An excerpt of an interview by Aporrea.org with Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) member Guillermo Torres Cueter, known as Julian Conrado, or “The Singer.” Arrested in Venezuela on May 31, 2011, Conrado has a pending extradition request to Colombia. The Venezuelan government has yet to respond to his request for political asylum.
Before anything else, Julián: how are you? How do you feel?
Well I always answer this question with a response that isn’t mine, but from a great Venezuelan revolutionary, Clodosvaldo Russian. Clodosvaldo Russian, in one opportunity, was captured, he escaped, he was caught again and made to surrender, and then he got hurt in a way which left him nearly unrecognizable. But when they took him to jail, he said in a book that he wrote, someone recognized him and said, “Clodosvaldo, how are you?” And he responded: “Here, I’m hurt but fine, my brother.” I think that that response of Clodosvaldo, in that moment in which he was completely unrecognizable due to the injuries they had given him, that response contains the morale of a revolutionary. Under any circumstance, under any condition, the revolutionary morale.
Has any government official come to visit you?
No. The only officials who have come to visit me are those who went to captured me on May 31 . I’ve received the solidarity of the Venezuelan people, and of social movements, and artists.
[Editor’s Note: This past week, a delegation of United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) deputies in the National Assembly and one PSUV Director visited Conrado to express their support for his political asylum.]
Not one visit, or a call, or a declaration?
Well the Attorney General [in December 2011, Luisa Ortega Diaz,] made a declaration. She announced publically during an interview that “extradition is not appropriate,” and she explained her reasoning.
But comandante Chavez himself told a journalist, when asked about the issue, that “we aren’t going to let this derail” … and then he added some words about how “the Colombian government gave asylum to Pedro Carmona Estanga [who briefly served as President of Venezuela during a coup of Chavez in April 2002], a coup monger, a murderer … We didn’t agree with that decision, but what else could we do? That was a sovereign act of Colombia and we have to respect it.” Venezuela can also use its sovereignty in my case. Chavez expressed that publically.
What is your legal status?
Legally I have no crime in Venezuela. I am a political refugee, a survivor of the Patriotic Union [a political party founded by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 1985 as part of peace negotiations with the Colombian government which saw its leadership decimated by paramilitaries and druglords].
What do you ask for?
Freedom and asylum. I already formally applied for asylum and refuge in Venezuela before they took me before a tribunal. I want them to proceed to give me political asylum.
What would you do when you gain freedom? What would you do here?
Continue fighting with my music. Now I remember something I read of [Simon] Bolivar, because I believe that the revolutionary always has that response on his lips. Once when Bolivar was very sick, I believe this was his last trip he made to the Quinta of San Pedro Alejandrino, and they asked him what he was going to do when he got better. And he said: “I’m going to fight.” If I want life, it is to fight for the freedom and the happiness of my people.
Are you optimistic?
Totally optimistic … This isn’t a baseless optimism. My optimism comes from a profound conviction that I have that the fate of humanity must be peace, with justice and love. There is no other form to continue existing on this planet. We are destroying the planet, and humanity, in the direction that we are currently headed, I think that there is very little time left. What’s more, the concept of struggle – the great thinkers have expressed this – has changed. It is no longer about liberating, about saving a people. It is about saving humanity, about saving the planet.
What have you learned in these two years in prison?
I have learned many things, but one of the things that I always say is this: you cannot lack international solidarity among different peoples. One revolution cannot trump another revolution. There’s no name for that. How is “The Great Colombia,” our America, talked about? According to bourgeoisie thought, there is a distance, but among revolutionaries, there can’t be any. Thoughts and actions have to be intimately united.
What is your dream?
Peace, with justice and love. I always say this, because in Colombia, too, the government speaks of peace, but that peace which they speak of is a peace imposed with a shrapnel. For example, the time they drowned a peaceful strike of banana workers in blood and fire on Dec. 6, 1928. The Colombian government did this to placate the owners of the U.S. fruit company against which the workers were protesting peacefully…
The United Fruit Company, about which [Colombian author and Nobel Prize winner Gabriel] Garcia Marquez wrote …
Exactly. Marquez speaks of it in “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” They placed the dead along the railway, on the train, the same way they placed bunches of bananas …
That was in 1928; they killed [widely popular Colombian politician Jorge Eliecer] Gaitain in 1948. Several days before they killed him, Gaitan went to a region where they grew bananas, and with survivors saw the mass graves of those buried in the soil. Others were thrown into the sea. Gaitan calculated, more or less, 32,000 deaths …
In the Senate, Gaitain said: “The Colombian government has the murderous shrapnel for the Colombian people and is down on one knee before American gold.”
That is what made for another “action of peace of the government,” its “peace,” the peace of the grave. That action of peace that the Colombian government carried out to please the United States Empire on Dec 6, 1928, was carried out another time when they assassinated Gaitain on April 9, 1948. It wasn’t just the death of Gaitain: from there, the period of violence didn’t begin, it raged. Historians speak of 300,000 deaths, not to the liberal-conservative oligarchy – among them, liberals and conservatives from above who did not suffer one scratch – but to the liberal and conservative people. That is where the guerrillas emerged. They weren’t the FARC or the ELN [National Liberation Army]. They were guerrillas that the liberals themselves organized … I was born in 1954, under the military dictatorship of [Gustavo] Rojas Pinilla. I haven’t known a second of peace.
Are you a man of peace?
Completely. Today I was talking to a comrade precisely about that. He asked me almost the exact same question and I was telling him, when I was a little boy, I didn’t go to the procession of the Virgen del Carmen, not because I didn’t believe in it, but because I was afraid of fireworks. I have a phobia of explosions. But we have to recognize that there’s something important called dignity. I can’t see that they’re killing my people and remain silent.
What do you think of the peace process currently under way in Havana, Cuba [between the Colombian government and the FARC]?
I hope that it materializes. It’s a difficult situation.
Do you think that the [revolutionary] process is in danger, following the death of the comrade-President [Chavez]?
The Empire and the oligarchy are lashing out with everything. They know what Chavez meant. But this is precisely what revolutionaries say: we men and women are not indispensable to the revolutionary fight. The ideas, the principles, embodied in the people, are what are important. The people will continue creating leaders. How many times have they taken away one of our leaders? … We cannot be swallowed whole. If there is a leader who doesn’t serve us, that leader must be removed. But only the people save the people.