The newly-formed FARC political party, the People’s Alternative Revolutionary Force, has been forced to temporarily suspend its electoral campaign for upcoming legislative and presidential elections following a series of violent disturbances at public appearances. The incidents have prevented FARC political candidates such as Rodrigo Londoño (alias Timochenko) and Iván Márquez from engaging with the public and caused events to be cancelled.
‘The decision was taken because of the lack of guarantees to realise political activity in the country. We demand more commitment from the government and the institutions in control of the mob which has attacked not only ‘Timochenko’ but also Iván Márquez in Florencia’, said vice-presidential candidate Imelda Daza of the Patriotic Union (UP) party, which is working alongside the FARC.
While the campaign launch in Bogota’s Ciudad Bolívar on 27 January drew a largely supportive crowd, the visit by Londoño to the city of Armenia, department of Quindio, was marred by abuse, flag-burning and threats and attempts at physical violence towards FARC members and supporters. Party vehicles were also vandalised. ‘It is understandable that people have prejudices, but little by little we will carry our message and change this impression’, said Londoño.
Similar disturbances occurred elsewhere after details of the FARC campaign trail were shared across social networks. When rumours spread that Londoño was scheduled to visit the COEDUCAR trade union in the city of Pereira, a hostile crowd descended on the building, forcing occupants to stay inside for at least six hours for their own protection. The crowd only dispersed once it became apparent that Londoño was not present.
Further disturbances occurred in Cali and Yambo, where mobs threw stones and attempted to assault FARC members and associates. Social organisations and journalists were also targeted, with several people requiring a police escort to depart the scene.
Conservative journalists and politicians have intensified their high-profile attacks on the FARC since the electoral season officially began two weeks ago. Journalist Herbin Hoyos has been particularly vocal in his aggression towards political activists, smearing them as ‘narco-terrorists’, ‘rapists’ and ‘paedophiles’. Such baseless attacks have been cited by independent media as a leading factor in fomenting aggression against the FARC political party.
The high rate of killings of social leaders and FARC members, with at least 25 and seven murdered respectively so far in 2018, and the provocative media reaction to the FARC campaign echoes the opposition towards the Patriotic Union (UP) political party which formed in the 1984 peace process. After making electoral advances, the party faced intense repression by paramilitaries and security forces, as around 5,000 UP members and supporters were murdered in the 1980s and 1990s.
The violence against the UP emphasised the absolute exclusion of left-wing platforms within the Colombian electoral system and led to a major escalation in the armed conflict. The 2016 peace agreement recognised the importance of opening democratic space for marginalised sectors by making political participation one of its core components. Recent events, however, show that there remain powerful forces in Colombia prepared to once again invoke violence against fledgling political movements.