Venezuelan Reflections on Peace in Colombia

Despite Sunday's shocking electoral outcome, Venezuela’s Bolivarian government and its grassroots movements have expressed unwavering solidarity and their relentless commitment to peace in Colombia.

By Jeanette Charles
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A person attends an event supporting peace in Colombia (Getty Images).
A person attends an event supporting peace in Colombia (Getty Images).

Entire peoples and movements committed to peace, regional integration and solidarity across the Americas undeniably anticipated that Sunday’s plebiscite would reinforce the Peace Accords marking a new era for Colombia and the hemisphere.

However, the 37.28 percent of Colombians who participated in Sunday’s elections decided against the recently signed Peace Accords between the Santos government and the FARC with less than one percent margin of difference, approximately 70,000 votes. The decision ultimately halted what was days before a celebratory result of carefully facilitated negotiations over four years.

Venezuela's Historic Role to Consolidate a Path Toward Peace

Venezuela has served as one of the main promoters and active facilitators in the Colombian peace process. Venezuelan and Colombian history is as inseparable and interwoven as their future. Former President Hugo Chávez tirelessly advocated for peace in Colombia and by extension, the Americas. 

As the peace accords were signed on September 27 in Cartagena, President Nicolás Maduro emphasized that Chavez “managed to build the confidence necessary to start negotiations which culminated in the signing of the peace agreement in Cartagena.” Likewise, the FARC’s top negotiator Timochenko as well as Colombian Senator Iván Cepeda for the Democratic Pole have both acknowledged and expressed gratitude for Venezuela’s role in the Colombian peace process. 

Why is Venezuela so committed to peace in Colombia? Arguably, following Colombians themselves, Venezuelans have witnessed firsthand the brutal reality of their bordering nation’s civil war. Five decades of right wing sponsored violence has relentlessly responded to and served US anti-communist campaigns as well as US economic and political interests.  

Greater militarization by both state and non-state actors as well as neoliberal privatization are direct manifestations of the War on Drugs and Plan Colombia. As a direct result, Venezuela is home to more than five million displaced Colombians and countless more descendants.

Peace for Colombia and for Latin America as a whole remains an unfulfilled promise to the millions displaced disappeared and assassinated over five decades of violence.  However, grassroots movements of the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States (CELAC), an integrationist platform born of former Venezuelan President Chávez’s legacy, have expressed time and time again an unwavering commitment to peace for Colombians and by extension Latin America and the Caribbean.

As such, Venezuelans understand more than anyone else that while Sunday’s elections were presented to a certain extent by the Colombian government and certainly by the Colombian elite as the people’s “final” say on peace, the elections actually imply and serve greater political as well as economic interests than those presented publicly at the negotiation table.

Additionally, as President Maduro emphasized, “War or peace in Colombia directly affects the life of our people.”

Venezuelan Grassroots Reactions to Sunday's Results 

Venezuelans felt the emotional ripple effect of Colombia's electoral outcome and drew uncertainty from its political implications. From informal conversations with friends and colleagues to reading immediate reactions on social media, it became increasingly apparent how many Venezuelans considered the Colombian peace process an integral part of their own revolutionary process.

Venezuelans expressed their rage as well as disappointment with an electoral process seemingly set up to unfavor the Colombian people. Moreover, they voiced their doubts regarding Colombian politicians' real or absent intentions to work toward peace. 

"What were their [the government's] real motives?",  "was this all just a show meant to disarm the guerrillas?", "why were the elections necessary in the first place?" were among some of the questions spoken by Venezuelans following the elections. Never once, did I find someone who blamed the Colombian people despite an easy and simple way to assess the situation given how contemporary indicators to validate a democracy almost exlusively rest on elections regardless of historical participation or outcome.  

Ahead of Sunday’s elections María Gabriela Del Pilar Blanco, a Venezuelan organizer from Higuerote, Miranda expressed her enthusiastic support for Colombia’s peace accords. “There are millions of Colombians in Venezuela. My organization works closely with many Colombians. We wholeheartedly support peace in Colombia, we ourselves are a peaceful people and promote peace internationally,” she said Sunday to a group of Central American immigrants in Los Angeles, California largely aligned with Salvadoran, Nicaraguan and Honduran resistance movements.  

Once Blanco heard Sunday’s results, she pointedly questioned the disparity in voter turnout and questioned international oversight of “democracy” in Colombia. “I wonder about the international electoral observation that happened during Colombia’s elections on Sunday. When we have elections in Venezuela, hundreds of people come to observe from the UN to Unasur to solidarity groups. What have they said? What did they observe on Sunday’s elections?”

According to Colombia Reports, more than 2000 electoral observers were dispatched to cover and document Sunday’s elections. The Electoral Observation Mission (MOE) reported that:  “the rains caused by Hurricane Matthew prevented the potential votes of four million Colombians”, “only 61 percent of the tables had the polling jury assigned to them at the time of the opening of polling centers”, “five complaints of alleged fraud or corruption were received” and “one citizen carrying 17 voting cards for the plebiscite” among other observations.

Undoubtedly, had these observations been made during any election in Venezuela not to mention during any stage of the controversial recall referendum, corporate media and international powers at be would have immediately called for intervention and “justice”.  

Katherine Castrillo, Venezuela of Colombian descent and writer with grassroots Venezuelan publication Cultura Nuestra (Our Culture) expressed in her article, “Why Did NO Win in Colombia?” that we must scratch beyond the surface of Sunday’s decision. “It is useless and superficial to think that the Colombian people have only suffered from a war between the army, guerrillas and paramilitaries over the last 50 years,” she wrote.

Rather, Castrillo continued, “land theft, bipartisan hegemony, oligopolies, media monopoly, social control, criminalization of popular movements, US military bases, the largest drug export industry, the majority rejection of state policies such as daily bread tainted the credibility of a bilateral ceasefire."

Yet, in regions such as Chocó, Cauca, Putumayo, Nariño and others most afflicted by the conflict, Colombians resoundingly supported YES.  In these corners of Colombia, people were not fooled or dissuaded by any of the peace opposing forces Castrillo highlighted. With these communities, there is most certainly a chance to build peace with or without a legally binding document.

Colombians, perhaps discouraged by Sunday’s vote, should find solace and solidarity with the Venezuelan people resolved to end not just five decades but five centuries of colonially driven strife in the Americas.

Bolivarian Process Looks Ahead 

Despite a crushing sense of defeat, the Bolivarian government and President Maduro have publicly voiced their support to uphold the accords and to accompany the Colombian people.

“We have been great accompaniers and promoters of the Peace Accords in Colombia,” conveyed President Maduro. “I am ready, President Santos, [and] to all the Colombian guerrilla forces, to continue supporting peace in Colombia with humility, perseverance and love,” he continued. 

Maduro’s stressed the ways in which an electoral outcome does not represent a definitive NO. If anything, Venezuelans can understand the deep sense of disappointment after an unexpected electoral defeat especially following the opposition’s National Assembly win which was similarly a result of great abstention and right-wing propaganda.

“Colombia had an electoral slip-up, just as we did on December 6th, but just like this electoral hiccup, peace is irreversible,” Maduro framed. Similarly, he outed the position of Venezuela’s right-wing elite class for supporting war in Colombia, “we cannot understand those that want more war in Colombia.”

Rightfully so, the Colombian and Venezuelan right-wing elite have shamelessly benefitted from wreaking havoc and sponsoring war. For instance, Venezuelan people and the Bolivarian government alike have publicly denounced former President Alvaro Uribe for his ties to funding and training paramilitaries in Venezuela.

Before Sunday's elections, Maduro expressed his expectations for what peace could mean for improved relations between Colombia and Venezuela. "I am sure that peace will bring to Colombia a new era of happiness and brotherly relations with Venezuela," he stated. 

It is undeniable that the Colombian people have been tasked with inflating their tested morale and defining peace on their own terms.

Venezuelans, like other Latin American and Caribbean nations,  will inevitably accompany whatever process will continue following this week’s decision. History has proven as much.

The majority poor, Black, Indigenous, women and youth in Colombia and Our America face an onslaught waged by an oligarchy resolved to dismantle the last two decades of integrationist efforts in order to reinstate US dominance in the region. The stakes run high.

And while Colombia continues to forge a path toward peace, Venezuelans nearby take steps to accompany this purposeful journey to make peace a reality.