Oliver Dodd, a PhD student at the University of Nottingham and writer for the British newspaper Morning Star, recently traveled to the Catatumbo mountains in Colombia to interview a commander-in-chief of the recently reestablished FARC-EP (Segunda Marquetalia). Villa Vazquez, the main leader of the Danilo Garcia Command of the Second Marquetalia.
The FARC-EP (Segunda Marquetalia) is a Marxist-Leninist political-military organization based in Colombia. The organization was originally founded on May 27, 1964 following a U.S.-backed military attack against peasant self-defense communities, especially communities located in the Marquetalia territory in the Tolima region. After the CIA estimated in the late 1990s that the FARC was on the verge of seizing state power, U.S. imperialism stepped up its intervention under the “Plan Colombia” strategic initiative in 1999. Following a 2016 peace agreement with the Colombian state and the government’s failure to implement the terms of the agreement, the FARC-EP (Segunda Marquetalia) broke with the legal political party Comunes and restarted the armed struggle. This interview focuses on the reasons why the Second Marquetalia restarted the political-military struggle and the possibilities for the armed revolutionary movement in Colombia today.
As the interview will show, Comandante Villa Vázquez is one of the leading figures of the FARC-EP (Segunda Marquetalia) and has been a member of the organization for more than 30 years. Villa Vazquez is the commander of Comando Danilo Garcia and was originally a member of the Communist Youth many years ago.
The full transcript of the interview:
Oliver Dodd: Well, I’m here in the mountains of the Catatumbo region of Colombia, with Comandante Villa Vazquez, the first commander of Comando Danilo Garcia. I’m Oliver Dodd, a PhD student researching the Colombian civil war and I often write about Colombia for a British newspaper called The Morning Star. The Morning Star is the only English-language socialist newspaper in the world that is published daily and is owned and funded entirely by its readers.
I have several questions for you, comandante, thank you very much for this interview because it is very important at this time when there is a lot of propaganda and psychological warfare in Colombia against the Farc and the Second Marquetalia. It is also important that the world understands the perspectives of the counter-hegemonic struggles and not only the beliefs of the hegemonic powers.
1). Oliver: First of all, in a recent interview, Comandante Jhonier, number 3 of the FARC-EP, the other group says: the Second Marquetalia is a ghost, is that true?
Comandante Villa Vázquez: We communists have been a ghost for the oligarchies, against us they launched the LASO operation in 1964, they launched the Patriot Plan in 2003. The imperialists and the Colombian government have developed a strategy of war against this walking dead, but we have also seen that the social leaders, the human rights defenders, the people who work for peace, the ex-combatants in this peace process have become a ghost, they have also been eliminated, so we are a ghost in that sense and they have wanted to eliminate us because of our condition of social fighters, of revolutionaries. Why Jhonier says we are a ghost, I don’t know, I don’t know why he says that. The FARC-EP Second Marquetalia is the result of the non-compliance with the peace agreement, it is the result of the betrayal of the government to the Colombian people, to the international community and to the ex-combatants.
2) Oliver: Now to my second question, commander. Why has the Second Marquetalia chosen to take up arms again when there was a peace agreement with the political party Comunes (formerly political party FARC) in 2016?
Commander Villa Vázquez: Well, the first thing is that the agreement was with the FARC, the 2016 agreement was with the FARC. Four of the points of the agreement were going to solve or try to solve the situation in the country, the political situation, the economic situation, the violence crisis that this country has, in this case for example the integral rural reform, Colombia is a producer country and we wanted the displaced to return to their lands, that there were possibilities to work to market, that was sought in the agreement with the integral rural reform, another point was the political participation, in Colombia you cannot do politics, they ended a political movement product of the Uribe agreements in 1985, those of the Patriotic Union were eliminated. In Colombia they assassinated Gaitán in 1948 and then between 1985 and 1995 they assassinated four presidential candidates, they assassinated Galán, they assassinated Jaime Pardo Leal, they assassinated Bernardo Jaramillo, they assassinated Carlos Pizarro Leongómez who was the head of the M 19, who had also entered the peace process. So we were looking for the issue of political participation to open the door for the truth and for society to be able to participate, to dissent from the government, from the bad policies and it was not really fulfilled, nothing has been fulfilled, the dismantling of the paramilitaries did not happen, on the contrary, they increased, so the situation has been quite difficult. We guerrillas were willing to tell the truth about the social and armed conflict and the causes that led us to the uprising, but this implied that everyone should tell the truth, including former presidents, the military, the people who have participated in the conflict in Colombia. We had another point that was very important which was the solution of illicit crops, it was not fulfilled either, so what we had was a total non-fulfillment of an agreement that was going to benefit the Colombian society, more than 48 million Colombians. We had our hopes in that agreement but it was not possible, we did it with the support and trust in the government’s word that it was a special agreement and with the support of the international community but it did not happen. That is why we had to return to arms, practically it is not the FARC that returned to arms but the people. Today we can say that 60 percent of the FARC combatants are new, they are not ex-combatants, 30 or 40 percent are ex-combatants, in other words, the people are taking up the banner of the FARC struggle to rethink this process of struggle.
3) Oliver: What is the military political strategy of the Second Marquetalia now?
Comandante Villa Vázquez: Well, the political-military strategy of the Second Marquetalia, the guidelines laid out to date are set out in the manifesto that we launched on August 29, 2019, there is outlined the political and military line, that is, where we propose to go in this new stage of struggle.
4) Oliver: What is the conception of peace for you, commander?
Commander Villa Vázquez: Well, for me that people should not be imprisoned for thinking differently, that the political opposition should not be assassinated. Colombia has a whole record of assassinations, I mentioned before since Gaitan, including the massacre of the banana plantations for claiming rights. After the ceasefire, truce and peace process with Belisario Betancur, four presidential candidates were assassinated in Colombia, they killed a whole political movement, they eliminated it, which was the Patriotic Union. They have killed lawyers, human rights defenders, journalists, peasants, students, because they are critical of the government. So peace begins with not killing people, peace has to do with children going to bed fed, the elderly being able to rest, students being able to have quality education, it is about people having housing. That is what I consider as peace, I do not consider peace as the mere silencing of the guns, because in Colombia the FARC silenced the guns but nothing was solved and then I think that is what peace is about, peace is a dignified life, it is social welfare, that is what I consider peace to be.
5) Oliver: In the 21st century, when 80% of Colombians live today in urban territories, is a political strategy with weapons and guerrilla still viable?
Comandante Villa Vázquez: Well, for me they should not imprison people for thinking differently, they should not assassinate the political opposition. Colombia has a whole record of assassinations, I mentioned before since Gaitan, including the massacre of the banana plantations for demanding rights. After the ceasefire, truce and peace process with Belisario Betancur, four presidential candidates were assassinated in Colombia, they killed a whole political movement, they eliminated it, which was the Patriotic Union. They have killed lawyers, human rights defenders, journalists, peasants, students, because they are critical of the government. So peace begins with not killing people, peace has to do with children going to bed fed, the elderly being able to rest, students being able to have quality education, it is about people having housing. That is what I consider as peace, I do not consider peace as the mere silencing of the guns, because in Colombia the FARC silenced the guns but nothing was solved and then I think that is what peace is about, peace is a dignified life, it is social welfare, that is what I consider peace to be.
5) Oliver: In the 21st century, when 80% of Colombians live today in urban territories, is a political strategy with weapons and guerrilla still viable?
Comandante Villa Vázquez: Weapons are above all a part of the combination of forms of struggle. Weapons are the safeguard of ideas, they are for the safeguard of ideas. It is not that we are going to assault the state with an armed movement, no, it is about the combination of all the forces. The FARC is a political movement, it is a party, therefore, the armed struggle occurs precisely because there are no guarantees to express ideas and we will continue working from this position in the construction of a government, in a call to the nation for a government that keeps its word, a government that truly opens a dialogue with all the insurgencies, with the people, that complies not only with the 2016 peace agreement but with many agreements that have been reached in Colombia with social movements, with students, with many people, even with organizations of military victims. So we are in that fight, in that battle to preserve the principles, to preserve the ideas and to move forward with what was agreed. So the armed struggle is going to be valid. In the cities we can also develop the struggle depending on the objectives, we have to work clandestinely, those are the principles we have to have in this struggle, we cannot be telling everyone what we are because we cannot achieve our objective. So, where does the guerrilla struggle develop? Where the masses are, not where the micos are, but where the masses are and the masses today are in the city and that is where the guerrilla struggle is going to develop.
6) Oliver: The Colombian army says that the 2016 peace agreement was a military surrender. They say that Plan Colombia and Alvaro Uribe’s strategy, Plan Patriota, changes the correlations in the war against the FARC-EP. What do you think about this?
Commander Villa Vázquez: Not all the military say that. In Colombia there was a scorched earth strategy, an alliance of the oligarchy, some military with the paramilitary and drug trafficking to control strategic zones obeying the interests of the U.S. government and the big corporations. With the peace agreement, we sought to alleviate the situation a little. We were trying to resolve the situation a little, and the JEP was trying to know the truth of what has really happened in Colombia, of the real situation. It has not been possible. The government has always had superiority in means, in 1964 there were 16,000 soldiers with state-of-the-art technology at the time of the United States against peasants who were only 200 families, 48 were the ones who finally resisted. They have always had superiority in technical means, in men, they have not made the guerrillas surrender, that is why not all the military say that the guerrillas surrendered and it is also demonstrated at the dialogue table, a surrendered person does not argue, he submits. There was a discussion there, a political discussion, a discussion of principles. And if it is a surrender they should comply with the agreement, they do not comply with it because it is very important.
7) Oliver: Because of Plan Colombia and the ruling classes, the military in Colombia have very effective and very dirty tactics, for example, they put GPS in the food, they intercept telephone communications, they use infiltrators to poison the food of the commanders and other militants, they have many toadies in the civilian population. How is it possible to overcome these advanced counterinsurgency techniques, what some call a “revolution in military affairs”?
Commander Villa Vázquez: As I said, they have always had more technology, more men, a greater number of combatants. They have developed a war strategy: paramilitary, they have used the prison to dominate the rebellion, they have used everything, the technical means. The discipline, the discipline and the compartmentalization, the care in this of the clandestinity avoids these blows also. We can also use technology and we are going to use it in this new stage of struggle. We have to be dialectical and develop the struggle according to the conditions. If it is about drones, we are also going to have drones. We are also going to go all out with the means, and that’s where we are going.
8) Oliver: The Second Marquetalia returns to the armed struggle, why?
Comandante Villa Vázquez: Well, because of the betrayal of the peace agreement, that is unquestionable, it was the betrayal of the peace agreement and also because we had committed ourselves to lay down our arms but not our principles, and they also wanted us to lay down our principles, and no, we did not say that we were going to lay down the flags of struggle, so there is no other way to defend these ideas but to return to arms to protect life, to protect the principles. We have been very indignant at the non-compliance, the betrayal of the peace agreement because as I said, the guerrillas were not betrayed, the people for whom we have fought for more than 60 years were betrayed and the international community that placed great confidence in this peace process was betrayed and this obliges us to take up arms again, which we have called the Second Marquetalia.
9) Oliver: What is the appreciation of the Second Marquetalia of the other leftist movements, legal and illegal, the orientation with the other movements.
Comandante Villa Vázquez: Of respect, we have a lot of respect for the other leftist movements, for the other guerrilla movements. And we say it in the second paragraph of the manifesto, a call for unity, for revolutionary unity to confront imperialism. That is what we consider of the legal and illegal revolutionary movements. Hopefully we could in the not too distant future re-establish the guerrilla coordination, the Simon Bolivar guerrilla coordination to confront imperialism in the continent, in our America.
10) Oliver: Describe to me the relations of the FARC Second Marquetalia with the civilian population.
Comandante Villa Vázquez: The truth is that when the guerrillas make direct contact with the civilian population, the humble population, the workers, the peasants, the students, they fall in love with the guerrillas and there is brotherhood and comradeship. We are the people, we identify with their needs, with their concerns, so this union is very easy. All the FARC documents, the statutes, the guidelines, are aimed at respecting the civilian population and their assets, to take care of the assets, to respect the assets of the civilian population.
11) Oliver: Describe to me the economic strategy of the Second Marquetalia, because all revolutions need their money.
Comandante Villa Vázquez: Of course, we all need money, it is not a question of getting money, you have to know how to get it, and we have to work very hard. As revolutionaries we cultivate, we invent something in order to make agricultural collectives with the population, we develop economic activity. And as the expenses are also higher, we have drawn up a policy and that is to tax the multinationals that plunder the resources of the nation, and the illegal economies, these are the two fronts in which we have been involved. We also receive the solidarity of the people, of the organizations, and if the governments want to support us in this just struggle we welcome all the contributions that are also very necessary for this organization.
12) Oliver: The Second Marquetalia is an army of the people, workers and peasants, political and military, but which is more important: the political or the military and why?
Comandante Villa Vázquez: We are a party, we are a political movement, our aim is political, we work for the seizure of power, with the people. All our actions must have a political purpose. At some moment we may be developing more mass political action and at some moment more military actions, but at no moment can military actions supplant political ends, all military action must always have a political end.
13) Oliver: You have, Commander Villa Vazquez, more than 30 years in the political and military struggle against a narco-terrorist state. Describe to me the reasons why you joined the FARC in the first years of your life.
Comandante Villa Vázquez: Well. I never thought of being a guerrilla fighter, I didn’t even know the guerrilla. I joined the communist youth, while I was in the communist youth, the Uribe agreements came about and the patriotic union emerged. In the development of the patriotic union we were activists as young communists of that movement. And then came the extermination of that movement and I joined the self-defense forces, which is what today is called the FARC militias and there was no other alternative, we had to abandon our studies, we had to go underground because there was a wave of persecution and it was the extermination of the patriotic union that forced me to join the FARC, to become a guerrilla in the FARC.
14) Oliver: Is it possible to develop an armed strategy in urban territories in the 21st century?
Comandante Villa Vázquez: I think there is a general vision that the guerrillas are from the mountains, that they are under the roots, behind the trees, that they are bearded, things like that. And all of a sudden you think, what would a guerrilla be like in the city? The guerrilla is fundamentally a conspirator, a nonconformist with the government, against tyranny and acts in the sector where he is: if he is in the countryside, in the countryside, if he is in the city, in the city, in the city the struggle can develop, if it can be political, political, if it touches military, it also develops military. The student, the professional, the worker, the nurse, the teacher, that is, all sectors can participate in the struggle and if they have to use arms they will do it there in that space under principles of clandestinity and compartmentalization which are very important for the survival of a movement, discipline.
15) Oliver: What is your position as the first commander of the Danilo Garcia Command with respect to the internationalist volunteers who seek to join the FARC (Second Marquetalia)?
Commander Villa Vázquez: We as internationalists congratulate the internationalist volunteers, we welcome them, it would be a great meeting of all the internationalists to create a bloc, unite experiences, knowledge and better project the struggle. All internationalists are very welcome to FARC Segunda Marquetalia and we are also at your disposal with our experience, our knowledge and ready for solidarity in all corners of the world, with all those who fight for peace and life.
16) Oliver: And the last question, Commander, what suggestions and advice do you have for the communists, socialists, Marxists, Leninists and internationalists in other countries?
Comandante Villa Vazquez: (laughs) A hug for everyone, a big hug, fist raised. We have to unite, we have to meet, we have to make many contacts, and make a unified struggle for life, to save this planet that is in danger. It is a task of the communists to save the planet from this voracious, inhuman policy of capitalism.
Oliver: Thank you very much Comandante Villa Vázquez, it was a pleasure to talk and conduct this interview with you about the situation in Colombia. Thank you for helping me and the international community, including journalists and academics, to learn more about the perspectives of the FARC-EP Second Marquetalia.
Oliver Dodd is a PhD student at the University of Nottingham in England researching Colombia’s civil war. For his second master’s degree, he was awarded the Best Thesis Award by the Conflict, Security and Terrorism Centre. This award was presented to Oliver by the former Director of MI5, Sir Jonathan Evans.
Oliver Dodd has recently written an article in the Morning Star newspaper based on this interview and other observations of FARC-EP Segunda Marquetalia in the mountains of Catatumbo, Colombia. In that article, Oliver concluded that “A ghost haunts Colombia: the specter of FARC-EP Segunda Marquetalia”.