Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia

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FARC-EP flag.
Active 1964- Present
Country Colombia
Branch Marxism-Leninism
Garrison/HQ Unknown, "Mountains of Colombia"
Equipment Predominantly Russian Weaponry; AK-47s, RPK-74s, RPGs, PKs, IEDs and other unconventional homemade ordnance.
Manuel Marulanda Velez
Jacobo Arenas, Mono jojoy, Raul Reyes, Negro Acacio, Simon Trinidad

The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia–Ejército del Pueblo or FARC-EP (Spanish for "Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia–People's Army") is Colombia's oldest and largest guerrilla group, established in 1964-1966 as the military wing of the Colombian Communist Party. The FARC-EP has since officially broken from that party and created a political structure it calls the Clandestine Colombian Communist Party. With an estimated 12,000-18,000 members (approximately 20 to 30% of them children under 18 years of age<ref name="Children">Human Rights Watch. "Colombia: Armed Groups Send Children to War." February 22, 2005. Available online. Accessed September 1, 2006.</ref>), the FARC-EP is present in 35-40 percent of Colombia's territory, most strongly in southeastern jungles and in plains at the base of the Andes mountains. The FARC-EP is classified as a terrorist group by multiple nations and organizations, including the United States and the European Union.


[edit] Overview

The FARC-EP is governed by a secretariat led by septuagenarian Manuel Marulanda Vélez (Pedro Antonio Marín), also known as "Tirofijo," and seven others, including senior military commander Jorge Briceño, also known as "Mono Jojoy." It is organized along military lines and includes several urban fronts. The group added "-EP" (Ejército del Pueblo) to its official name during its Seventh Guerrilla Conference in 1982 as an expression of expected progression from guerrilla warfare to conventional military action outlined on that occasion. See also: Military Structure of the FARC-EP

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Colombian Armed Conflicts

Image:Flag of Colombia.svg

General Overview:
Colombian Armed Conflict </br>(1960s - present)
Plan Colombia
U.S.-Colombia relations
Colombian Armed forces:
Military of Colombia
Former groups:
Historical Events:
Santa Marta Massacre (1928)
La Violencia
Marquetalia Republic
Dominican embassy (1980)
Palace of Justice (1985)
Patriotic Union Party (UP)
FARC-Government peace process </br>(1999-2002)
Bojayá massacre (2002)
Sinaltrainal v. Coca-Cola
Rodriquez v. Drummond
Political parties:
Conservative Party
Liberal Party
Communist Party

The FARC-EP has proclaimed itself a politico-military Marxist-Leninist organization of Bolivarian inspiration.<ref>Miguel Urbano Rodrigues. "Las FARC reafirman la opción comunista y responden a campañas difamatorias." April 7, 2004. Available online. Accessed September 1, 2006.</ref> It claims to represent the rural poor against Colombia's wealthy classes and opposes United States influence in Colombia (particularly Plan Colombia), privatization of natural resources, multinational corporations, and paramilitary violence. The FARC-EP says these objectives motivate the group's efforts to seize power in Colombia through an armed revolution. It funds itself principally through extortion, kidnapping and their participation in the illegal drug trade.<ref>BBC News. "Colombia's Most Powerful Rebels." September 19, 2003. Available online. Accessed September 1, 2006.</ref><ref>International Crisis Group. "War and Drugs in Colombia." January 27, 2005. Available online. Accessed September 1, 2006.</ref>

See also: Socio-economic Structure of the FARC-EP

The FARC-EP says it remains open to a negotiated solution to the nation's conflict, through a dialogue with a flexible government that agrees to certain conditions, such as the demilitarization of locations and the release of all jailed (and extradited) FARC rebels. At the same time, it claims that until these conditions surface, the armed revolutionary struggle will remain necessary to implement the group's policy objectives. This is because the FARC-EP perceives Colombia's political environment as closed, and because of politically motivated violence against its members, supporters and former members, including activists of the Patriotic Union and other social and political movements. These conclusions are not shared by Colombia's legal leftwing and independent parties, themselves not immune from rightwing threats and violence.

National and international critics often characterize the FARC-EP as terrorist. Critics of the FARC-EP often suggest that the group's methods have discredited its original goals and ideology. The FARC, like the rightwing paramilitary groups that are their sworn enemies (e.g. AUC), has attacked and kidnapped civilian targets.

The FARC also frequently recruits children as soldiers and informants, usually by force. Some join voluntarily, seeking to escape rural poverty and unemployment. Human Rights Watch estimates that the FARC has the majority of child combatants in Colombia. An estimated 20-30 percent of FARC combatants are under 18 years old, with many as young as 12 years old, for a total of around 5000 children. Children who try to escape the ranks of the guerrillas are punished with torture and death.<ref name="Children"/><ref>Human Rights Watch. "'You'll Learn Not to Cry: Child Combatants in Colombia." September 2003. Avaliable online. Accessed September 1, 2006.</ref>

The United States Department of State includes the FARC-EP on its list of foreign terrorist organizations, as does the European Union.

[edit] Historical background

See main article : Communism in Colombia

The period that followed the murder of Jorge Eliécer Gaitán in 1948 saw the loss of more than 200,000 lives and became known as La Violencia ("The Violence"). "Toward the end of La Violencia a new generation of young Colombians who had been socialized to think that violence was a normal way of life…increasingly took to banditry."[cite this quote]</span>

By 1953, the Colombian Conservative Party government of Laureano Gómez (elected 1950 in an election boycotted by the Colombian Liberal Party), unable to cope with the situation, became increasingly unpopular in the eyes of both public opinion and other political figures of both parties. In what was seen as a successful effort that sought to reestablish order, the military, under the figure of General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla, seized control of the country in 1953. 

The new military government offered amnesty to the bandits and guerrillas that surrendered their weapons. And most did. However, some Liberal guerrilla groups included a large number of communists who refused to surrender their arms, but instead retreated to isolated areas of the country where they continued to operate and organize their own communities. Jacobo Arenas, who would later become the ideological leader of the FARC, was sent by the Colombian Communist Party as a political activist in order to help organize existing self-defense and guerrilla units in a rural enclave during "La Violencia" (1948-1955).

Main article : Jacobo Arenas

Che Guevara's teachings highly influenced Colombian guerrillas to fight for a future Socialist State arguably like Cuba

Jacobo Arenas later wrote a book called "Diario de la resistencia de Marquetalia" ("Diary of the Marquetalian resistance"). The book includes a chronicle of the events of the fight between the guerrilla fighters and the soldiers of the Colombian army brigade.

Civilian rule was restored in 1958 after moderate Conservatives and Liberals, with the support of dissident sectors of the military, agreed to unite under a bipartisan coalition known as the National Front. (Political alternation within the coalition eventually resulted in the election of Misael Pastrana in 1970 as president, under a very criticized process which was considered to be dishonest by many in the Colombian public and media.) Meanwhile, armed self-defense groups of communists had successfully established their own government in a remote region of the country, unofficially known as the "republic" of Marquetalia.

According to 1958 US embassy and military records on file at the US National Archives, one of the largest Liberal guerrilla bands that came into existence during "La Violencia" had been known as "Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia" (FARC),<ref>La Violencia: Colombia's Liberal-Conservative Civil War." Available online . Accessed September 1, 2006.</ref> This group had been organized some time in the early 1950s by Dumar Aljure, an associate of Guadalupe Salcedo. In the following years, Aljure's power and that of this early guerrilla organization declined until his own death in 1968, when he still had a degree of control and influence over Puerto Lleras.

Separately, the Colombian government had initially ignored the growing influence of several communist enclaves in and around Sumapaz until 1964 when, under pressure by Conservatives who considered the autonomous communities to be a threat, the Colombian army was ordered to attack the so-called "independent republics".

Following the attack the communists dispersed, only to later reorganize as the "Southern Bloc" ("Bloque Sur"). In 1964, the Bloque Sur renamed itself the "Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia" (FARC). Jacobo Arenas and Manuel Marulanda were two of the founders of the new guerrilla group and became its two top leaders.

Whether the organization's new name could have been derived from Dumar Aljure's earlier Liberal guerrilla, or whether the new FARC may possibly have included among its initial members some of Aljure's former followers, is not clear. The finer details of this part of the FARC's early history are unclear, and most histories of the FARC, including those which reference the writings of Arenas and other FARC founders, omit any mention of Aljure's guerrilla army entirely.

Main article : Marquetalia Republic

While the group officially came into existence in 1966, it continued to be led by former liberal and communist guerrillas, and therefore some analysts believe that, in several respects, it “was a partial continuation of the revolutionary movement that had begun in 1948.”

Other observers point out that, by the time that the 1964 movement was founded, different national and international realities, such as the successful example of armed revolution provided by the Cuban revolution, had come into being and had a more direct influence on the final creation and establishment of the FARC (and the contemporary National Liberation Army). As FARC continued to grow, it established itself throughout the country in semi-autonomous fronts.

[edit] Seventh Guerrilla Conference of the FARC-EP

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FARC-EP troops

Main article : Seventh Guerrilla Conference of the FARC-EP

FARC ideologue Jacobo Arenas was allegedly the main figure behind the FARC's Seventh Guerrilla Conference in 1982, and a contemporary "Strategic Plan", which would have outlined a series of goals and steps that would organize the FARC into an "Army of the People" (the initials "EP", Ejército del Pueblo, were adopted during this Conference) capable of potentially seizing power sometime in the 1990s, explicitly combining both the illegal and legal forms of struggle (organically implementing a traditional Marxist and Communist strategy termed "the combination of all forms of struggle"), as well as the political and the military aspects of their group.

Under the guidance of Jacobo Arenas and Manuel Marulanda, the Seventh Guerrilla Conference was a turning point in the FARC's struggle, as it provided them with the opportunity to finetune their policies and plans in order for them to build their desired socialist state in the future. The FARC's Conferences, as seen by Marxists and Leninists, can be interpreted as similar to the International conferences previously held in Europe with the participation Karl Marx, Fredrick Engels, V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky.

Many U.S. and other military experts argue that Manuel Marulanda Vélez, as a veteran guerilla fighter and as an excellent commander for four decades, heads perhaps the most capable and dangerous Marxist guerilla organization in the world. Marulanda is very often referred to as "Sureshot" ("Tirofijo"), because of a reputation for using firearms very accurately during his earlier years as an insurgent. For some of those analysts, an allegedly problematic aspect in Marulanda's profile concerns the fact that he has limited educational background, due to the poor economic conditions that his family and many others had to face when growing up in rural Colombia. Jacobo Arenas, on the other hand, had political and ideological education as a communist intellectual, thus it is believed that he realized that FARC's initial status was not up to the necessary standards needed to properly fight a Colombian Army that could count on the aid of the United States from time to time.

This was possible since, after the 1959 Cuban Revolution, the United States increased its military influence throughout the region through the activities of the U.S. Southern Command, an organization tasked with overseeing and handling military affairs in Latin America. U.S. Special Forces, such as the Green Berets, specifically trained to fight in Latin America jungles for counterinsurgency operations. Additionally, the widespread Spanish language was also taught to many members of U.S. forces in the region. From the perspective of Arenas, the challenge of having to potentially face a military with the highest standards in the world made upgrading FARC's own military capabilities a necessity.

The role of Jacobo Arenas in FARC's military reorganization was significant. After the Seventh Guerilla Conference in 1982, Arenas started to work toward the goal of turning the FARC from a guerrilla organization to a rebel army (the "People's Army"). According to his instructions, FARC added ranks and badges to many of its uniforms, as well as introducing a new inventory system for firearms and ammunition, in addition to providing new weapons and technology for FARC militants. In theory, a properly organized and trained guerrilla army would thus meet the international requirements for the recognition of a "state of belligerence", contained within the Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949 and its additional protocols.

Jacobo Arenas died in August of 1990. Official FARC versions claimed he died of a sudden heart attack. However, claims of foul play have not gone without notice. Different sources from within the guerrilla group state that he was murdered by a low ranking guerrilla officer sometime after Arenas himself had ordered to execute, for unknown reasons, this officer's brother.

[edit] Activities

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FARC-EP soldiers

See also : Military History of the FARC-EP

FARC has financed itself through kidnapping ransoms, extortion, drug trafficking which includes but it is not limited to coca plant harvesting, protection of their crops, processing of coca leaves to manufacture cocaine, and drug trade protection. Many of their fronts have also overrun and massacred small communities in order to silence and intimidate those who do not support their activities, enlist new and underaged recruits by force, distribute propaganda and, more importantly, to pillage local banks. Businesses operating in rural areas, including agricultural, oil, and mining interests, were required to pay "vaccines" (monthly payments) which "protected" them from subsequent attacks and kidnappings. An additional, albeit less lucrative, source of revenue was highway blockades where guerrillas stopped motorists and buses in order to confiscate jewelry and money, which were especially prevalent during the presidencies of Ernesto Samper Pizano (1994-1998) and that of Andrés Pastrana (1998-2002).

Over time, fewer recruits joined the organization for ideological reasons, but rather as a means to escape poverty and unemployment. "FARC's narcotics-related income for 1995 reportedly totaled $647 million."[cite this quote]</span>

 Although the FARC rarely provides a regular cash pay to the majority of its members, per capita income for Colombian guerrilla fighters has at times been calculated to reach at least 40 times the national average. 

In 1991, a small group of guerrillas invaded the Brazilian side of the jungle, and attacked an army post near the Traira River, in the first and only confirmed clash with the Brazilian army to date. Three soldiers were killed and some weapons stolen. A few days later a Brazilian commando struck back, killing seven guerrillas. There is also been alleged FARC activity in Peru and Venezuela.

By 1998, some studies showed that FARC's ranks could have swelled to approximately some 15,000 guerrilla fighters, up from an estimated 7,500 in 1992, and effectively were in a position to control and freely operate through large rural areas of the country (the high-end estimates being about 40%-50%, according to some analysts). One observer controversially noted that, on average, they would appear to be "better armed, equipped, and trained than the Colombian armed forces."[cite this quote]</span>

Other observers would dispute the current applicability of this assessment in the face of increased U.S. aid and training to the Colombia state and its military.

The FARC-EP has employed vehicle bombings, gas cylinder bombs, killings, landmines, kidnapping, extortion, hijacking, as well as guerrilla and conventional military action against Colombian political, military, and economic targets, to attack those it considers a threat to its movement. It has not been uncommon for civilians to die or suffer forced displacement, directly or indirectly, due to many of these actions. The FARC-EP's April 16 and April 18 2005 gas cylinder attacks on the town of Toribió, Cauca led to the displacement of more than two thousand indigenous inhabitants and the destruction of two dozen civilian houses. A February 2005 report from the United Nations' High Commissioner for Human Rights mentioned that, during 2004, "FARC-EP continued to commit grave breaches [of human rights] such as murders of protected persons, torture and hostage-taking, which affected many civilians, including women, returnees, boys and girls, and ethnic groups."<ref>Commission on Human Rights. "Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Colombia." February 28, 2005. Available online Accessed September 1, 2006.</ref>

The FARC's tactic of employing improvised missiles made from gas canisters (or cylinders) as explosives, a weapon it often uses when launching attacks at towns and sites in them that they consider as military objectives (such as police stations), has a high degree of inaccuracy. Resulting targeting difficulties have caused these weapons to often level civilian houses and/or harm civilians, such as the case in Toribío on April 24 2005, and the earlier 2002 attack on a church in Bojayá which killed 119 civilians.

Human Rights Watch considers that "the FARC-EP's continued use of gas cylinder bombs shows this armed group’s flagrant disregard for lives of civilians...gas cylinder bombs are impossible to aim with accuracy and, as a result, frequently strike civilian objects and cause avoidable civilian casualties."<ref>Human Rights Watch. "More FARC Killings with Gas Cylinder Bombs: Atrocities Target Indigenous Group " April 25, 2005. Available online. Accessed September 1, 2006.</ref>

In March 1999, the FARC-EP killed three U.S. Native American rights activists, in Venezuelan territory after kidnapping them in Colombia. After initial denials and claims that these U.S. citizens were CIA agents, the FARC-EP subsequently admitted that this action was a mistake, and claimed that it would internally punish those responsible. International NGOs and observers have argued that the FARC would have yet to apply any serious punishment to those involved in the incident.

The FARC-EP is responsible for most of the ransom kidnappings in Colombia. The group's kidnapping targets are usually those that it considers wealthy landowners and businessmen, as well as foreign tourists and entrepreneurs, and prominent international and domestic officials. Colombian and international NGOs have documented that in recent years the FARC has also resorted to kidnapping people from lower income sectors (that is, from the Colombian middle class downward), in particular when they are thought to be collaborators or relatives of the FARC's enemies. It is argued that many of these kidnappings have taken place with little to no regard for the target's age, gender or health conditions.

The FARC is believed to have ties to narcotics traffickers, principally through the provision of armed protection and a form of "taxation" over drugs crops and their profits. During the mid- to late-1990s, several drugwar analysts have stated that the FARC would have become increasingly involved in the drug trade, controlling farming, production and exportation of cocaine in those areas of the country under their influence. This claim is also supported by U.S. and Colombian authorities.

Brazilian druglord Fernandinho Beira-Mar was captured in Colombia on April 20, 2001 while in the company of FARC-EP guerrillas. Colombian and Brazilian authorities have claimed that this constitutes proof of further cooperation between the FARC-EP and the druglord based on the exchange of weapons for cocaine.<ref>El Mercurio Online. "'Fernandinho Beira-Mar'", un temible capo aliado de Hernández Norambuena." June 15, 2005. Available online. Accessed September 1, 2006.</ref><ref>Clarí "Un capo narco reveló lazos con poderosos de Brasil." Available online. Accessed November 11, 2006.</ref><ref>BBC News. "Polícia investiga relação de Beira-Mar com as Farc." April 22, 2001. Available online. Accessed November 3, 2006.</ref> Fernandinho himself and the FARC-EP have denied this. FARC itself has claimed that in their areas of influence the growth of coca plants by farmers would be taxed on the same basis as any other crop, though there would be higher cash profits stemming from coca production and exportation.

During the first quarter of 2005, joint intelligence and police operations by law enforcement authorities from Honduras and Colombia resulted in the seizure of a number of AK-47 and M16 assault rifles, M60 machineguns, rocket launchers and ammunition cartridges that were stated to be part of illegal weapons shipments from criminal gangs and black market dealers in Central America to the FARC in exchange for drugs, allegedly for two thousand kilos of cocaine. Ethalson Mejia Hoy, a Colombian who was illegally released from Honduran custody in July 2004 24 hours after his arrest, was named as one of the key figures in such an arms-for-drugs traffic. It was reported that "Police intelligence were monitoring communications between two 14th Front guerrillas when they heard 'the package' being discussed. In actuality the package consisted of sufficient weapons to arm a minimum of 180 combatants."[cite this quote]</span>

Arms dealers in the region were also accused of providing similar weapons to rightwing paramilitaries in Colombia. <ref>Diario El Heraldo.  "Células de las FARC operan en Honduras."  April 14, 2005.  Available online.  Accessed November 3, 2006.</ref><ref>La Prensa.  "Nicaragua corredor de armas"  April 17, 2005.  Available online.  Accessed November 3, 2006.</ref>

In February 2005, Juan José Martínez Vega, also known as "Gentil Alvis Patiño" or "El Chigüiro", was arrested by Venezuelan authorities during a rescue operation that freed the mother of baseball player Ugueth Urbina. According to authorities, Martínez Vega had some 600 to 650 kilograms of cocaine on location. Colombian authorities identified him as a member of FARC and accused him of exchanging cocaine for weapons in the black market. Martínez Vega had several false identity papers, including some which identified him as Gentil Albis Patiño, which delayed his initial identification. Eventually Venezuela confirmed him to be "El Chigüiro" and subsequently extradited him to Colombia.<ref>Union Radio. "MIJ aguarda identificación plena en Colombia de 'El Chiguiro.'" March 16, 2005. Available online. Accessed November 3, 2006.</ref><ref>Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias. "Colombia formaliza pedido de extradición a Venezuela del «Chiguiro.»" March 19, 2005. Available online. Accessed November 3, 2006.</ref>

In August 2006, Chilean authorities seized more than 108 kilograms of cocaine and captured twelve members of an international drug trafficking ring, which they described as being led by an unnamed Colombian man in Panama who received and distributed the ring's profits to finance FARC activities.[1]

[edit] Organisation and Structure

See also: FARC-EP Chain of Command

[edit] Development

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FARC-EP commanders

The FARC's force strength is usually estimated to be at around 15,000 to 18,000 men, organized in more than 80 fronts.

Roughly from 1949 to 1964, during the "La Violencia" period of Colombian history, the FARC's precursor was a small Communist guerrilla band around Marquetalia. In May 1964 the Colombian Army retook Marquetalia. The rebels scattered, reorganised, and in 1966, the FARC was formally created as a slightly enlargened guerrilla entity (estimated at 350 members)

During the 1970s the FARC kept a low profile by staying inside its traditional heartland areas, but the Seventh Guerilla Conference in 1982 represented a significant change in outlook, as the FARC changed its structure.

Manuel Marulanda Vélez is the organisation's leader. Jacobo Arenas is the FARC's main ideologue and academic. From the early 1980s, the FARC added ranks and unit badges to uniforms, as well as introducing a new inventory system for firearms and ammunition, in addition to providing new weapons and technology for FARC militants. Jacobo Arenas was probably central to planning the FARC-EP which is used to this day.

[edit] Unit structure

Tomas Medina Caracas, member of the FARC-EP.

The FARC structure in use

  • Squad: the basic unit consisting of 12 combatants.
  • Guerilla: consists of two squads.
  • Company (Compañía) : consists of two guerrillas (i.e. approximately 50 men, therefore a lower level of command than a company in most armies).
  • Column: consists of two or more companies.
  • Front: consists of more than one column.
  • Block of Fronts: consists of five or more fronts. There are seven such blocks.
  • The Central High Command (Estado Mayor Central).

The FARC believes that since the early 1980s it has met the requirements for the recognition of a "state of belligerence" contained within the Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949 and additional protocols. Their opponents and the Colombian government claim that the practice of civilian kidnapping for ransom and the tax levied on coca crop buyers makes it an illegitimate army and also point to a wide rejection of the guerrilla policies in national surveys.

The FARC-EP is organized into seven main operational regions and “block” is the name given to each FARC military command inside one of the main operational regions. According to the FARC's military operational strategies, which take into account factors such as the size of the area and its population, each block is composed of between 5 to 15 of fronts.

In addition, there are various independent, elite or mobile fronts attached to some blocks normally under the direct control of the FARC's high command. The FARC also maintains various "Military intelligence units".

The FARC-EP maintains a Military Academy and a two-month basic military training program, mainly involoving infantry tactics. After basic training, guerrilla fighters are further assesed and have evaluation and performance records. After some time, better candidates may do advanced training.

[edit] Ranks

Ranks (in ascending order of seniority):

Equivalent to "other ranks":

  • Squad deputy commander
  • Squad Commander
  • Guerrilla Deputy commander
  • Guerrilla Commander
  • Company Deputy commander

Equivalent to officers:

  • Company Commander
  • Column Deputy commander
  • Column Commander
  • Front Deputy commander
  • Front Commander
  • Block Deputy commander

Equivalent to general officers:

  • Block Commander
  • Deputy commander of the Central High Command (there are currently five men of this rank)
  • Commander of the Central High Command (Jorge Briceño Suárez, known as "Mono Jojoy")
  • Commander in Chief of the Central High Command (Manuel Marulanda Vélez)

It should be remembered that a FARC company is a lower level of command (of approximately 50 men) than a company in traditional army organisation.

[edit] The late 1990s Peace Process

Image:Colombia Rebel.png
FARC Area of Operations & DMZ (1998-2002)

On September 4, 1996 the FARC-EP attacked a military base in Guaviare, which started three weeks of guerrilla warfare that claimed the lives of at least 130 Colombians, soldiers and civilians included.

In hope of negotiating a peace settlement, on November 7, 1998, President Andrés Pastrana Arango granted FARC a 42,000 km² safe haven meant to serve as a confidence building measure, centered around the San Vicente del Caguan settlement. The demilitarization of some of the included Colombian locations had previously been among the FARC-EP's conditions for beginning peace talks. The peace process with the government continued at a slow pace for three years during which the BBC and other news organizations reported that the FARC-EP also used the safe haven to import arms, export drugs, recruit minors, and build up their military. After a series of high-profile guerrilla actions, including the hijacking of an airplane and the kidnapping of several political figures, Pastrana ended the peace talks on February 21 2002 and ordered the armed forces to start retaking the FARC-controlled zone, beginning at midnight. A 48-hour respite that had been previously agreed to with the rebel group was not applied at this time; the government argued that it had already been granted and almost used up during an earlier crisis in January, when most of the more prominent FARC commanders had apparently left the demilitarized zone.<ref>BBC News. "Colombian army moves against rebels." February 21, 2002. Available online. Accessed November 3, 2006.</ref> Shortly after the end of talks, the FARC kidnapped presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, who was traveling in guerrilla territory.

[edit] Recent history - back to the war

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President Álvaro Uribe Vélez has intensified military operations against the FARC, seeking to defeat them.

For most of the period between 2002 and 2004, the FARC-EP was believed to be in a relative / temporary strategic withdrawal due to the increasing military and police actions of new hardline president Álvaro Uribe Vélez, which led to the capture or desertion of many fighters and medium-level commanders, one of the most important of which has been that of "Simón Trinidad" (Juvenal Ovidio Palmera Pineda) in January 2004, a former banker turned rebel, who had participated as a high-profile negotiator in the recent Pastrana peace talks, and who was also part of the central command of the organization.

During the first two years of the Uribe administration, the strength of several FARC fronts, mostly notably in Cundinamarca and Antioquia, was broken by the government's military operations, and several analysts reported that many of the other FARC structures, while mostly intact, reverted back to guerrilla warfare, using "hit and run" tactics against targets of opportunity and the weaker links in the military's defenses.

An article in the respected Bogotá newspaper El Tiempo on June 12, 2004 reported that Guillermo León Sánchez (aka "Alfonso Cano") had apparently been elected commander-in-chief by the estado mayor central (central command), with the blessing of Manuel Marulanda Vélez.<ref>El Tiempo. "Comunicación del Polo Democrático a 'Alfonso Cano' sugiere que él es el nuevo jefe de las Farc." July 12, 2004. Archived online. Archive made on August 16, 2004 and accessed November 10, 2006.</ref> When questioned about the matter by interviews, different FARC spokesmen have, both directly and indirectly, tended to dismiss this claim.

In June 2004, 34 coca farmers were found bound hand and foot and shot with automatic weapons. Blame was placed on the FARC-EP by the government, and after several days of uncertainty the FARC-EP publicly claimed responsibility for the massacre, saying they had killed the farmers for being supporters of right-wing paramilitaries and accusing the government of shedding "crocodile tears" for their deaths. The United Nations condemned the massacre as a war crime. After the FARC's communique was made public, other human rights organizations likewise rejected the event and called on the Colombian government to protect villagers from the guerrillas.<ref>BBC News. "Farc admits coca farmers massacre." June 18, 2004. Available online. Accessed November 3, 2006.</ref>

Another incident occurred on July 10, 2004, when the FARC allegedly assassinated seven peasants (Francisco Giraldo, Carlos Torres, José Velásquez, Israel Velásquez, Mauricio Herrera, John Jairo Usuga and Pablo Usuga), in Samaná, near the municipality of San Carlos, Antioquia, according to the mayor of San Carlos, Colombian authorities and witnesses to the event.

The victims of the massacre were labourers who had returned to the zone after being forcefully displaced by the FARC earlier, presumably due to military or paramilitary activity in the area. They were apparently murdered because they had not received permission from the FARC to return yet, according to witnesses. The July 10 massacre provoked a further exodus of at least 80 persons from the surrounding rural area towards the urban locality of San Carlos.

On July 13, 2004, the office of the United Nations' High Commissioner for Human Rights publicly condemned this further act of violence and the ensuing displacement, accusing the FARC of violating article 17 of the additional Protocol II of the Geneva Convention and of international humanitarian law, expressing its solidarity towards the families of the victims.

The office reminded the FARC, which in the past has publicly rejected the legal applicability of the Geneva Convention to its case (though it also claims to be following most of its directives anyway), that these principles must be followed by any person or group of persons, independent of their legal condition.<ref>Colombia Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, cited by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. "FARC-EP violan el DIH en San Carlos, Antioquia." July 13, 2004. Available online. Accessed November 3, 2006.</ref><ref>Colombia Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, cited by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. "FARC-EP violan el DIH en San Carlos, Antioquia." July 13, 2004. Available online. Accessed November 3, 2006.</ref><ref>La Voz. "Exodo campesino revive drama del desplazamiento en Colombia." July 14, 2006. Available online. Accessed November 3, 2006.</ref>

According to the AP news agency, on August 18, 2004, a Colombian arms broker, Carlos Gamarra Murillo, arrested on April 1, 2004 in Tampa, Florida, USA, was charged with attempting to buy $4 million in rocket launchers, machine guns, and other heavy weapons and ammunition for the FARC, which would have been paid for with 2 tons of cocaine (worth 60% of the total amount, according to investigators) and cash.

The weapons would then have been shipped through Venezuela, according to investigators. US Attorney General John Ashcroft stated that Gamarra "attempted to provide the fuel to feed a dangerous foreign terrorist organization". Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) chief Michael Garcia signaled the indictment as "a significant achievement".

Gamarra apparently made contact with an undercover informant in Colombia in March 2003, according to an ICE agent who testified in April. Gamarra is currently held without bail after heading to Tampa in order to meet U.S. agents posing as weapons dealers. During the next year, it is alleged that he met and called the agents in order to arrange the weapons shipment and also inquired about buying surface-to-air missiles, presumably for use against Colombian military helicopters and other aircraft.[citation needed]

On November 27, 2004, Colombian Defense Minister Jorge Alberto Uribe told reporters that apparently the FARC leadership had secretly commanded their followers to attempt to attack visiting U.S. President George W. Bush during his visit to the city of Cartagena, according to intelligence reports. It was mentioned that any such intentions were made impractical by the presence of about 15,000 members of the Colombian security forces in the area, in addition to U.S. security personnel. No specific evidence (such as the content of the intelligence reports) that FARC actually managed to organize such an attack has been publicly released. [2] Interior and Justice Minister Sabas Pretelt later downplayed the comments, stating that he had no specific details about any concrete assassination plots directed against President Bush and the FARC strongly denied the accusation, blaming it on US intelligence sources.<ref name=Release>BBC News. "Colombia 'to release Farc rebels.'" December 2, 2006. Available online. Accessed November 5, 2006.</ref>

In early February 2005, a series of small scale military actions by the FARC around the southwestern departments of Colombia, which resulted in an estimated 40 casualties (dead and wounded) for the Colombian security forces, were interpreted by many Colombian analysts as evidence of their remaining strength and as signs of a possible comeback for the group, signaling what could become the potential beginning of more offensive operations and the end of what was termed as their strategic withdrawal. The FARC-EP, in response to government military operations in the south and in the southeast, would now be displacing its military center of gravity towards the Nariño, Putumayo and Cauca departments. It was speculated that these actions, and those that might follow later into the year, could be directed towards undermining the advances made by the policies of the Uribe administration, as a possible means to weaken Uribe's chances in the future 2006 electoral contest, where he was expected to run for reelection.<ref>BBC News. "'Deadliest' hit on Colombian army." February 10, 2005. Available online. Accessed November 5, 2006.</ref>

[edit] New Strategy in 2005

See also : FARC Military Strategy in 2005

In early 2005, the FARC launched what has been interpreted as their active response to Alvaro Uribe's security strategy and to Plan Patriota, apparently adopting a new style of operations, in particular near the southwest of Colombia.

The FARC allegedly would have previously implemented what was later called "Plan Resistencia" in order to endure Plan Patriota's continuing effects, by withdrawing into the jungle and executing a temporary halt in its larger scale attacks. The FARC believe that Plan Patriota has been a failure, as mentioned in some of their communiques.

Between 1996 and 1998, and even until 2000, the FARC had executed large scale multi-front attacks. The FARC's newer attacks are different, consisting of what have been called medium-size unit concentrations, considered to be potentially more flexible against Colombian military action but still able to pack a substantial punch.

[edit] Possibility of prisoner exchange with the government

The FARC-EP have demanded the formalization of a mechanism for prisoner exchange, which would involve the liberation of the approximately 70 political and military hostages (not those civilians held for extortion or ransom, which may number in the thousands) that the group currently holds, in exchange for the release of at least 50 to 60 jailed rebels, or at most all of the rebels currently in jail. During the days of the Pastrana negotiations, a limited exchange took place.

The newly elected Uribe administration initially ruled out any negotiation with FARC that did not include a cease-fire, and instead pushed for rescue operations, many of which have traditionally been successful when carried out by the police's GAULA anti-kidnapping group in urban settings (as opposed to the mountains and jungles where the FARC keeps most hostages), according to official statistics.

However, relatives of most FARC kidnapping victims have come to strongly reject any potential rescue operations, in part due to the tragic death of the governor of Antioquia department, Guillermo Gaviria Correa, his peace advisor and several soldiers, kidnapped by the FARC during a peace march in 2003. The governor and the others were shot at close range by the FARC when the government launched an army (not GAULA) rescue mission into the jungle which failed as soon as the guerrillas learned of its presence in the area.

In August 2004, after several false starts and in the face of mounting pressure from relatives, former Liberal presidents Alfonso López Michelsen and Ernesto Samper Pizano and, as shown in recent Colombian polls<ref>Vanguardia Liberal. "Expresidentes respaldan un acuerdo humanitario." August 5, 2004. Archived online. Archive created on August 5, 2004 and accessed on November 11, 2006.</ref> the growing majority popular backing in favor of a humanitarian exchange (more than 60% would consider Colombia a "better country" if the exchange took place), the Uribe government seems to have gradually flexibilized its position, announcing that it has given the FARC a formal proposal on July 23, in which it offers to free 50 to 60 jailed rebels in exchange for the political and military hostages held by the FARC (not including ransom kidnapees as well, as the government had earlier demanded).[citation needed]

The government would make the first move, releasing insurgents charged or condemned for rebellion and either allowing them to leave the country or to stay and join the state's reinsertion program, and then the FARC would release the hostages in its possession, including Ingrid Betancourt. The proposal would have been carried out with the backing and support of the French and Swiss governments, which publicly supported it once it was revealed.

The move has been signaled as potentially positive by several relatives of the victims and political figures. Some critics of the president have considered that Uribe may seek to gain political prestige from such a move, though they would agree with the project in practice.<ref>Associated Press as reported by Yahoo France. "Le gouvernement colombien propose d'�changer des rebelles prisonniers contre des otages." August 19, 2004. Archived online. Archive created August 20, 2004 and accessed November 11, 2006.</ref><ref>"Colombia's government offers to free jailed rebels." August 19, 2004. Archived online. Archive created September 6, 2004 and accessed November 11, 2006.</ref>

FARC released a communique, dated August 20 but apparently published publicly by August 22, in which they denied having received the proposal earlier through the mediation of Switzerland (as the government had stated) and, while making note of the fact that a proposal had been made by Uribe's administration and that it hoped that common ground could eventually be reached, criticized it because they believe that any deal should allow them to decide how many of its jailed comrades should be freed and that they should be able to return to rebel ranks.[citation needed]

On September 5, what has been considered as a sort of FARC counter proposal was revealed in the Colombian press. The FARC-EP is proposing that the government declare a "security" or "guarantee" zone for 72 hours in order for official insurgent and state negotiators to meet face to face and directly discuss a prisoner exchange. Government military forces would not have to leave the area but to concentrate in their available garrisons, in a similar move to that agreed by the Ernesto Samper Pizano administration (1994-1998) which allowed the rebel group to free some captured police and military. In addition, the Colombian government's peace commissioner would have to make an official public pronouncement regarding this proposal.

If the zone was created, the first day would be used for travelling to the chosen location, the second to discuss the matter, and the third for the guerrillas to abandon the area. The government would be able to chose as the location for the "security zone" among one of the municipalities of Peñas Coloradas, El Rosal or La Tuna, all in Caquetá department, where the FARC has clear rebel influence.

Some analysts have considered that this rebel proposal would also be seeking to reduce the pressure that recent military offensives may be exerting against the insurgents in Caquetá, Guaviare and Putumayo departments, and president Uribe stated that the "security zone" would demoralize the military, since they should free a region that has been fought fiercely. Also, the FARC has been known to change their mind easily and they seem to be using the kidnapped families' hopes of freedom to put the government under civilian pressure. It has been speculated by retired military officials that the FARC could potentially set up mines and other traps around the garrisoned troops while the zone is in place.[citation needed] Relatives of hostages currently in rebel hands have considered that both the FARC and government proposals may represent the biggest public advance in the last couple of years regarding their plight.<ref>El Tiempo. "Análisis noticioso: Zona de seguridad de las Farc toca el corazón del Plan Patriota." September 6, 2004. Archived online. Archive created September 29, 2004 and accessed November 11, 2006.</ref>

On September 14, the FARC released an official communique in which they denied that the 72-hour proposal came from their organization, and instead asked for the demilitarization of San Vicente del Caguán and Cartagena del Chairá in Caquetá department in order to discuss the prisoner exchange, without any concrete time limit. The document also mentions that several hostages had to be moved to other locations, due to increased military activity in the south. The FARC again stated that, while they are open to discuss a prisoner exchange with the current representatives of the government, they will only consider opening peace negotiations with a different administration.<ref>El Tiempo. "Farc piden desmilitarización de San Vicente del Cagu�n y Cartagena del Chair� (Caquetá)." September 15, 2004. Archived online. Archive created September 17, 2004 and accessed November 11, 2006.</ref>

On December 2, the government announced the pardon of 23 FARC prisoners, to encourage a reciprocal move. There was no immediate response from FARC to the latest gesture, and the 23 rebels to be released were all of low rank and had promised not to rejoin the armed struggle. The government is hoping to win the release of dozens of hostages, including three US citizens. In November, the FARC rejected a proposal to hand over 63(the numbers vary between 59 and 63) of its captives in exchange for 50 guerrillas imprisoned by the government.<ref name=Release/>

In a communique dated November 28 but released publicly on December 3, the FARC-EP declared that they are no longer insisting on the demilitarization of San Vicente del Caguán and Cartagena del Chairá as a pre-condition for the negotiation of the prisoner exchange, but instead that of Florida and Pradera in the Valle department.<ref>FARC-EP. Comunicado las FARC. November 28, 2004. Archived online. Archive created March 5, 2006 and accessed November 11, 2006.</ref> They state that this area would lie outside the "area of influence" of both their Southern and Eastern Blocks (the FARC's strongest) and that of the military operations being carried out by the Uribe administration.

They request security guarantees both for the displacement of their negotiators and that of the guerrillas that would be freed, which are specifically stated to number as many as 500 or more, and ask the Catholic Church to coordinate the participation of the United Nations and other countries in the process.

The FARC-EP also mention in the communique that Simón Trinidad's extradition, which has been approved by the Supreme Court but still lacks the president's go-ahead, would be a serious obstacle to reaching a prisoner exchange agreement with the government.[citation needed]

On December 17, 2004, the Colombian government authorized Trinidad's extradition to the United States, but stated that the measure could be revoked if the FARC released all 63(political and military) hostages in its possession before December 30.

The FARC did not accept this demand and continue to hold 61 people hostage which includes three Americans named Keith Stansell, Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes, Presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, and her running mate Clara Rojas.

[edit] Partial Prisoner Release

On March 25 2006, after a public announcement made weeks earlier, the FARC-EP released two kidnapped policemen at La Dorada, Putumayo. The release took place some 335 miles southwest of Bogota, near the Ecuadorean border. The Red Cross said the two were released in good health. Military operations in the area and bad weather had prevented the release from occurring one week earlier.<ref>International Committee of the Red Cross. "Colombia: two police officers released." March 25, 2006. Available online. Accessed November 5, 2006.</ref>

In a communique, the FARC had stated that this move was in part a consequence of a secret meeting between former minister Álvaro Leyva Durán and FARC's Manuel Marulanda in December 2005. Details of the meeting had been publicly disclosed in the February 26 edition of the Colombian newsweekly Semana. Leyva Durán was subsequently engaged in a political campaign as a presidential candidate. The FARC also reiterated its position to negotiate a prisoner exchange in the future, without dealing with current Colombian President Álvaro Uribe.

In a separate series of events, civilian hostage and German citizen Lothar Hintze was released by FARC on April 4, 2006, after five years in captivity. Hintze had been originally kidnapped for extortion purposes, and his wife had paid three ransom payments without any result.

At one point, FARC had reclassified Hintze as a "political" hostage, meaning that he would only gain his freedom as a result of a prisoner exchange with the Colombian government. Apparently the German government's intervention, the details of which are not publicly known, was vital in order to achieve Hintze's release.

Another prisoner named Juan Ernesto Guevera died of heart failure in December of 2005. He was a police captain and was captured in March of 1998.<ref>The New York Times. "Colombia: Hostage Held Since 1998 Dies." February 16, 2006. Available online. Accessed November 6, 2006.</ref>

The hostage toll now stands between 58 and 61 depending on the news media's reports.

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes


[edit] References

  • Diario de la resistencia de Marquetalia. Jacobo Arenas, Ediciones Abejón Mono, 1972 (Espanol)
  • Kline, H. F., Colombia: Democracy Under Assault, Harper Collins, 1995
  • Maullin, Richard L., The Fall of Dumar Aljure, a Colombian Guerrilla and Bandit. The Rand Corporation, 1968
  • Osterling, J. P., Democracy in Colombia: Clientelist Politics and Guerrilla Warfare, Transaction Publishers, 1989
  • Drug Control: US Counternarcotics Efforts in Colombia Face Continuing Challenges, United States General Accounting Office, February 1998
  • Colombia: Guerrilla Economics, The Economist, January 13, 1996
  • The Suicide of Colombia, Foreign Policy Research Institute, September 7, 1998
  • Las FARC lamentan expectativas exageradas, El Nuevo Herald, April 22, 1999
  • Killing Peace: Colombia's Conflict and the Failure of U.S. Intervention, Garry M. Leech, Information Network of the Americas (INOTA), ISBN 0-9720384-0-X , 2002
  • War in Colombia: Made in U.S.A., edited by Rebeca Toledo, Teresa Gutierrez, Sara Flounders and Andy McInerney, ISBN 0-9656916-9-1 , 2003
  • The Profits of Extermination: How U.S. Corporate Power is Destroying Colombia, Aviva Chomsky and Francisco Ramírez Cuellar, Common Courage Press, ISBN 1-56751-322-0 , 2005

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