Student - October 8, 2015

'There's no other way of achieving peace'

Roelof Kleis

JulianCortes, a Colombian political refugee and Master’s student at Wageningen UR, was in Havana (Cuba) last month to interview members of the FARC. Resource spoke to him.

Julian Cortes was in luck as while he was there, the negotiators reached agreement on a provisional peace settlement. After almost 60 years, it seems as if the end is in sight for Colombia’s civil war.

Why were you in Havana?
'I was interviewing seven rebels who were part of the FARC’s team of negotiators in
Havana. I’m doing my thesis with the Sociology of Development and Change Group for my Master’s in Development & Rural Innovation. My research is on the rural development practices that the FARC have in rural areas. The FARC do a lot of
community work in the areas they control. They provide laws and regulation, run
health campaigns and support the creation of community action groups. That is the positive side of the guerrilla. I want to get a picture of that side of the FARC.’

Do you sympathize with the FARC?
'‘I think that the FARC have done some interesting work in rural communities. They have interesting political ideas on how to improve democracy in Colombia and make conditions better in the countryside. Of course as a product of the war, they have committed violent actions. That is why we have to stop the war. A lot of Colombians sympathize with the guerilla’s principles. The problem in Colombia is that if you agree with some of their ideas, you are seen as a member of the FARC. But I’m not a FARC member, I’m a pacifist.’

Do you want to alter the image of the FARC?
‘No, I want to tell the story that has not been told by the mass media. The guerrilla
movements are painted as being evils. But that is not the true situation as I experienced it when I was working with some farming communities in regions occupied by the FARC. The guerrillas are seen as responsible for all of Colombia’s problems but that’s not the case. In Colombia, more people die every year from famine and malnourishment than at the hands of the guerrillas. But people in Colombia and other countries don’t realize that.’ 

You are a political refugee. Why did you have to leave your country?
'‘I was a student leader at the National University of Colombia in Bogota. After I graduated, I worked with farmers’ groups in the areas controlled by the guerrillas. After that, I was a lecturer at the university in Bogota. Then I was accused of being with the guerrillas and concocting a plan to assassinate the president at the time, Uribe. That was a big lie. I spent three years in prison. That’s how it works in Colombia. I was a ‘false positive’, as human rights defenders call it. At present there are 10,000 political prisoners in Colombia. Only 1300 of them are FARC members; the rest are students, farmers, academics or intellectuals. When I was released from prison, the paramilitary threatened to kill me so I left the country. I requested political asylum in Belgium. I live in Brussels, but I’ve spent most of the past year in Wageningen because of my study.’

In Colombia, more people die every year from famine and malnourishment than at the hands of the guerillas
Julian Cortes

The breakthrough in the negotiations was the agreement on the adjudication of crimes committed during the civil war. What do you think of the outcome?
‘This agreement means that the government is accepting the guerrilla movement’s political status. So the guerrillas are no longer being seen as a terrorist group. That’s really important. The adjudication of crimes applies to all the actors in the conflict. That is very interesting because violations of human rights are also committed by the Colombian army and paramilitary groups, not by the guerrillas. In signing this agreement, the government is accepting that responsibility.’

It has been agreed that no one will go to prison. The retribution for crimes will be community service. Is that acceptable for the victims, whichever side they were on?
‘That is a problem. We Colombians have a long history of violence and the peace settlement is the only way to end that. There is no other way of achieving peace. I am a victim too. I was persecuted, put in prison and had to leave my country. I’ve lost a lot but I survived. Both sides will need to accept the situation and make a start on reconciliation. And that reconciliation does not just apply to the victims. Colombia is incredibly polarized. Colombians will have to learn to live with the fact that there are differences of opinion and that we should not defend them with weapons.’

Re:actions 7

  • Elske

    Good luck with the fundraising project. I hope it can help the country move forward to finally live together in peace. I donated a tree

  • Oscar Iturriaga

    Julián is a professional liar. He claims in this interview that he is "a pacifist" and "not a FARC member". Nobody asked him the question if he was a FARC member or not. He had no need to lie, but he deliberately lied. Then, after the peace process is signed up, he appears as a militant of the FARC since 2006. Check what he says:

    Of course the FARC are angels in his world! He was in their payroll all along as a paid activist! If so much people agree with them, why they only managed to get 50,000 votes in a country of 50 million!? Julián will have a tough time trying to explain this. But he is such a shameless liar I doubt he is bothered.

    My question is: how can a professional liar be trustworthy in his research? If you are proven as someone who deliberately lied, how should I trust or believe anything else he says? What is the limit between academic seudo-work and just trying to push your own political agenda in a different scenario? How can an academic institution provide a platform for someone who is just trying to use the space to do his own agenda and tries to benefit personally from it?

  • Nikolas

    It is possible to clean the farc's image through some experiences of 'rural development' and 'good values' shared with the communities? I mean, in front of all the proves of corruption within it, and crimes commited against innocent people the last 30 years? Yes, government and paramilitaries did that too, but I think the argument of: "they do the same and more, so we can do that and more!", is a bit terrorific and simple.

  • Leonardo

    I do not agree with must of the statements from Julian. First, there is NOT A LOT of Colombians sympathize with the guerilla’s principles. What principles? kidnapping, drugs traffic, killing innocent people inside a church? putting bombs in electric towers?. Second What is guerrillas rural development? Is possible to provide any democracy improvement, improve conditions in the countryside, provide laws and regulation, run health campaigns and support the creation of community action groups? WHEN YOUR CARRY AN AK-47 IN YOUR HANDS AND YOUR FINGER IS PULLING THE TRIGGER...
    I fully disagree with Che....
    i think is better to have an objective discussion on what will be the key points on the peace agreement.

  • Paola Chaves

    I really invite Resource to open a space in the next edition where the issue can be discussed deeply. The Peace talks are necessary for moving on, work in the future of Colombian people and addressing the structural problems that fuel the war. However, it is also necessary that there is a strong and critical reflection about what is the cost of violence in achieving such beautiful dreams. As a Colombian, I do support the peace negotiations, because I am tired of the war. As an expert of communication, I have seen that the media in Colombia have played an active role in polarizing the discussion. As a PhD researcher from Wageningen, in the last three years I have been studying systematically the Non-violent responses to conflict in Colombia, analyzing the case of the Indigenous people in north Cauca, one of the regions more afflicted by conflict in the country. This gave me this perspective of how important is to understand that we cannot ignore the past, even if the past is bitter. The position of Julian is not new, but it is a selective reading of history and one which fudges the issue of violence from the guerrillas. If Colombian people want to achieve a sustainable peace, we need to stop watching the past from one single point of view and accept the good, the bad, and the ugly contributions of each actor, including the government, the guerrillas and the industry. Beyond that, we also need to listen and give a place to the victims, the social leaders and all the population that do not use guns and struggle every day for improving their lives and the country, these last group has been the most ignored and the most affected.

  • Jose Lozano

    I do agree with Julian on a couple of his statements i.e. a peace settlement is the only way to end violence in Colombia and differences of opinion should not be defended with weapons. However, I strongly disagree with his view that the positive side of the guerrillas is that they “do a lot of community work in the areas they control. They provide laws and regulation, run health campaigns and support the creation of community groups”. In that sense one could argue then that all actors of the Colombian conflict have also contributed positively on the regions they occupy in the country. Is it not the case that drug dealers or paramilitary groups of Colombia also create laws, regulation and support the creation of community groups? Laws, regulations and health should better be thought and provided by experts on each one of these fields and not by individuals or organizations that acquire power through the brute force of weapons.

    • Julian

      Dear Jose, this is part of the discussion. In fact these interventions on rural communities could reveal that they have been doing more than a simple war and use of the weapons as the mass media have been telling us. This is a proof that they have occupying the paper of the state in some areas. But is not only the traditional functions of the state, it is also the influence on the communities of their values, their culture and the way they understand and interpret the reality. This is part of what we want to discuss in a next event about the Colombian conflict entitled "Rural development, peace talks and peace building" to be realized at Wageningen University in the last week of November.

  • Che

    Interesting view, interesting story. It's exactly Guevara's vision on the necessity and benefits of guerrilla. Good luck to Julian!


resource_wageningenur_nl_forum_reactions_wrapper for object 43 of type wm_language nl_gx_webmanager_cms_core_implementation_languageimpl 1

  • Rob Hageraats

    Mooi geschreven , en moet maar een keer bekend gemaakt worden wie de echte misdadigers zijn , .....zeker niet de farc, hebben voor het volk veel goeds gedaan, maar worden inderdaad afgeschilderd als terreur groep. Ik ben niet voor geweld, maar alle andere partijen (lees regeringen) doen hier nog altijd een schepje bovenop, deze regeringen zijn zelf de grote terroristische groeperingen. Als je niet in de pas loopt bij dit soort regeringen ben je al snel een terrorist en, als ze niets kunnen vinden verzinnen ze wel wat, te walgelijk voor woorden. Van mij uit ook voor Tanja succes in de toekomst, en ga zo door.