Rocket attack survivor Aída Abella returns to lead Colombian left

Need an antidote for the cynicism-inducing antics of politicians like Rob Ford, Mike Duffy or Stephen Harper? Then consider for a moment Aída Abella, recently chosen presidential candidate for Colombia´s Unión Patriótica.

Survivors of the campaign of political genocide against the Unión Patriótica marched for peace last April in Bogotá.

Survivors of the campaign of political genocide against the Unión Patriótica marched for peace last April in Bogotá. (Photo: David Hogben)

She has taken a job that has never led to power, but often assassination.

The Unión Patriótica´s attempts to participate in politics were met with violence in various political campaigns.  Two presidential candidates, eight congressmen, 13 state deputies, 70 members of city councils, 11 mayors and up to 5,000 party members were assassinated by right-wing extremists.

Aída, a councillor in Bogotá, fled her native Colombia more than 17 years ago after political opponents fired a missile from a rocket launcher at her vehicle. Last week she returned to accept the challenge of leading the Unión Patriótica, and uniting Colombia´s fracticious left-of-centre parties.

More than 1,000 delegates attended the political convention in Bogotá that chose Abella to lead the political party. Hopes now are high, but not nearly certain, that Colombia can negotiate a peace accord with the FARC, the left-wing guerrilla group that has battled with Colombia´s army for half a century.

Dreams of peaceful participation in politics have given rebirth to a leftists political are expressed in signs like this one in Popayán, Cauca.

Dreams of peaceful participation in politics have given rebirth to a leftist political party that are expressed in signs like this one in Popayán, Cauca. (Photo: David Hogben)

There was optimism as well in the 1980s when earlier negotiations between the national government and the FARC gave birth to the Unión Patriótica as a political outlet for the guerrillas who wished to abandon their guns and return to politics. They joined with members of labour and other left-of-centre groups which attempted to offer Colombians peaceful electoral alternative.

Guerrillas returned from battles in Colombia´s rugged mountains and dense rain forests, only to be greeted with a campaign of genocide that claimed the lives of then presidential candidates Jaime Pardo and Bernard Jaramillo, among so many others.

Those who survived scattered around the world as political refugees or returned to the countryside to resume the battle.

Current President Juan Manuel Santos has staked his relection campaign on peace negotiations with the FARC. Though powerful forces resist, dreams of peace in war-weary Colombia seem within reach after government negotiators reached an agreement which would allow FARC leaders to be reintegrated into Colombian political life if an accord is reached and publicly ratified.

It´s expected Santos will present the possible accord to Colombians in next year´s presidential elections.

Abella recalled in an interview this week how teams of armed gunmen parked outside the homes Unión Patriótica members for weeks on end during the last campaign in which her party participated. With their homes and campaign offices haunted by killers, Abella recalled in an interview with think tank Nuevo Arco Iris, how they ran their campaigns from the cemeteries where they gathered to bury their colleagues murdered the previous weeks.

Though the many murders were committed by drug traffickers, paramilitaries, and some state agents, the UP members had little doubt about their alliances with political opponents.

She recalled as well how the police and security officers assigned to protect them laughed as they buried and paid their last respects to victims of the campaign of political genocide.

Though Abella returned to her homeland for the convention that chose her leader, she intends to be cautious and manage much of her campaign through the Internet, from outside of Colombia.

In a twisted piece of logic, the Unión Patriótica was barred until recently from participating in Colombian politics. After the massacres Colombian electoral authorities banned its participation, because of a perceived lack of public support.


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About Connecting Colombias

Recently retired newspaper reporter with one foot in British Columbia, Canada, the other in Colombia, South America. Fascinated with Colombian culture, Canadian connections, and heroic efforts to return millions of displaced Colombians to lands stolen by paramilitaries, guerrillas and organized crime.

7 responses to “Rocket attack survivor Aída Abella returns to lead Colombian left”

  1. colombiadiaries says :

    Abella is a courageous and exemplary figure. Good luck to her and to the UP.

    • Connection Colombia says :

      Certainly a courageous woman. Whether she and other opposition politicians can participate in Colombian political life without violence will be the test of any potential peace accord with the FARC. Thank you for reading. I certainly appreciate reading your well-written posts.

  2. Holly Nathan says :

    Thanks for drawing attention to the possibility of a peace accord with FARC, reintegration of guerrillas, and Abella’s role in a political and less violent future for Colombia. In a strange way, this is a bit of a reminder of how lucky we as Canadians are to be embroiled in relatively trivial mayoral follies and senatorial expense account scandals – and a reminder of the truly courageous who answer the call of politics as a means of non-violent social change.

    • Connection Colombia says :

      Thank you for reading Holly. Sometimes the courage displayed daily by Colombians is almost beyond comprehension. So sad that so many North Americans think this land is populated by drug traffickers and nasties.

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