“We are children of the people” – First interview with the Colombian urban guerrilla FGUN

It was a long process to contact the ELN urban guerilla but ultimately we got an insight in the life of the young rebels fighting a clandestine war in the big cities of Colombia.

It was a long process to contact the ELN guerrillas fighting in the cities of Colombia, the Frente de Guerra Urbano Nacional (FGUN). The appearance of urban guerrillas in Colombia is much more hidden than that of guerrillas operating in the jungle and on the mountains.

The Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) is the largest fighting communist organization in the country, in the areas they control they can afford to present themselves publicly. In the cities, however, the reality for the movement is different. The Colombian state was able to build up a network of informants against the guerrillas in the barrios and cities of Colombia.

Despite all this, the lack of prospects in Colombian capitalism is forcing more and more people to join the armed opposition against the state. There is a saying in Colombia that it is safer to go to the mountains (join the guerrillas) than to form or be active in a union. The constant threat from the arbitrariness of the police and the military, the constant danger from the cruel paramilitary death squads and the armed narcos are the reason for an alliance of farmers, workers and students – especially young people and approx half of them female – who join the urban guerrilla of the ELN.

The FGUN is forced to work underground. The Frente Urbano is organized with cells in most of the larger cities of Colombia, but especially in the capital Bogota. Through a long process of establishing contact online, an interview with the urban guerrilla FGUN was conducted for the first time, which enables a small insight into the politico-military structures of the ELN in the urban parts of the country and tries to gain an understanding for the legitimate resistance of the Colombian people.

Q : What kind of people fight in the urban guerilla? What are their backgrounds?

A : Youth has played a central role in the revolutionary struggle in Colombia and in particular in the armed struggle, from its origins the ELN was made up of young people, students and peasants who organized the first march on July 4, 1964 and the subsequent political action military foundation in Simacota Santander on January 7, 1965.

Understanding that the revolutionary struggle is of the people, the revolutionary youth has contributed in the different situations, both in the military and in the political-social. The struggle en masse of students and workers in the decade of the sixties were the backdrop for the armed uprising of the guerrillas in Colombia. The youth therefore has contributed in all aspects and ist delivery and disposal to work has left a mark on Colombian revolutionary history.

The same role is played by youth in Latin America, Whether in guerilla modalities or in modalities of legal and party political struggle, their contribution is essential to understand the history of continental resistance against imperialism, from the south of the Rio Grande in Mexico to the Argentine Patagonia.

Q: What does your daily life look like?

A: For the Elenos , revolutionary life is daily life, since it is a life prepared full time for the tasks of the revolution, it is within the framework of the struggle that we carry out our family life and our daily life. There are no differences. The revolutionary life is not a life that has a schedule, rather everything we do as rebels is part of the revolutionary tasks. Being Eleno is a project of revolutionary life where we have to build everything differently, we have to build the collective and popular power in the different fields of life from a revolutionary and anti-capitalist perspective.

Our daily life is that of the majority of the people, who live in the large neighborhoods, with the shortcomings and resistance to resolve the essentials while acting against the enemy and contributing to the organization of the people. It is a struggle integrated in the life of the neighborhood, the commune, the population and its territories. We are sons of the people, we live like the people, and we fight alongside the people.

Q : How does the urban guerrillas differentiate from the guerrillas on the mountains and in the jungle? What are the tasks of the urban guerrillas?

A : The history of the ELN’s struggle includes the experience of urban and rural struggle since ist origins, when students and young revolutionaries in the 1960s undertook the task of organizing the guerrillas and the first urban centers. Therefore, armed struggle is fought in the fields and in the cities, two territories with different possibilities but integrated in a strategy of popular struggle and socialist construction.

The main difference between the urban and rural guerilla is marked by the territory and the conditions of reality [material conditions?]. The urban guerilla develops its military political activity in the cities of Colombia under the conditions implemented by the enemy and the devices of imperialism. The struggle of the urban guerilla is clandestine, compartmentalized, and with methods of security that allow action, to be invisible, and carry out different logistical military and political tasks in the enemy’s rear. For its part, the rural guerrilla moves and acts in different territories, suburban and rural, where the devices of enemy action and control are different from those of the guerrilla force. The rural force comprises a strategic accumulation that contributes to building popular power, legitimacy and political force, while at the same time waging the military confrontation with the enemy forces. Both the urban and rural struggle are framed in a resistance struggle.

The urban guerrilla develops a plan in an integral way, politically, militarily, logistically, etc. in the city. In the framework of the resistance struggle, the urban struggle has a first order and seeks to contribute to the insurrectionary uprising of the people, aware that the armed struggle of the ELN is part of the struggles of the people and country. The arms of the ELN are designed to help strengthen the people’s struggle and advance the political struggle.

Q: How has the urban Guerilla developed over the years?

[To the question, our dialogue partners inside the Frente Urbano did not answer directly, but with a document from the leadership of the FGUN-ELN (Dirección Frente de Guerra Urbano Nacional – ELN, English: Leadership of the National Urban War Front – ELN). We will translate the document in its entirety below:]

By: National Urban War Front Directorate – ELN

Since its origins the ELN has counted on the decided participation of urban comrades. In the conformation of the José Antonio Galán brigade and in the first guerrilla nuclei, there is the integration of militants who contributed with their commitment and dedication, particularly our Commander-in-Chief Camilo Torres Restrepo is the clearest example, hence the FGUN bears his name as recognition of one the greatest revolutionaries of our motherland and Latin America.

It has not been an easy process shaping a Front of National Urban Warfare, the history of the urban struggles, of the militancy born in the cities, is full of imperishable memories of comrades that made their contribution, many of them anonymous revolutionaries who gave their best for a humane and inclusive society.

In the process of maturation and learning, proper to any Organization, the ELN has increasingly understood the decisive importance that is, for the revolutionary struggle, the participation of the popular masses that live in cities. In its first years of life the ELN, urban work was fundamental in logistic support, in the incorporation of brave militants to the development of the guerrilla nucleus, as well as in military actions and the attainment of economic resources. The invaluable contribution of our Commander in Chief Camilo Torres, the valuable experience of the United Front, taught the ELN that it was a necessary dimension in all its magnitude what urban work represents in the country.

Along this path of construction, in the second half of the 70s the step was taken to form regional structures, more of an urban nature, which helped to mature in the ELN its dimension of national organization. These Regional Processes and structures were articulated from 1986 to the new organizational process of the War Fronts, playing as articulating cities of social, political and military processes in the regions that make up our country.

For the year 1989 in the II Congress, “Popular Power and New Government”, the ELN elaborates a deeper vision on urban work, in what was called Revolutionary Bases of Masses, outlining what a territorial strategy can be today. All the above, closely linked to the phenomena of the masses, their important organizational expressions and their struggles, from the National Civic Strikes to the General Strike of 1988.

Like all revolutionary activity, urban work has not been without difficulties of different kinds, and at the same time they have experienced moments of development and projection. The 90’s was a sample of both dimensions. Also, closely related to the complexity of the fight, the repressive impact of the different governments and the state terrorism that the barbarism of the paramilitary armies produced throughout this decade.

Already for the years 2000-2001, a work of coordination proper to urban structures started to develop, energized by members of the National Directorate. For 2004 the national organism drew up some lines to achieve the recomposition of the work, to develop articulation processes of the different existing urban works in all the cities. A National Urban Coordinator began to be structured, which over time resulted in greater harmony among the urban accumulation.

The IV Congress of the ELN endorses these definitions in terms of political work priorities and organizational action in the cities, hand in hand with the struggles of the masses. It also projects this process of recomposition in a strategic sense, pointing the direction towards the constitution of a Front of War, that maintaining and improving relations and interactions with rural structures managed to build a unique structure. The Congress guides the realization of a National Urban Consultative to address various topics of urban reality and the organization of work in cities. This event, apart from various important topics, advanced in the elaboration of a political proposal for the cities.

From 2006 to 2014, progress was made in the constitution of the Urban War Front, seeking as a priority the insertion in the political dynamics of the country, throbbing in heat of the various situations and settling within the workers, students and residents of the cities. A significant number of cities are integrated, work is organized by cities. Taking into account the definitions and the planned, the constituent Assembly of the National Urban War Front is held in 2014, an event in which a role on urban work is approved, a work plan is adopted and an Urban Directorate is chosen in the propriety. The V Congress ratifies the existence of the Front and its continuity and approves that it bears the name of NATIONAL URBAN WAR FRONT – COMMANDER IN CHIEF CAMILO TORRES RESTREPO.

Q: How are you relevant to political change outside of Colombia? What impact can a guerilla organisation have nowadays?

A: Che Guevara thus defined the guerrillas “The guerrillas are a disciplined and politically conscious vanguard of the working people.” We consider that we are part of the Guevarist legacy and it guides us in its strategic anti-imperialist approaches to struggle. The guerrilla is an expression of anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist resistance of the Colombian people. It is their responsibility to give continuity to the fight for a political solution to the armed conflict in the direction of the changes that the country needs. These changes are an economic, political and social alternative for the national majority, that is, a new government that puts the humble and needy population of the countryside and the city at the center, that builds relationships of solidarity with the peoples of America and the world, a new government to promote the democratic and revolutionary transformations of the oligarchic stage of the State that has been established since colonial times in these lands.

The ELN identifies with proletarian internationalism and stands in solidarity with the anti-imperialist struggles of the peoples of America and the world, so we consider that our role is to contribute to that anti-capitalist struggle, with our practices of popular power, with the daily struggle to establish new human relations and for the determined fight against paramilitarism and the armed forces that repress and carry out state terrorism as official policy. We are summoned by the commitment to revolution and class consciousness.

As ELN we are respectful of the revolutionary processes of other peoples, of the paths and options chosen in the heat of the struggle in Europe and other latitudes. We value the contributions and disposition to establish channels of solidarity and joint struggle in the fight against the enemies of humanity. In that, we salute and congratulate the struggles of the peoples of the world, we call on you not to give up and continue the work for the construction of a socialist society and within reach of the needs of the planet.

The revolutionaries of the world can count on the ELN to give continuity to the resistance and the fight against capitalism and gringo imperialism.