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FARC – Revolutionary Arm Forces of Colombia

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    Introduction

    The differences in ideologies and priorities, perhaps, are just two of the most common reasons why trenches develop between a legitimate government and a revolutionary movement.

    Revolutionaries basically are movements that demanded a drastic change in society. They practically aim for the phase-out of the status quo. However, several of these revolutionary movements are tagged as “terrorist groups” due to the misconceptions being related to the operations and ideology.

     In the case of Colombia, a long-term civil war counted more than 3, 000 deaths which lasted for 38 years. The civil war took place due to the pitting of government and revolutionary forces. Both, of course, stood firm in what they claimed was right.

    This paper will discuss Colombia’s longest revolutionary group, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarios de Colombia (FARC) which had diverted from Leftist/Marxist ideology to an evil narcoterrorist organization.

    Historical Background

    The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) was a by-product of the guerilla groups that were established during the ten-year civil war of 1948-1958 between the Liberal and the Conservative parties of Colombia (“Revolutionary” 2007). This period in Columbian history was known as “La Violencia” obviously so named due to the violence that occurred at that time. The cause of this violence was the differing views held between the Conservatives and the Liberals with regards to running the Colombian government. The conservatives support the peasants and farmers’ cry for their rights to own lands while the Liberals protect the lands of the rich landowners and miners. The clashes of opinions led to the assassination of Liberal presidential candidate Jorge Eliecer Gaitan who was known to be a staunch supporter of the landless masses. The perpetrator of that crime was an alleged conservative representative. This incident angered the peasants and farmers so that civil war ensued claiming the lives of 200,000 Columbians (Garcia 2002). Paramilitaries are conservative peasant farmers who acted as auto defense systems of the rich landowners.  To protect themselves from the paramilitaries, the landless of South Columbia decided to form guerilla groups collectively known as “Independent Republic”. One of the leaders of these groups was Manuel Muranda who was once a member of the Liberal and Communist parties. He established his largest group of 1,000 members in the Andean plains called Marquetalia. In 1958, La Violencia ended after the Liberals and Conservatives decided to share political power by providing its own President after every four years. In this way, both liberals and Conservatives had the chance to lead the country and carry out its platforms.  Despite this development independent republics still flourished in the countryside and the government decided to crush them by sending soldiers to attack but the guerillas had already escaped to the mountain regions of the South. Undaunted the Colombian government with the help of US loans launched an attack “by land or air” against the independent republic of Marquetalia in 1964. Around 16,000 soldiers were sent to their camps hoping to end the insurgency. The guerillas defended themselves and banded together to form the Southern Bloc. Two years later the Southern Bloc leaders decided to expand their military campaign on a nationwide scale and formally established the “Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia or FARC. FARC then proceed to raid military posts and facilities to acquire weapons, military uniforms, ammunition, and telecommunication equipment. FARC almost did not survive largely due to military counterinsurgency campaigns and the opening of “diplomatic relations between Colombia and the Soviet Union in 1968”. In fact, by the 1970s, the FARC appeared to be incapable of sustaining its military operations but like the country’s other guerrilla organizations, the FARC was able to make a comeback during the late 1970s and 1980s (Harper 2003). Since then the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia–People’s Army (FARC-EP) has “maintained a unique presence within the country of Colombia and Latin America “(Brittain 2004).

    Ideology and Goals

    FARC adopted a Marxist Ideology that aims to displace the government of Colombia as well as strip the ruling classes of its power and establish a “communist-agrarian state”(Harper 2003). In its earliest conception, it is believed that they were supported by the Partido Comunista de Colombia (PCC) by providing them with arms and financial assistance (Coutsoukis 2004). FARC protested the presence of US imperialism in their country arguing that the Colombian government is a puppet of the US.  In this connection, they presumed that their government does not entirely support the interest of the locals but aids the US in its imperialism. FARC upholds nationalism and rejects anti-capitalism (Harper 2003). They opposed the privatization of natural resources, multinational corporations, and rightist violence. They defended their struggle by adhering to the thought that their fight is morally just since they stand against the right-wing activities of the paramilitaries who had a self-serving interest (“Colombia” 2005).

    Organizational Structure

    FARC   “is a well-equipped and organized Marxist guerilla group that carries out attacks against political and military targets inside Columbia” (“Revolutionary” 2007). It is a military arm of the Colombian Communist Party (“FARC” 2007). It was founded in 1966 and is led by Pedro Antonio Marin also popularly called “Manuel Marulanda”. Prior to the founding of FARC, Marulanda was associated with the   Liberal party but decided to leave the group to establish the “Independent Republic” of Mariquetalia. To date, the organization is governed by the seven-member secretariat in which its founder Manuel Marulanda acted as chairman.  Jorge Briceno (a.k.a el Mono Jojoy) is the group’s military commander (“Revolutionary” 2007). Marulanda’s dear friend Jacobo Arenas, is second in command. Arenas want to promote an “agrarian and communist state with small-sized industries” (Harper 2003).

    In its early conception, FARC’s members consisted of a mixture of communist activists and noncommunist peasants who were active during the “La Violencia”(Coutsoukis 2004). Since then the membership increased to an estimated 17,500 members throughout Colombia and for the last 40 years its headquarter is located in the south of the country in a region about the size of Switzerland. They are widely supported by the rural population. The female members are mostly less than 19 years of age and consist 30 percent of the total membership (Harper 2003). Most of the members do not comprise from the academe such as lawyers, doctors, and students but as the group evolved through the years its supporters remain to be the same: the discontented peasants and the farmers. The rural community had remained loyal to the group and “it has been a general practice and knowledge that to enter most sections of rural Colombia is to enter guerilla-extended territory”. The presence of FARC can be felt in the Colombian countryside as they conduct inspections on both primary and secondary roads and exercise judicial powers within the rural community. And if necessary, the FARC engaged themselves in military combat against their arch-enemy, the state and paramilitary forces (Brittain 2004). Areas of the country considered to be FARC strongholds included portions of the departments of Huila, Caquetá, Tolima, Cauca, Boyacá, Santander, Antioquia, Valle del Cauca, Meta, and Cundinamarca and Arauca (Coutsoukis 2004). In its early phase of operations, from 1966 to 1968, it is reported that as many as 500 armed militants and several thousand peasants were recruited. According to reports, the FARC “forcibly enlists any persons between the ages of 13 and 60 to work coca or poppy plantations, and serve in the military”. It is known that FARC banned any form of spiritual expression (Harper 2003).

    FARC insisted that they do not receive much help from other countries although the US State Department claimed otherwise. According to the US, communist Cuba extends political advice to them and even provided for their medical care. There is also concrete evidence that FARC shipped drugs to the criminal organizations of Brazil, Mexico, Russia, and Paraguay in exchange for arms. But the most important connection FARC may have is to the narcotraffickers of Colombia which had provided them a stable income to finance their subversive activities. FARC had also allied with the National Liberation army or (ELN), a “Marxist group that relies on kidnappings and extortion of oil companies for its income” (“Revolutionary” 2007). Due to large profits acquired in the drug trade, foreign countries were found to be interested in forming an underground connection with FARC. There were rumors that they were involved in the military training of FARC members. The suspected countries are Iran, Argentina, Germany, Venezuela, and possibly Iraq and Cuba. However, it is the US that played an active part in the civil war in Colombia. Since the late 1980’s US provided the Colombian government with military assistance “under the pretext of fighting drugs, as more than 90 percent of the cocaine consumed by Americans comes from Colombia” (Garcia 2002).

    To finance their cause, the group engages in various criminal activities such as profit kidnappings, bank robberies, hijacking, and extortion. It was in 1971 when they began to use kidnapping for ransom as a source of income. In fact, both FARC, together with the National Liberation Army (ELN), are responsible for the widespread kidnappings committed in Colombia today, and 15 percent of the 35,000 deaths that take place in Colombia each year. It is estimated that since 1980, the FARC and the ELN have “kidnapped more than 100 Americans, of which 13 have been murdered”. On April 11, 2002, the FARC kidnapped 13 Colombian lawmakers from a government building in Cali, Valle. In addition, several Colombian officials are currently being held hostage by the FARC, including presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt; former governor of Meta, Alan Jara Urzola; and five congressmen. (“Revolutionary” 2007). Eleven of these lawmakers died only last June 2007(Bronstein 2007). But FARC’s most profitable fund-raising activity is in its deep involvement drug trade (“Revolutionary” 2007). It is estimated that FARC collects $250-$300 million a year through its drug-related activities. To ensure a large profit they protect drug cartels. And to gain complete control of the drug trade they sought to be involved in all of its processes such as taxing coca and poppy plant (sources of cocaine) producers and closely monitoring its manufacturing laboratories and personally looking after its drug distribution. There was even evidence that they exchange drugs with military weapons. Despite all this presumption, FARC’s were not convicted of any involvement in the drug trade due to lack of evidence. However, “on March 7, 2002, seven defendants, three of whom belong to the 16th Front of the FARC, were charged with drug trafficking by the Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft”. This was a big victory for the anti-drug enforcers since in the past it was difficult for them to put any FARC behind bars. Due to its active involvement with the drug trade FARC were able to collect an annual  profit  from $100 million to $1 billion  FARC is considered to be  one of the richest, if not the richest, an insurgent group in the world (Garcia  2002)

    FARC, like any active guerilla group of the world, uses all sorts of military weapons in fighting for their cause. Examples of such weapons are AK-47 assault rifles, M60 machine guns, M16 rifles, RPG-7 rocket-propelled grenades, M79 grenade launchers, and land mines which are allegedly acquired from Cuba and Venezuela as well as from international criminal organizations in Brazil and Mexico (“Revolutionary” 2007).

    Threat to Colombian Government

    Just like any other legitimate government of the world, Colombia seeks to end the violence and threat caused by rebel groups in their jurisdiction. The first government attempt to negotiate peace talks with FARC was in 1984 when the conservative President Belisario Betancourt granted amnesty to FARC prisoners who renounced armed struggle. However, the negotiation was full of controversy as right-wing paramilitary groups seized the “peace” time as an opportunity to strengthen their military power.  Amidst the cease-fire agreement, the paramilitary attack FARC and therefore resulted in the breakdown of the negotiation.  By 1986 “all efforts to find a peaceful solution were abandoned by both sides”. The guerillas decided to go back to their mountain headquarters and prepared themselves for possible attacks against the Colombian armed forces. Aside from failed peace negotiations, FARC faced another problem at this period, the drug traffickers resolved to take over the control of the coca-growing regions, and to do this they have to expulse FARC from these regions so they formed their own paramilitary or joined the government forces in campaigning against them. In the face of all these oppositions, FARC decided to form their legitimate party known as the Patriotic Union (UP), signaling their intention to enter mainstream politics. However, death squad campaigns by the government assassinated over 3,000 of its members of which prominent was its 1990 Presidential candidate, Bernardo Jaramillo Ossa. Dismayed by this incident, FARC abandoned its plan to join the mainstream (“Revolutionary” 2007).

    In 1998 the Colombian President  Andres Pastrana attempted to lure FARC to enter into another peace agreement with the government by relinquishing to the guerillas a 42,000 square mile Switzerland-size territory in the southeast collectively known as despite or “clearance zone”(Garcia  2002). FARC conceded and the peace talks began in January of 1999 but due to mutual distrust, both parties did not reach any real progress for three years. Within this period the government accused FARC of hiding and protecting terrorists in their camps (“Revolutionary 2007). The guerillas break the government’s trust by using their relinquished southern territory as headquarter for staging drug operations, recruitments, and kidnappings.  FARC on the other hand accused the government of not being serious enough to stop right-wing paramilitary operations (Garcia 2002).

    In the year 2000 Plan Colombia was presented to the US. The aim of Plan Colombia was supposed to deal with proper monitoring of h coca production and guerilla activities all over Colombia. President Clinton received negative feedbacks with regards to this plan and the Colombian government decided to limit the entry of US troops and private contracted forces to 800 in response to the pressure. But plan Colombia failed (Brittain 2004).

    In the duration of the negotiation, Pastrana and Marulanda met several times, Pastrana made all efforts to push his intention to enter into a peace agreement by allowing the guerillas to continuously use the despite. However, on Feb. 20, 2002, the FARC “hijacked a domestic aircraft and kidnapped Sen. Jorge Gechem Turbay, the fifth congressman to be kidnapped since June 2001”. Because of this Pastrana lost his confidence with FARC and just hours later commanded Colombian armed forces to take over the control of despite (Garcia 2002) With ample  US arms support, the army was able to take control of the main rebel town, San Vicente del Caguan after only after a few days of attack(“Revolutionary” 2007).

     After the failure of Plan Colombia to suppress the FARC, the Bush administration on the other hand has come up with a “war on terror” methodology with the hope of finally eliminating the “incredibly well-equipped and powerful Marxist-Leninist FARC-EP which poses a tremendous threat to U.S. economic and political interests”. By late 2003 and early 2004, the US Department of Defense increased their U.S.-based counterinsurgents to support a direct offensive campaign against the guerillas in Colombia via Plan Patriota. Offensive attacks via Plan Patriota had resulted in numerous civilian casualties and displacements. The attacking troops are composed of the United States state/private combatants with over 20,000 participating Colombian soldiers. They aimed to cripple FARC by attacking their “support networks (political parties, students, Campesinos, food-crops, academics, unionists, etc.)”. Concentrated attacks are being made in the departments of Putumayo, Caquetá, Nariño, and Meta. By 2004, FARC’s visible presence seemed to diminish in the regions of Cundimanamarca, Huila, Toilima, and Cauca. And this has not happened for so many years back so it appears that Plan Patriota was successful (Brittain 2004).

     However, Colombia’s nightmares are far from over as FARC continued to be undefeated and none of its significant leaders are captured. Also they remained uncooperative with any efforts of the Colombian government to settle for a compromise. A recent example of their stubbornness is in their refusal to release their more than 700 hostages as ordered by the present Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. In 2002 Alvaro Uribe was re-elected to the Presidency. President Uribe promised the Colombians that he will do everything in his power to eradicate FARC. His opponents even revealed that he was “an original promoter of the right-wing paramilitaries who killed more than 10,000 people in a terror campaign”. President Uribe has denied such rumors.  In March 2007 he appealed to President Bush to continue extending financial aid of $700 million to help him fight terrorism and drug trade in his country.” I ask the World, I ask the United States, to support us. We haven’t’ yet won but we are winning,” he said in an interview with the Associated Press His country continued to provide 90% of the world’s cocaine production (Bajak 2007).

    In recent news in   July 5, 2007, Colombians protested the death of 11 politicians allegedly killed by FARC. The FARC rejected such allegations declaring that the 11 hostages which they held for five years now were killed in cross-fire when Colombian armies attacked their jungle prison. President Uribe did not believe them saying that his troops were nowhere near the site. He appealed to FARC to release the dead bodies of the hostages so that their cause of death can be accurately determined. It must be remembered that the lawmakers who were kidnapped are the ones who were kidnapped in Cali in 2002 (Bronstein 2007).

    In their protest rallies, the Colombians also demanded the release of more than 700 hostages. However, the rebels released a statement that they will only release a hostage in exchange for their captured comrades. They requested that the “President establish a New York City-sized rural zone free of government troops where an exchange could be negotiated”. However, Uribe rejected their demands because according to him “We cannot accept safe-haven zones and we cannot accept rebels being released from prison only to go back to killing people”.  Instead, he informed the FARC that if they free all their hostages, the government would demilitarize a zone for 90 days to begin peace talks. But that offer is almost certain to be rejected by the guerrillas (Muse 2007). Last August 2, 2007, a public debate was held as Colombians remained divided in their opinion whether to allow the Colombian government to exchange their captured guerillas with the FARC hostages. As expected, hostage families urged President Uribe to accept the terms of FARC and exchange their loved one’s freedom with the release of FARC prisoners. President Uribe defended his position but it seemed that hostages are caught up in the middle between Colombia and FARC playing politics (Muse 2007).

    An Analysis of the Current Threat Level

     Both the Colombian government and the FARC stubbornly clung to their differing views as to how their country is to be governed. As long as both sides do not come into compromise, it is expected that civil war or insurgency will continue to operate in Colombia.

    FARC had shown that they had no intention of curbing down their narcoterrorism activities as demonstrated with their refusal to cooperate with President Uribe’s demand to release all hostages.

     To date, it is not safe to travel to Colombia as travel warnings are being released to inform foreigners of the danger of visiting the place. The Travel Warning released by the United States last June 6, 2007, reads: “The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the dangers of travel to Colombia. Violence by narcoterrorist groups and other criminals continues to affect all parts of the country, urban and rural” (“Colombia Travel” 2007).

    References

    1. Bajak, Frank .8 March 2007.  On eve of Bush visit, Colombian President Pleads for Continued Aid. Associated Press. 8 August 2007 < http://www.signonsandiego.com/ews/world/20070308-1649-colombia-uribe.html>
    2. Brittain, J. (2004). A Change in the Countryside or Preparation for a Prolonged Conflict in Colombia? [Electronic Version]. 28 July 2007 < http://www.counterpunch.org/ brittain10202004.html>
    3. Bronstein, Hugh. 5 July 2007. “Outraged Colombians March Against Rebel Kidnappers”.New York Times. 8 August 2007 < http://www.boston.com/news/world/latinamerica/articles/2007/07/05/outraged_colombians_march_against_rebel_kidnappers/?rss_Id=Boston.com+%2F+News>
    4.  “Colombia Travel Warning. 6 June 2007. Kansas City Infozine. 8 August    2007.<http://www.infozine.com/news/stories/op/ storiesView/sid/7565>
    5.  Coutsoukis, P. (2004). The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia [Electronic Version]. 28 July  2007. <http://www.photius.com/countries/colombia/national_security/Colombia_national_security_the_revolutionary_ar-1107.html>
    6. Garcia, V. (2002). Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) [Electronic Version].28 July 2007<http://www.cdi.org?program/issue/document.cfm?DocumentID=1204&StartRow=21&ListRows=10&appendURL=Orderby=DateLastUpdated&ProgramID=39&issueID=56>
    7. Harper, L. (2003). Colombia’s Civil War Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) [Electronic Version]. 28 July 2007<http://www.cocaine.org/colombia/farc.html>
    8. FARC.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 8 August 2007. http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9398098>
    9. Muse, Toby. 2 August 2007. “Colombia’s Uribe Jeered in Public Debate with Kidnapped Soldier’s Father”. Associated Press. 8 August 2007. < http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/world/20070802-1357-colombia-kidnapprotest.html>
    10. “Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)” [Electronic (2007)Version]. 28 July 2007< http://www.military.com/Resources/ResourceFileView?file=FARC Organization.htm>

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