Jesús Santrich explored utopian origins of Marxist and Bolivarian ideologies
Former FARC rebel Seuxis Hernandez, also known as Jesús Santrich. | Fernando Vergara / AP

Colombian Army commandos on May 17, 2021, killed Jesús Santrich, a 30-year veteran of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The ambush took place in Zulia Province, in northwestern Venezuela, neighboring Colombia; six others died. Santrich was a spokesperson for the FARC negotiating team in the talks in Havana with Colombia’s government that resulted in a peace agreement in 2016.

Santrich went into hiding in 2019 for two reasons. The killing of FARC combatants was continuing after the agreement, and he was at risk of being extradited to the United States on false drug charges. He joined the “Second Marquetalia,” an offshoot of the original FARC insurgency that was returning to armed conflict.

Santrich’s 22-page essay, written in 2009 in honor of legendary FARC commander Manuel Marulanda, carries the title “Bolivarianism and Marxism: A Commitment to the Impossible” (Bolivarismo y marxismo, un compromiso con lo imposible.) There, Santrich examines the utopian underpinnings of the Marxist movement and the liberation struggles of Simón Bolívar.

He offers a long-term, visionary perspective that, in our era, is often lacking in anti-imperialist and socialist theorizing. The blunted response of progressives and radicals to recent developments in U.S. hybrid wars involving Colombia, Haiti, and Cuba is a case in point. Looking far afield, Santrich calls for political leadership and a mode of struggle that attends to the future, embraces larger purposes, and rest on commitment.

His words

In his essay, Santrich writes about Simón Bolívar, the continental fight for independence from Spain, the FARC’s early years, leadership qualities of Manuel Marulanda, pioneer socialists of the French Revolution, Bolívar’s teacher Simón Rodríguez, and more. Along the way, Santrich offers ideas that, taken seriously, would strengthen revolutionary endeavors now. What follows are excerpts taken from his essay.

For example: “Marxists must keep utopia foremost in their consciousness. It drives mass actions. They must assume that a revolutionary movement, whatever its origins, doesn’t qualify as such if it lacks that component manifesting as irrepressible effort towards change categorized as ‘impossible.’ But utopia must always take off from a basis in reality. We humans have the duty to regard the world we want as another world that’s possible. Paraphrasing Bolívar, we are looking for the ‘impossible,’ while leaving the possible up to everyone else, every day.…”

He continues: “To declare oneself Bolivarian and, as such, declare oneself a revolutionary on the Marxist path implies lifelong motivation derived from the hope of transforming society and finding justice. This is a constant and is strong enough with its broad vision as to point to utopia as a characteristic of political consciousness and the natural result of rational belief.”

He adds: “Utopia is a higher goal of commitment. That’s so because even at the beginning, the matter of possibility or impossibility is already uncertain due to extreme difficulties ahead, or uncertain survival of purpose as historical implementation evolves. But like history itself, utopia does not end.”

Moreover, “In the hopeful quest for realization of the ‘impossible,’ the process calls upon a mixture of illusions, realism, magic, and love for people as a reason for life.… The essential interest of the utopian is preservation of man and nature in absolute equilibrium, thus displaying the potentials of historical memory, faith, dignity, and our identity as vital factors for existence.

Confronting oppression and marching on the path of utopia, the revolutionary no longer is resigned. He or she is unconditionally, permanently, and creatively committed to the poor people of the world.… Let’s say then that the Marxist-Bolivarian idea of a revolutionary is of someone who fixes on an ideology that, while encompassing reality, is not yet solidified and is perhaps uncertain. The goal is set of becoming absolutely convinced that this reality will be fulfilled, ‘impossible’ though it may seem….

“The author of the Communist Manifesto, appealing to selfless purpose, was calling for struggle offering the possibility of risks.… Marx was calling for action needing to pass a test of fire in the face of historical commitment prompted by circumstances, even at the risk of death. He was clarifying a concept of living, whose own ethics intermeshed with the dialectics of reality that was moving, but always toward the future.…”

Santrich speculates further: “This kind of thinking envisions Marxists and Bolivarians alike as rising up, in our world, to the level of magical realism. And why not? Magical realism goes beyond mere rationalism. We have symbols, imagination, and creativity—all based on rich traditions rooted in Indigenous experience in the Americas. It’s founded also on the syncretism of our mixed and oppressed mestizo peoples. Playing out, this proposition looks toward installing social justice, that is to say, accomplishes what’s ideal for the benefit of humankind.”

The stakes are high: “Perhaps one of the most fateful legacies for revolutionaries is apprehension on facing the danger that imperialism poses for the very existence of the planet with its catastrophic kind of developmentalism. In the face of great challenges, great resolve is necessary, really a triple boldness: action that overcomes determinism; recovery of the role of subjectivity, passion, audacity, and recklessness; and faith in the initiative of the masses, as they face the immediate prospect of ‘defeat.’ In such circumstances, uncertainty and silence are worth nothing.…

“What’s in play is the very survival of the human species, of life, of nature in general, all put at risk through the destructive power of capitalism. But we will not idle around patiently waiting for an automatic end to capitalism and for a communist alternative automatically to flourish. Humanity’s conscious intervention is necessary. It’s our immediate duty. Revolutionaries must connect utopia with liberation practice, at whatever cost.…”

Meanwhile, on the ground

The response of anti-imperialists to recent developments in Haiti, Colombia, and Cuba would have gained force, it seems, if they had nurtured far-reaching aspirations, in the manner of Santrich. Statements have been scarce and without focus. Action plans are missing. One looks in vain for an expanded frame of reference—in these instances, just as with larger problems like exploitation, plunder, and militarization.

President Jovenal Moïse of Haiti was assassinated on July 7, presumably the result of rivalry among Haitian oligarchs, which apparently suits U.S. needs for a weak Haitian state. All but two of the 28 perpetrators were former Colombian army regulars, now employed as mercenary soldiers. Several had received U.S. training. Colombian mercenaries have engaged militarily in the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Afghanistan and Dubai, Honduras, Venezuela, and elsewhere. Two of the assailants were Haitians living in Florida.

CTU Security, a Florida company owned by right-wing Venezuelan émigré Antonio Intriago, arranged for the assassination. Miami-based Intriago has ties to regressive Colombian President Iván Duque; to Juan Guaidó, the U. S. puppet “president” of Venezuela; and to Christian Sanon, a Haitian physician living in Florida and seeking to be president of Haiti. Intriago’s company in 2018 carried out a drone attack against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

The Cessna four-passenger plane owned by Helidosa company in the Dominican Republic is emblematic of imperialism’s convoluted presence in the region. Intriago, Sanon, and two others traveled to Haiti on that plane to be on hand at the assassination. After receiving surgical care in Florida for wounds suffered during the attack, Martine Moïse, the assassinated president’s widow, returned to Haiti on the same airplane. In 2019, that plane transported right-wing Venezuelans to Barbados for negotiations with President Nicolás Maduro’s representatives and did so again the following year with Juan Guaidó aboard.

The U.S. blockade of Cuba comes into view. Campaigning in 2020, President Biden assured voters he would ease the blockade restrictions on Cuba imposed by Donald Trump. Biden has added new sanctions. For 60 years, the U.S. government has blockaded Cuba in order to cause suffering there. Suffering is mounting now due to sanctions and adverse health and economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

On July 27 Biden met with Cuban-American elected officials in his office. He stated that “I want Cuban Americans to know that we…hear the cries of freedom coming from the island.… We’ve brought to bear the strength of our diplomacy, rallying nations to speak out and increase pressure on the regime.”


The narrative of these recent events contributes little to an indictment against power structures that might have been meaningful enough to fuel a sustained political counterattack. Such an outcome would have required mobilization already in place of a sizable anti-imperialist movement. The necessary ingredient for that is collective motivation based on the hopes, aspirations, and ideals of victims and their allies. It’s missing.

Instead, U.S. progressives are reduced to criticizing the opportunism of President Biden as he unabashedly seeks electoral advantage in Florida. Or, in the case of Haiti, many apparently are blind to the association of ungovernability there with the priorities of U.S. capitalism. They are prey to reports of political corruption, profiteering, and street protests as characterizing Haiti’s situation. In dealing with Cuba and Haiti, it seems, far too many are distracted, pessimistic, and oblivious to the future.

It could have been otherwise. Jesús Santrich defined characteristics of political leadership and permanent mobilization that enable unified struggle and revolutionary optimism. He conceived of a political movement answering to the subjective needs of oppressed peoples. Doing so, he offered them license to come together in fulfillment of aspirations—against all odds. The current situations of Cuba and Haiti could have been folded into that context.

Santrich draws upon a world off limits to multitudes of suffering people, to their great disadvantage. His perspective, that of attending to longings that seem impossible, is uncommon in our time. It represents an essential dimension of struggle. Santrich was in good company. We remember:

Karl Marx, The Civil War in France, 1871: “The Commune, they explain, intends to abolish property, the basis of all civilization! [Marx replies:] Yes, gentlemen, the Commune [aims] at the expropriation of the expropriators. [They reply:] But this is communism, impossible communism! [Says Marx:] If cooperative production is not to remain a sham and a snare; if it is to supersede the capitalist system…what else, gentlemen, would it be but communism, ‘possible’ communism.”

José Mariátegui, founder of the Peruvian Communist Party, 1928: “We certainly don’t want socialism in America to be a copy or tracing. It must be a heroic creation. We have to give life to Indian-American socialism with our own reality, in our own language.”

Ernesto Che Guevara, Socialism and Man in Cuba, 1965: “[I]n moments of great peril it is easy to muster a powerful response with moral incentives. Retaining their effectiveness, however, requires the development of a consciousness in which there is a new scale of values. Society as a whole must be converted into a gigantic school.”

Fidel Castro (as recalled by Raúl Castro): “[I]n the mountains of the Sierra Maestra, on Dec. 18, [1956], with seven rifles and a fist full of combatants, [he] stated, ‘Now we have won the war!’”

The author translated the excerpts appearing here. Santrich’s entire essay may be read, in Spanish, here.


W. T. Whitney Jr.
W. T. Whitney Jr.

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine. W.T. Whitney Jr. es un periodista político cuyo enfoque está en América Latina, la atención médica y el antirracismo. Activista solidario con Cuba, anteriormente trabajó como pediatra, vive en la zona rural de Maine.