[Marxism] WSJ: Leftist Party’s Exiles Return for Colombia Vote

Shalva Eliava shalva.eliava at outlook.com
Wed Oct 28 06:36:31 MDT 2015


Leftist Party’s Exiles Return for Colombia Vote
Party’s return a windfall of government peace talks with Marxist guerrillas

By Juan Forero
Oct. 24, 2015 8:00 a.m. ET

VALLEDUPAR, Colombia—In 1989, after hundreds of her political comrades
had been assassinated, Imelda Daza left this city in northeast Colombia
for exile in Sweden.

Gunmen from a right-wing paramilitary movement had effectively wiped out
her party, the leftist party Patriotic Union, in a campaign to eliminate
what it said was a front for Marxist rebels.

Now, Ms. Daza has returned to run for governor in this parched, largely
rural state, testing the bounds of a political opening in a more
peaceful era. Her party, which disappeared from ballots in 2002, will
contend for votes on Sunday as Colombians go to the polls to elect
mayors, governors, and members of town councils and state assemblies.

Polls show that the 900 candidates the party is fielding will win only a
smattering of seats. But their return is seen as an encouraging windfall
of government peace talks with Marxist guerrillas, which many Colombians
hope will end a tradition of political violence that had stigmatized
leftist politicians.

“Physically I left, but my spirit never abandoned my roots,” said Ms.
Daza, a stout, gray-haired 67-year-old who has been a whirlwind of
activity since her return from Sweden in July. “I’m from here, and I’m
here to exercise my rights.”

The Patriotic Union was formed in the mid-1980s by the Marxist rebel
group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, as it sought to
disarm and needed a vehicle to win power at the ballot box. Its success
was immediate: Party members, many of whom had never been guerrillas but
had joined to advance its leftist ideology, secured posts in Congress
and a range of local offices.

But by the early 1990s, illegal antiguerrilla militias, sometimes
working with renegade military officers, had killed more than 1,000
party politicians, including two presidential candidates and eight

“The point of killing great numbers of people of a political affiliation
was to destroy a political party,” said Steven Dudley, author of
“Walking Ghosts,” a book on the Patriotic Union. “And those who wanted
to destroy a political party achieved their goal.”

The slayings prompted many FARC fighters who had joined the party to
take up arms again, convinced that their political goals could only be
achieved through armed insurrection. With the country descending into
violence, and most of the party’s leaders dead or exiled, the Patriotic
Union in 2002 lost the legal voter threshold required by law to operate
as a party.

A judge in 2013, though, ruled in favor of the Patriotic Union’s right
to field candidates, a decision supported by President Juan Manuel
Santos’s government. Encouraged by government peace talks with FARC
rebels, former party members who had disappeared from public view or who
had exiled themselves in Europe returned to campaign for office.

“It’s very significant that they’re back,” said Michael Shifter,
president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a policy group in Washington.
“The fact that these candidates feel secure enough to campaign and run
for office shows that the country has made progress.”

The party has little money for its campaigns, nor are its candidates
well known. The Patriotic Union uses offices at the Communist Party
headquarters in Bogotá, where bookshelves contain tracts from Lenin and
Engels and pictures of Argentine guerrilla icon Ernesto “Che” Guevara
hang from the walls.

Aida Avella, 65, who returned in 2013 from a 17-year exile in
Switzerland after surviving an attack with a rocket-propelled grenade,
said she now feels that “it’s not hard to forgive but what you cannot do
is forget.”

“Many of our comrades were shot dead—in their offices, in their homes
and in the street,” said Ms. Avella, the Patriotic Union’s president and
a candidate for Bogotá’s city council.

She said something fundamental had changed in Colombia and there is a
new tolerance, which the party wants to test. “It’s a great thing to sit
down and use politics to try to resolve the country’s problems,” she said.

On the campaign trail in Cesar state, Ms. Daza, an economist who
describes herself as “socialist and anticapitalist,” reminded voters at
rallies that seven small-town council members and a state assemblyman
from the Patriotic Union were all killed in this region in the 1980s.
“The only one who survived was me,” she said.

In Valledupar, a city known for its accordion-laced music and 100-degree
days, Ms. Daza said her plan is to “vindicate our members, the people
who died characterized as terrorists and guerrillas.”

Traveling with six bodyguards provided by the state, Ms. Daza has
visited parched towns to talk about water rights. She has stopped at
universities to promise free tuition and has railed against foreign
mining companies.

She said it will be an uphill battle to win the governorship. But Ms.
Daza said she feels the party will benefit by simply running and getting
its message heard, steps she says are vital to building a stronger movement.

“For us, this has generated conditions to do politics,” she said of the
new political environment. “They can’t call us terrorists or guerrillas
for doing politics. We’ll be opposition politicians. We will liberate
ourselves from the stigma.”

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