By bus, canoe and burro, Communists gather for Bogota meet

“From the four cardinal points of the country, some by bus, others in canoes, on burros, and by airplane they came to Bogota,” Juan Cendales wrote on rebellion.org. “They got their bags ready, went over their ideas, and reaffirmed dreams and hopes,” before heading for the 20th Congress of Colombia’s Communist Party, Nov. 14-16.

A few travelers encountered police and military harassment. Prevented by authorities from boarding airplanes, some party leaders had to travel overland, taking on additional risk. Displaced peasants were with them on the roads, moving like “condemned souls.”

Almost 500 members of the 78-year-old party chose 56 of their number from a slate of 133 candidates chosen by regional party branches to make up a new Central Committee. Executive committee members included Jaime Caycedo, member of the Bogota City Council; Carlos Lozano, director of the party newspaper Voz; Senator Gloria Inés Ramírez; and CUT labor federation leaders Jorge Gamboa and Alfonso Velázquez, the former an advisor to 18,000 recently victorious striking sugar cane workers. Delegates re-elected Caycedo as the party’s secretary-general.

Opening ceremonies took place before 1,500 seated onlookers plus hundreds standing or watching the proceedings by video in nearby rooms. Representatives of fraternal foreign parties conveyed greetings. Secretary General Caycedo paid homage to 14 jailed party leaders, victimized through government accusations of associations with leftist guerrillas cast as terrorists.

The meeting’s theme was “For a democratic government and toward a second independence.” According to Voz, participants dealt with details of party operation, methods for bringing left political movements together and tactics for strengthening the Alternative Democratic Pole (“Polo”), Colombia’s electoral coalition of left parties. Discussions covered the current crisis of capitalism, government ties to paramilitaries and the recently discovered killings of civilians by soldiers in order to inflate body counts during anti-insurgent operations.

Senator Piedad Cordoba of the Liberal Party, negotiator with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez of humanitarian exchange of prisoners, brought listeners to their feet. She referred to “weighty reasons why the Communist Party of Colombia keeps going, its “combativeness, tenacity, and courage.” “Without the communists,” she added,” we could not have made denunciations stick, could not have submitted “claims before international courts, [secured] reparations for victims,” or propelled campaigns for human rights. “You are not necessary,” she declared, “you are indispensible; without you this country will not be able to move ahead.”

The Congress issued a 10-point political declaration. It held up the present global economic crisis as evidence of capitalism’s historical limits. Other theses followed: U.S. “imperialist hegemony” is waning, the U.S. lifeline to Colombia’s “democratic security” regime is frayed, popular mobilization and social movements are expanding, an “authoritarian, criminal, and militarist” regime faces the “democratic and emancipating aspirations” of working people, armed conflict will end through negotiated settlements, left unity is a priority, the task at hand is building the Polo, and honor is due those in struggle, the Colombian people, and “communist militancy.”

Responding to an interviewer’s inquiry regarding party collaboration with the Polo, Jaime Caycedo praised that political party — a “process in construction” — as essential for left unity and important to the future of the Communist Party.

While speakers cast U.S. President-elect Barack Obama as potentially sensitive to human rights issues, none envisioned him bringing basic change to U.S. foreign policies. The Congress supported alliances with social movements and people’s organizations aimed at shaping a “grand democratic coalition,” but under no circumstances with “the bourgeoisie and even less with Uribe forces.” The Congress issued statements of solidarity with the Minga (meaning collective action) indigenous march en route to Bogota, and with the sugar cane workers’ strike.

Reviewing the 20th Party Congress, party leader Nelson Lombana Silva cited “a lavish, dynamic interchange of opinions, concepts, and political positions” bearing upon humankind’s “bold struggle against capitalism and the neoliberal model and for an option distinct from utopian socialism.” The next congress takes place in 2011.

atwhit@roadrunner.com