Luis Alberto Alban Burbano, also known as Marco Leon Calarca was a spokesperson for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or Farc, in Mexico from 1993 until 2002.
His involvement in the Colombian left goes back decades, and more recently was a member of the Farc's peace negotiations team in Havana. He also attended the group's recent congress which formalized the transition to legal politics and a change to the Revolutionary Alternative Forces of the Commons.
teleSUR spoke with Calarca about the prospects for peace and their movement in 2018.
teleSUR (TS): How much discussion or disagreement was there about the new name? Why the Commons?
Marco Calarca (MC): Well, yes, of course there was discussion. It was a decision of our Congress, some wanted another name, but in the end it was decided by the majority, and as it is democracy, the majority must be in power. The issue of the commons goes back to the struggle of our people in the revolution of the (Paris) commune of 1781, but it is also the essence of what we are: an integral part of the Colombian people.
TS: So, this refers to the commons and the common people?
MC: Exactly, the people. There are two things, to remember and keep our heritage of struggle for rights with community leadership and on the other hand, the essence, we are of the commons, we are an integral part of this people - we have never been separated from it. It's our own people, our origin.
TS: Why and how did you go about joining the Farc?
MC: I joined 40 years ago, because I felt both the need to change the unjust structure of the country, and a sudden disillusionment with other forms of struggle. I have a history of struggle in the Communist Party, and from 1977 onward in the Farc. The idea, that is the commitment, to improve the living conditions of the most humble, of the poor of the Earth as Marti would say, and it is to them that I have dedicated my life.
TS: This year is decisive for the Farc with the peace agreement in a delicate place and the looming presidential and legislative elections. What are the best possibilities for the Farc in 2018 as you see it?
MC: We aim to increase our representation, let's say, that there won't be only five representatives in the lower chamber but that there might be more as a result of popular support. We are working on the political campaign, that is one of the things we had never been able to do, to be able to talk freely to people, present our proposals and have them see us. This allows us to gain support for our proposals and in turn build our support base.
There is a desperate situation, people are jaded, most of the poor and the not so poor as well, it must be said, they are tired, the issues of corruption and a lack of real politics are things that are indicators to the people that things must change. We embody that possibility of change. We are the hope, we are the commons, we do not have vices of corruption and so we can say that it is this political class that has been managing the country for more than 200 years without finding a solution and that it is necessary for them to give opportunities to open spaces to build a government committed to peace and to the welfare of the majority.
TS: More human rights activists and social leaders were assassinated in Colombia than in any other country in 2017. Are you worried that history is repeating itself and what would be necessary to avoid that something like the genocide against the Patriotic Union from happening again?
MC: Of course we are worried and deeply hurt by the death of comrades dedicated to defending the interests of the poor. However, we think that this is another historical moment, there is a different correlation of forces, there is a process, let's say, of moving forward with great deal of support from the international community, a also support from sectors within the country, and this is the historical difference.
The agreement contemplates the spaces and the necessary guarantees to avoid these sorts of events, and what we say is that there needs to be the will to guarantee the physical security not only of former combatants, but also for the community and civilian population. This is an area where the international community can help us a lot because you cannot let this kind of situation go by, looking away as if it wasn't happening, they have to be called out. And the forces of the right, who will try to sabotage the process, the state must censure and punish this and for that we have the mechanisms outlined in the agreement itself.
TS: Regarding support from the international community, with the new Donald Trump government, do you believe that there is less support from the US. Or does it feel that without support or accompaniment of the U.S., there are no longer as many possibilities.
MC: Yes, we can say that there is a militaristic interest from the government of Mr. Trump, but I think that things go beyond the United States.
We think that the EU and the U.N., as much countries as multilateral organizations, have an effective force to work around solidarity and the development of the peace agreement.
TS: There has been a major setback in the negotiations between the ELN (National Liberation Army) and the Colombian government, with the government withdrawing its representative from those negotiations. What is the role and position of the Farc in the face of these events and in the face of these conversations between the ELN and the government?
MC: We, let's say that we do not have any assigned role, beyond demonstrating our own experience (with the peace accord). The issue of the ceasefire and armed actions, we saw this a lot, due to the influence of misinformation or manipulation of information to generate public opinion, we think that should stop. What we believe is that the relevant investigations should be done, but no deed or event is bigger than what it means to builf peace.
TS: There is also a rather difficult regional political context, where the left is Latin America has suffered some setbacks. Do you feel that this current scenario makes things more difficult for your movement and the objectives you have? What do you think is necessary for the left in the region to change the current scenario?
MC: Indeed, the international situation and in Latin America has become harder. Sometimes it's difficult to understand why things happen, like when neoliberal presidents are elected. They do not even hide it, they put it on their agenda and are elected.
There certainly are issues that the left as the left must correct, but the only option is to advance in our struggle. The struggle for our rights, for what we feel, the needs and interests of the majorities. This is not a struggle that occurs over night, it is not a struggle that is defined by an election, it is a permanent struggle, taking advantage of experience to build on the positive and correct the negative.