July 20 marked the beginning of the second year of Petro’s term. After an end to a legislature marked by struggles over reforms, sprinkled with political scandals in the bowels of the government, ministerial crises, and incipient appeals for mobilization in the streets, Petro is using this moment to rethink his strategy. The government has prepared new negotiations to rebuild the necessary majorities to move forward with its bills and, on the eve of the end of his first year in government, to have something to show to the masses still waiting for a longed-for and elusive change.
By PST – Colombia
For this reason, on July 20, Petro’s first play was to launch his call for a National Accord, while just days later he announced his intention to appoint the former paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso as “peace manager.” The announcement of this appointment comes on the twentieth anniversary of the Ralito Pact, which sealed the criminal alliance between the paramilitary leaders and bourgeois politicians. Petro has justified such an appointment as a means of achieving the final demobilization of paramilitarism and total peace.
Mancuso will be hated by those who appointed him
Mancuso’s apparent surprise appointment as peace manager has been in the works for months and perhaps even years. In Mancuso’s declarations before the JEP (Special Jurisdiction for Peace) in May, to which he seeks to be admitted, he expressed his intention to “collaborate” with the government, providing new revelations and assistance in finding mass graves in Catatumbo and on the Venezuelan border. In addition, his lawyers have been negotiating benefits for him with the Peace Commissioner, in view of the prospect of his return to the country after serving his sentence in the United States.
The bourgeois party in opposition to Petro has been very unhappy with the announcement. Duque, Lafaurie, and Uribe, along with the big newspapers and media, coincide in distorting Mancuso, treating him as a simple liar and resentful man who seeks revenge against Uribe and his government for having extradited him in 2008. While Lafaurie says that Mancuso elaborated a “carousel of versions” of what transpired and worries that businessmen and military will be questioned again, Duque rejects any accusation about Uribe’s relationship with the paramilitaries. Uribe himself was one of the first to react, warning “(…) I am waiting for proof of Mancuso’s slander. That the President names him as a peace manager does not matter, what is serious is that he lies and that there is discrimination.” In statements like this one, he does nothing more than give himself away.
For the Colombian bourgeoisie, Mancuso is nothing more than a traitor, and the contempt with which they treat him shows their feelings. But he is not just any traitor. Mancuso went from being strolled through the editorial offices of El Tiempo and other media, to being triumphantly taken into the walls of Congress to legitimize his crimes in 2004 by those who repudiate him today. Because of the risk of him telling the truth, he was extradited to the United States. But even so, he has been releasing bits and pieces of the truth, always in exchange for benefits. Now, with his statements before the JEP, he seeks to save himself from the fate of falling into the hands of his old masters. What the former paramilitary chief says is not out of sincere repentance, but rather because he is seeking the benefits of the JEP. In this way, he emphasizes what many known for years to be true: his role as a link between the paramilitaries, the State, and businessmen.
As a businessman and paramilitary commander, he not only had unrestricted access to battalions, but also toured all the elite clubs in every city. Bourgeoisie, such as Pacho Santos and others, made the rounds to request his services and create paramilitary structures throughout the country. Businessmen from multinationals and companies of national stature sought his services to get rid of union leaders and activists who stood in the way of labor exploitation. Mancuso knows every one of the names of his bosses and of all the companies that used his services to silence the unions. Uribe knows it, and so does Petro.
For Petro, Salvatore Mancuso is a valuable asset in his struggle with the opposition bourgeoisie. Possessing the uncomfortable truth, the paramilitary has become a political weapon to pressure support, or at least to allow reforms pass Congress. His presence has two sides: there is the National Accord, and then there is the Mancuso knowledge of the truth. That is why Petro has him singing.
The National Accord has been presented as a dialogue and with the altruistic rhetoric of a more equitable world and “fairer society.” The government has tried to clear the way by deposing its uncomfortable ministers and trying to gather again the necessary parliamentary majorities to pass its reforms. But Petro knows that the Colombian bourgeoisie is hard to convince about the advantages of reformism. That is why he is keeping Mancuso up his sleeve. If they do not give in on reforms, they will have to give in to the truth of paramilitarism.
At the beginning of his government, Petro was aware that if he did not push forward reforms during the first year, the social outburst of the National Strike could not be contained any longer, and the demands for change would return to the streets. To dismantle the struggles, the reforms would have to be sufficiently attractive, appearing as a response to the demands of the historically exploited and oppressed masses; but at the same time not so deep as to question the conditions of exploitation and appropriation of the profits of the bourgeoisie and scare away foreign capital.
The balance tips to the right
This impossible balance is being resolved by tipping the balance towards the bourgeoisie, which with its pettiness, has opposed tooth and nail any reform that would modify its model of accumulation imposed by blood and fire for decades. Thus, they have managed to stop and torpedo reform projects that nevertheless guarantee private business and have the approval of imperialism, allowing the pension counter-reform that strengthens the PFAs to pass. But this pettiness to prevent reforms is more fire under the pressure cooker that Petro is trying to appease. For that reason, and already with the experience of a year of coalition government with bourgeois sectors, he is raising the stakes of the game.
But the fact that he makes the bourgeoisie and Uribe uncomfortable is not enough justification for appointing Mancuso as peace manager. The fact that he is now trying to present himself as repentant, willing to tell part of the truth or to adopt “politically correct” language does not cover up the horror for which he is directly responsible. For the victims of paramilitary violence and terror, for the relatives of thousands of disappeared, for those murdered with the greatest cruelty, the atrocious crimes and tortures, sexual violence, the fact that one of their main executioners presents himself as a peace manager is a real affront, and represents a revictimization of those who suffered at his behest.
The Total Peace policy, centered on negotiation and the indiscriminate offering of benefits to all those who exercised political violence against the population, will not bring true peace for those who have had to suffer it for decades. The failures of peace negotiations since the surrender of the liberal guerrillas of Guadalupe Salcedo in the 1950s to the Havana agreements in 2016, show that there will be no peace in Colombia without returning and distributing the land to those from whom it has been taken, without restoring the labor rights taken away during the 1990s, and without ending the repressive and anti-democratic regime that survives to this day.
We all know the words to this song
Mancuso knows what the world knows: that all paramilitary paths lead to Álvaro Uribe Vélez. The victims and history demand his trial and punishment. But the relationship of the bourgeoisie with paramilitarism does not end with Uribe. It is the businessmen, landowners, and multinationals who directly or jointly benefited from paramilitary violence and must pay for their historic crimes against the working class, the peasantry, indigenous people, the student movement, and all the victims of decades of political violence.
Mancuso’s truth is part of the historical truth of bloody bourgeois rule in Colombian history. The various political regimes under which the bourgeoisie has ruled until today have used private armies to do what the army and police have not been able to do openly. Torture, massacres, selective assassinations, and forced disappearances are historical methods used by the bourgeoisie through legal and illegal armed apparatuses, of which the paramilitarism of the 1980s is only one of its expressions. The political regime that emerged from the Constitution of 1991 has been nothing more than a cover of the Social State of Law, for a regime that for the last 40 years has relied on the institution of paramilitarism to exercise its domination and crush any resistance to exploitation and oppression.
Historic crimes such as those in Colombia have been confronted and truly judged when the victims and the people has had the strength to impart justice. The trials of dictatorships, and the destruction of apartheid in South Africa, have taken place on the basis of the triumph, sometimes revolutionary, of the victims. But in Colombia, the legitimate yearning for peace, justice, and reparation for the victims has come from above, with pacts between victimizers.
Paramilitarism is simply one more institution of the Colombian political regime and its Bonapartist character, which covered by the shreds of bourgeois democracy, must fall. And it will only fall when those of us from below overthrow it and take our destiny into our own hands, instead of relying on reformist governments without reforms. This will only happen with a socialist revolution under workers’ democracy, with a true workers’ and popular government.
First published by Executive Committee PST on August 1, 2023