On May 30, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) released French reporter Romeo Langlois to a humanitarian commission as promised. Following his release, Langlois gave a press conference in Florence, the capital city of the Southern Caqueta province of Colombia where he had been in FARC-EP custody since late April.
Langlois’ declarations to the press surprised most in attendance. Despite being held for 33 days, Langlois did not express any resentment or bitterness towards the FARC-EP for his capture. On the contrary, he thanked his captors for treating his wounds and treating him well. He said, “they never tied me up. … Rather, they always treated me as a guest. They gave me good food and were always respectful.”
Langlois was embedded with government troops when they were ambushed by the rebel forces. He suffered a gunshot wound to the arm. Immediately after the exchange of fire, he took off his military apparel and surrendered himself to the rebel troops.
The FARC-EP decided to retain Langlois. At his release, the FARC-EP apologized for first labeling him a “prisoner of war” rather than a representative of the press.
Langlois expressed that his capture was a “tough blow for the Colombian government” and that despite government reports of near defeat for the FARC-EP, they remain strong and popular in many areas. He made it a point to mention, “They are ready to continue the war for 50 more years if they need to, until peace comes, (but) peace on their terms,” adding that the rebel forces have little to no faith in the Colombian government.
During the conference, Langlois repeatedly acknowledged that the FARC-EP supports the participation of other countries to help in the conflict. He added that at the moment of his release, the rebel combatants reminded him that the organization’s main goal is to make a better country: “They spoke to me about their struggle and the call they are making to the countries of the world to help Colombia reach a negotiated solution to the internal conflict.”
Peace process sabotaged by Colombian government in alliance with U.S.
The call for a negotiated solution to the conflict, and for international solidarity, is particularly important because the Colombian ruling class, in alliance with the U.S. government, has sabotaged the peace process time and again. The Colombian government has received a total of $7 billion in U.S. military aid since the signing of the murderous “Plan Colombia” in the late 1990s. The plan was enacted under the umbrella of fighting against drug trafficking, but in reality the money is used to put down the armed resistance and suppress popular movements in the country.
The French reporter also spoke about the current state of the country, criticizing the Colombian government for turning a blind eye to the masses of poor people with no access to food, running water or health care. He told the media to stop distorting the image of the conflict and report on the real conditions of the peasants in the very same region of Caqueta where many peasant families have reported illness and birth deformities tied to arial fumigation used to eradicate coca crops, a major project of Plan Colombia.
Langlois’ declarations, while surprising to the Colombian bourgeois press and ruling elite, come as no surprise to the masses of Colombian landless peasants and the working poor.
Colombia is a country rich in natural resources and is now officially in a free trade agreement with the United States. It is a major exporter of oil, emeralds and coffee. Yet this great wealth does not belong to the masses of Colombian people but to transnational companies and the Colombian ruling elite who sell the country’s resources to the highest bidder. In a wealthy country, populated by more than 45 million people, half of them live in poverty and 20 percent in extreme poverty. These contradictions have resulted in great inequalities and violence in the country.
Colombians are also victims of state terror and paramilitary violence. Paramilitary groups are hired assassins employed by private companies and landowners to terrorize the population and threaten workers’ and peasants’ movements
Despite difficult obstacles, a vibrant popular movement along with an armed resistance has maintained the struggle for peace and social justice in Colombia. For 48 years, the FARC-EP has been at war with the Colombian state. The rebel organization is made up of the very same landless peasants and poor and working-class people who have been forced out of their lands and left with no jobs who must fight for their livelihoods.
But the imperialist United States and European Union considered them to be a “terrorist” organization. As such, any victory on behalf of the Colombian military is portrayed as a victory against terrorism by the corporate media.
Langlois criticizes ‘terrorist’ label for FARC-EP
Langlois heavily criticized labeling the FARC-EP as a terrorist organization. According to Langlois, “More than an armed group, they are a parallel government in the countryside.” He explained that in the eyes of many poor Colombians, the media has got it backwards: They “are afraid of military patrol units and believe them to be the real ‘terrorists,’ not the FARC.” He went as far as to say that he “declined to be drawn in on the FARC’s terrorist label.” The real terrorists in Colombia are U.S.-supported reactionary capitalist political leaders, the corrupt military and the paramilitary organizations.
The former and ultra right-wing Colombian president Alvaro Uribe accused Langlois of identifying with terrorism after the press conference. The military commanders of Uribe’s administration are currently under investigation by the International Federation for Human Rights for the “false positives” scandals, where innocent civilians were killed and dressed up in rebel guerrilla clothing and weaponry to frame their executions as military victories against the insurgency. According to the investigation, around 3,400 executions were carried out between 2002 and 2008.
The FARC-EP are not terrorists. They are as their name states a people’s army rooted in the contradictions of the country. The FARC-EP’s vision is to free the country’s land and resources from the Colombian ruling class and the claws of U.S. imperialism. In an official statement made the same day Langlois was released, the rebel organization said, “In Colombia, the people are fed up with the oligarchic, repressive, and corrupt governments that do not represent and refuse to attend to their obligations to the people.” They added, “The road we all need to follow is the same, the road of popular unity.”
The struggle in Colombia is intensifying. The declarations made by Langlois clearly counter the image portrayed by the bourgeois media that the FARC-EP is nearly defeated. With the free-trade agreement having gone into effect last month, the contradictions and poverty can only deepen. Regardless of what comes out of any peace talks, one thing is certain: The FARC-EP alongside the Colombian progressive movement will continue to fight for a better country.