom on a giant screen. He intervenes eloquently to defend a bill on the resocialization of prisoners, authored by Comunes and other opposition parties to the government of Iván Duque, a critic of the peace accords that he must now implement.

“The objective is to contribute to the constitution of a new criminal and penitentiary policy,” defends Gallo, wearing glasses and masks, referring to both the Constitutional Court and international treaties, in a broad statement of reasons. In a cordial way, Senator Paloma Valencia, from the Democratic Center, the government party founded by former President Álvaro Uribe, the fiercest opponent of the peace process, displays a series of objections in a virtual way and proposes to postpone the discussion, which is ends up approving.

In a postcard of the difficult transition that Colombia is going through, the square where the First Commission is located has been bearing the name of Álvaro Gómez Hurtado for three decades, and there a bust of the murdered Conservative leader stands with his fist on his chin. Today Senator Gallo shook society a year ago by admitting to transitional justice his participation in 1995 in that remembered assassination, a crime that has never been clarified. Gallo is one of the most visible leaders of the renamed Communes political party that, after having been called Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Común, at the beginning of the year decided to leave behind the acronyms that identified the guerrillas for more than half a century and that still generate resistance in multiple sectors of society.

Trade bullets for votes. That was one of the most repeated phrases during the long negotiation of the agreement to explain the purpose of taking weapons out of politics. But the legislative exercise has cost the ex-guerrillas. The peace agreement guarantees the party a ten-seat bench for two legislative terms – five in the Senate and five in the House of Representatives. Hence, Comunes has a presence in Congress despite the fact that the ballot boxes have not forgiven him for half a century of war, since in the 2018 elections he won just 85,000 votes – and resigned the presidential candidacy of Rodrigo Londoño, Timochenko–.

Colombia has experience with the reintegration of ex-guerrillas. The M-19 even co-chaired the Constituent Assembly that drafted the 1991 political letter. The expectations created around the participation of the FARC were high, but the caucus has not shone and has run into hostility from other forces. On July 20, 2018, eight peace signatories occupied seats for the first time in the Colombian Congress – since neither Iván Márquez nor Jesús Santrich attended, who would later take up arms again. Several congressmen from the Democratic Center received them with the cry of “murderers.” Internal divisions have also become evident, with two senators – Victoria Sanguino and Benkos Biojó – who have set a distance with the party.

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Julián Gallo, also known as Carlos Antonio Lozada, in the First Commission of the Congress of Colombia.
Julián Gallo, also known as Carlos Antonio Lozada, in the First Commission of the Congress of Colombia.Camilo Rozo

They weren’t made to feel particularly welcome on Capitol Hill. For about a year, Gallo was placed in makeshift offices he shared with other Commons congressmen and systems managers, but now his office is on the seventh floor of the new Congress building, the last one. Next to it is that of Pablo Catatumbo and diagonally that of Sandra Ramírez, two other senators from Commons. His office, 706 B, is decorated with a series of 20 portraits that include that of Fidel Castro, FARC commanders who fell in combat and historical figures such as the liberator Simón Bolívar or José Antonio Galán, leader of the insurrection of the comuneros in times of the viceroyalty of New Granada.

“We have been assimilating that in politics no one gives anything to anyone”, reflects Gallo in a conversation with EL PAÍS. He explains that, facing the presidential elections of 2022, Comunes will be part of the Historical Pact, the coalition that is being formed around the candidacy of the leftist Gustavo Petro. “We are surely going to participate there, in the midst of the tensions that we have with several of the leaders or with the parties or movements that are within the Historical Pact, because they continue to view us with suspicion,” he admits.

“The government of Iván Duque designed a public policy called Peace with Legality that has two main objectives. First simulate the deployment [de la paz] and second, to reduce the agreement to disarmament and the reincorporation of the ex-guerrillas. That is not the agreement, Iván Duque when he speaks of peace legally he is trying to swindle national and international public opinion ”, said Gallo in the midst of the multiple forums and activities that have been held these days to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the pact sealed in the Teatro Colón, renegotiated after the defeat of the original in a plebiscite.

Against the clock, the FARC accepted at that time 58 of the 60 modifications proposed by the spokesmen of the No –among them Duque himself–. “The only two that did not accept were those that defined what were crucial aspects for their future: that the guerrilla commanders could not participate in politics and that sanctions and prison conditions were made more severe,” recalls Santos in his book The battle for peace.

Five years later, transitional justice prepares its first sentences against the former leadership of the FARC – to which Senators Gallo and Catatumbo belonged – for more than 21,000 kidnappings, which will foreseeably raise the issue of the presence in the Congress of the ex-commanders – and the severity of the sanctions, which do not include jail – in the focus of public discussion. “This is how it is agreed. Sanctions cannot invalidate political participation. If the JEP complies with this, we believe that there should be no incompatibility between the sanction and the parliamentary exercise. It does not depend on us, but the essence of the agreement is that ”, defends Gallo. “The establishment continues to see us as enemies, that is a reality. They don’t see us as political opponents; a peace agreement should advance there ”, he concludes.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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