Fidel Castro on the Release of Hostages in Colombia

Introduction. On July 2, several hostages who had been held for years by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia were freed by the Colombian army. In the following articles, Fidel Castro argues that “no revolutionary purpose could justify” the “objectively cruel act” of kidnapping and holding hostages.

His comments have provoked considerable discussion on the left. Two important contributions to this discussion are available on the Marxmail discussion list:

Fidel’s comments originally appeared in the Cuban newspaper Granma in two parts. The first, written shortly after the hostages’ release, was included with “The true story and the challenge of the Cuban journalists,” published on July 4. The second part, “Pax Romana,” was published on July 6.

The translation is by Socialist Voice, based on the Granma translation.

Granma, July 4, 2008

Yesterday, an important event took place, which will be an issue in coming days. This is the release of Ingrid Betancourt and a group of people held by the FARC, that is, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

On January 10th this year, our ambassador to Venezuela, German Sanchez, following a request of the Venezuelan and Colombian governments, took part in the release of Clara Rojas to the International Red Cross. She had been a candidate for vice President of Colombia when Ingrid Betancourt was running for President and was kidnapped on February 23, 2002. Consuelo Gonzalez, a member of the House of Representatives, kidnapped on September 10, 2001, was released with her.

An era of peace was opening for Colombia. This is a process Cuba has supported for over two decades, as the best way to unity and peace for the peoples of our America, using new approaches in the special and complex circumstances prevailing after the demise of the USSR in the early 1990s — which I wont try to analyze here — very different from those existing in Cuba, Nicaragua and other countries in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s of the 20th century.

The bombing of a camp in Ecuadorian soil in the early hours of March 1st, — while Colombian guerrillas and young visitors from different nationalities were sleeping — using Yankee technology; the occupation of the territory, the coup de grace on the wounded and the taking of corpses as part of the terrorist plan from the United States government was repudiated the world over.

A Rio Group meeting held in the Dominican Republic on March 7th, strongly condemned these acts, while the US administration applauded.

Manuel Marulanda, a peasant and communist militant, the main leader of that guerrilla movment founded almost half a century ago, was still alive. He passed away on the 26th of that same month.

Ingrid Betancourt, feeble and sick, as well as other captives with serious health problems, could hardly resist much longer.

On elementary humanist grounds, we rejoiced at the news that Ingrid Betancourt, three American citizens and other captives had been released. The civilians should have never been kidnapped, nor should the soldiers have been kept prisoner in the conditions of the jungle. These were objectively cruel actions. No revolutionary purpose could justify it. In time, it will be important to analyse subjective factors in depth.

We won our revolutionary war in Cuba by immediately releasing every prisoner, absolutely unconditionally. The soldiers and officers captured in battle were released to the International Red Cross; we only kept their weapons. No soldier will ever surrender if he thinks he will be killed or subjected to cruel treatment.

We are watching with concern how the imperialists try to capitalize on what happened in Colombia in order to hide and justify their heinous crimes of genocide against other peoples. They want to deflect international attention from their interventionist plans in Venezuela and Bolivia and from the presence of the 4th Fleet in support of the political line that intends to obliterate the independence of the countries located south of the United States, while taking possession of their natural resources.

Granma, July 6, 2008

I have drawn the following facts from statements made by William Brownfield, US ambassador to Colombia, from that country’s press and television, from the international press, and other sources. The display of technology and economic resources is impressive.

While Colombia’s senior military officers went to great pains to explain that Ingrid Betancourt’s rescue had been an entirely Colombian operation, US authorities were saying that “it was the result of years of intense military cooperation of the Colombian and United States’ armies.”

“’The truth is that we have been able to get along as we seldom have in the United States, except with our oldest allies, mostly in NATO,’ said Brownfield, referring to his country’s relationships with the Colombian security forces, which have received over 4 billion USD in military assistance since the year 2000.”

“…on various occasions it became necessary for the US Administration to make decisions at the top levels concerning this operation.

“The US spy satellites helped in locating the hostages during a month period starting on May 31st until the rescue action on Wednesday.”

“The Colombians installed video surveillance equipment, supplied by the United States. Operated by remote control, these can take close-ups and pan along the rivers which are the only transportation routes through thick forests, said the Colombian and US authorities.”

“US surveillance aircraft intercepted the rebels’ radio and satellite phone talks and used imaging equipment that can break through the forest foliage.”

“’The defector will receive a considerable sum of the close to one- hundred-million-dollars reward offered by the government’, stated the Commander General of the Colombian Army.”

On Wednesday, July 1st, the London BBC reported that Cesar Mauricio Velasquez, press secretary at Casa de Nariño (Colombian Government House) had informed that delegates from France and Switzerland had met with Alfonso Cano, chief of the FARC.

According to the BBC, that would be the first contact with international delegates accepted by the new chief after the death of Manuel Marulanda. False information about the meeting of two European envoys with Cano had been released in Bogota.

The deceased leader of the FARC had been born on May 12, 1932, according to his father’s testimony. Marulanda, a poor peasant with liberal views and a supporter of Gaitan, had started his armed resistance 60 years ago. He was a guerrilla before us; he had reacted to the carnage of peasants carried out by the oligarchy.

Much later he joined the Communist Party, which, like every other in Latin America, was under the influence of the Communist Party of the USSR and not of Cuba. They were in solidarity with our Revolution but they were not subordinated to it.

It was drug-traffickers and not the FARC that unleashed terror in that sister nation as part of their feuds over the United States market. They caused powerful bomb blasts and blew up trucks loaded with plastic explosives destroying buildings and injuring or killing countless people.

The Colombian Communist Party never contemplated the idea of conquering power through the armed struggle. The guerrilla movement was a resistance front and not a key instrument for conquering revolutionary power, as it had been the case in Cuba. In 1993, the 8th FARC Conference decided to break ranks with the Communist Party. Its leader, Manuel Marulanda, took over the leadership of that Party’s guerrillas which had always excelled in their narrow sectarianism when admitting combatants as well as in their strong and compartmentalized methods of command.

Marulanda, a man with a remarkable natural talent and a gift for leadership, did not have the opportunity to study when he was young. It is said that he had only completed the 5th grade of grammar school. He conceived a long and extended struggle. I disagreed with this perspective, but I never had the chance to talk with him.

The FARC gained considerable strength, assembling more than 10 thousand combatants. Many had been born during the war and knew nothing else. Other leftist organizations rivalled the FARC in the struggle. At the same time, Colombian territory had become the largest source of cocaine production in the world: extreme violence, kidnappings, taxes and demands from the drug producers became widespread.

The paramilitary forces, armed by the oligarchy, basically drew from the great number of men enlisted in the country’s armed forces who were discharged from duty every year without secure jobs. This created in Colombia a very complex situation in which the only way out was real peace, although, like many other goals humanity has set itself, that was remote and difficult. For three decades, Cuba has advocated that option for that nation.

While our journalists meeting in their 8th Congress debated on the new information technology and the principles and ethics of social communicators, I meditated on the these developments.

I have expressed, very clearly, our position in favor of peace in Colombia, but, we are neither in favor of foreign military intervention nor of the policy of force that the United States intends to impose at all costs on that long-suffering and industrious people.

I have honestly and strongly criticized the objectively cruel methods of kidnapping and retaining prisoners under the conditions of the jungle. But I am not suggesting that anyone laid down their arms, since no one who did so in the last 50 years survived to see peace. If I dare suggest anything to the FARC guerrillas, it would simply be that they declare, by any means possible to the International Red Cross, their willingness to release the hostages and prisoners they are still holding, without any precondition. I do not pretend that they listen to me; it is simply my duty to say what I think. Anything else would only reward disloyalty and treason.

I will never support the pax romana that the empire is trying to impose on Latin America.