Do you tax the campesinos, the coca growers, as well? Or just the laboratories?
That’s correct [only the laboratories]
How does a narco go about setting up a laboratory in your territory?
The narcos send intermediaries – the ones who buy the paste and accumulate it and then go on to process it. Those are the ones who will pay us the taxes.
Do they approach you formally and ask permission to operate on your territory?
Yes. Some of them do come up, be honest and say ‘We’re going to do this’. But many others will try to hide from us so they don’t have to pay their tax.
How do you know how much tax to demand? Is it purely on the basis of quantity?
We make an agreement with the traffickers’ intermediaries: how much [paste] are they going to be buying? The intermediaries bring so much money to buy paste from the campesinos, so we say ‘OK, how much money have you brought? A percentage of that will be for us.’
How important is this income for FARC?
It does represent a part of our financing of the struggle but it’s not all of it. There is a lot of false morality in here. The banker receives the dealer’s deposits; the industrialist sells shares in his companies to the dealer; and the businessman sells everything to the dealer that he will need. Isn’t all this money a product of trafficking, too? Colombia became a producer of coca and the authorities realised this. But where did the chemicals come from? They come through the ports, the airports, the roads. And how does the product leave the country? The same way. This all benefits the authorities, the police. Drug trafficking finances political campaigns here. In the last thirty years presidents, congressmen, governors, mayors, political parties – all of them have taken money from traffickers. That’s why Colombia has become such a major drug producer.
Can you estimate how much money cocaine production generates in FARC-controlled territory?
That’s not my branch. But in the figures of the DEA, the Colombian authorities, the state, the police – there are lots of lies there. If we really had all the money they say we have, we’d be in power by now! Because we would have bought up all the guns!
FARC is a Marxist group. What do you think Marx would have said about all this?
(long pause). It’s a business. It’s like the buying and selling of alcoholic beverages. Like tobacco. The traffic in narcotics has existed from the 19th century. It’s a business that remains illegal because that is what guarantees the immense profits. We can speak of narco-capitalism. A question: is it moral to make money from a banker or an industrialist but immoral to take money from a capitalist business like drug dealing?
You’ve been very successful here, in the establishment of the demilitarized zone. To what extent was this success made possible by money derived from the cocaine trade?
No. No. It is a political and a military triumph. That was what permitted the establishment of the 42,000km DMZ.
But in order to produce a guerrilla movement of such strength, you must have needed funding. Your men appear to be well-equipped…
Yes. It’s a principle of war – a law – that the guerrilla soldier must be well equipped, well maintained and well-fed. But we are an enemy of the world drug trade. We are involved in a struggle to convert Colombia into an agricultural, business, mineral – into a country that produces in all these fields but not to keep it as a drug producing country, the way the oligarchy has made it. And we have a proposal for that: redistribute the land that is monopolised by the landowners. For example, give the good land that is near the cities to the farmers. We would like to give not only the land but also the financial credit that they need to enable them to get themselves out of their miserable economic state.
There are 1.5 million farmers in Colombia who don’t own any land. There are 22 million poor. 8 million Colombians living below the poverty line. 12 million Colombians don’t have fit drinking water. 3 million are unemployed. In Colombia, 3.5 million children live in poverty. A country like that is easy to convert into what Colombia has now become – a producer of cocaine to satisfy a world market.
What are your views on the United States’ Plan Colombia?
Plan Colombia is not an anti-drugs plan. It’s a plan to fight the Colombian revolutionary movements and to fight the social struggle in Colombia. They want to impose a neo-liberal economic model, to privatise the few government institutions, to repress social protests, to deny the workers benefits and to confront the guerrilla moment in Colombia. It’s all hidden behind the mask of the fight against drugs. The farmers whose crops are going to be destroyed in the attempt to eradicate poppy and coca – are just going to go deeper into the jungle and replant them there. The spraying will destroy the soil, the flora, the water and the land. And it is not a solution to the problem. It won’t resolve anything. The movement of displaced people will reach into the many thousands – to Peru, to Bolivia, to Ecuador, to Brazil. And the crops will go over there. So we will be left with the destruction of the Amazon, the destruction of the rivers and the high areas – and the social and political problems will only get more complicated. Besides that, the US is going to put a strong military presence in Colombia in an area which is vital to the countries of the Amazon basin and where there is oil – the most important biodiversity in the world, the largest basin of water in the world – it’s just going to be the bridge to dominate the surrounding countries. Oil, water, biodiversity.