The Republic of Colombia, one of America’s closest ally in the Latin American region, has been experiencing tremendous violence and conflict brought about by the decade-long civil strife between the left-wing guerilla groups and the right-wing paramilitary troops (Hanson, 2008). One of the country’s leading political pressure group is the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) or the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
A number of Liberal Party-run administration land reform programs basically resulted to the limited “ancestral privileges” and ultimately caused the outrage of the Conservative political leaders. The conflict escalated to a fierce tension between the two groups which resulted in the fall of the liberal group in 1946 and the assertion of the Conservatives to regain their land violently. The strife worsened in the year 1948 when a liberal leader named Jorge Eliecer Gaitan was assassinated in Bogota. The emergence of the civil conflict occurred between 1948 to 1958 which was called La Violencia.
This violence ended with an estimated 300,000 Colombian casualties (Molano, 2000). The violence persisted with the Conservatives running the government and the Liberals on the opposition side. As a perceived strategy to regulate the uprising of the liberal group, the administration provided arms to some Conservative peasants with the support of the national police (Molano, 2000). Concerned with and aware of the emerging power of the Conservatives, the Liberal peasants also took up arms to fight the government-backed Conservative peasants.
In the eastern region of the country, a strong force was formed wherein 10,000 men with the support of the Liberal Party and the assistance from the Communist party gathered together. This peasant guerilla force gradually surfaced and became known all over Colombia with the leadership of Pedro Antonio Marin. Pedro Antonio Marin, later known as Manuel Marulanda Velez and who is better known as Tirofijo or “Sureshot,” became the leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia commonly known by its Spanish acronym as FARC (Rabasa & Chalk, 2001).
Tirofijo started his guerilla works in the year 1949 when he first became a member of a liberal guerilla troop in Tolima, which was considered as the epicenter of violence. After his exposure in the said group, he pursued on partaking in the establishment of a larger scheme that took place in Marquetalia. However, this plan ultimately failed when the Colombian army attacked and eliminated the guerilla group and destroyed their hideout. But despite all those trouble, Marulanda was not swayed.
And in 1966, he created the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia through the reorganization of his former guerilla members (Rabasa & Chalk, 2001). With around 17, 500 members, the FARC is basically governed by a Secretariat with seven members with the original founder, Marulanda as the chairman. The guerilla force is comprised of a male majority, with only 30 percent female and who are mostly teenagers aged 19 and below (Harper, 2003). The group was basically created for two intertwined reasons.
The first is to overthrow the present administration, and the second is to create a communist-agrarian state (Harper, 2003). Moreover, the guerilla force asserts that they are guided by their political ideologies and that they are representatives of the rural poor in the country against the upper class. Moreover, they believe that their undertakings are veered towards opposing privatization of resources, the emergence of multinational corporations, and the influence of US in Colombia (Hanson, 2008).
But one of the observable activities of FARC is to fight against the paramilitary force known as the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) or the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia. The FARC gradually expanded in the mid-1960s and 1980s. As a newly established force, the FARC introduced itself through a series of ambushes against military units and raids on farms (Rabasa & Chalk, 2001). The objectives of these attacks are to hoard military equipments, gather food and supplies to secure their survival, capture hostages and settle scores with informers (Rabasa & Chalk, 2001).
Although the goal of FARC in their movement is perceived to be inconsistent with their May 1966 Manifesto, stating that they aim at attacking the “nerve centers of the country,” the FARC leaders assert that what they are doing will be beneficial for their long-term plans as they are still in the wanted list of the Colombian army (Rabasa & Chalk, 2001). Fortunately, through the enhanced effort and determination of the FARC troop, they were able to open new forces in the different parts of Colombia.
They opened their second guerilla front in a strategic yet challenging environment in the middle Magalena Valley, between the borders of Boyaca and Santander (Rabasa & Chalk, 2001). A third front was established in the year 1971 in the Uraba area. In order to continue the multiplication and growth of the different fronts across Colombia, the FARC leaders implemented the “expansion strategy,” wherein every active front is obliged to establish another front until the guerilla force is able to disseminate at least one front for each of the fifty departments of the Republic of Colombia (Rabasa & Chalk, 2001).
In addition to their strategic plans, the operations of the force and its persistent existence are rooted from the support coming from its growing army. This fact is observed in the table below. Table 1: The FARC’s Growth from 1986 to 1995 Year Number of Fronts Number of Members 1986 32 3,600 1995 60 7,000 As the table above suggests, both the number of fronts and the number of members dramatically increased in the progression of the years.
Aside from the enlargement of the troops through a noticeable inclination to arms race, the support of the people from the rural areas also enabled FARC to continue its undertakings (Global Security, 2008). These people are believed to be sufficiently knowledgeable with the operations of the FARC and their tactics in pursuing their plans and goals. Tactics and Strategic Undertakings As a guerilla force that is widely targeted by the Colombian government and the paramilitary group, FARC cannot just depend on the things and materials they plundered from the military and their surrounding villages.
They need to venture on something that would provide for the sustenance of their military and survival needs to pursue what they fight for. This resulted to the creation of strategic plans and tactics from the FARC leaders and applied it to their various guerilla fronts all over Colombia. Some of their known strategic move includes FARC’s involvement in the drug industry, gaining external aid and pursuing military activities against the government. The Republic of Colombia has been identified as the world’s leading coca cultivator and illegally produces and distributes coca, opium poppy and cannabis (Thoumi, 2002).
Of all the three plant-based drugs Colombia is producing, cocaine is perceived as the country’s main product. Aside from the advantages brought by the geographical location of Colombia with its humid climate and tropical condition, it also has a vast range of rain forest that can be utilized in hiding cocaine factories and laboratories (“Latin American Report,” 2005). This then made the FARC highly interested in participating in the cocaine production that is also believed to be a profitable trade product as it is easily accessible to consumers, both domestically and internationally.
Being forced to stay in the jungles to hide from the Colombian army, the FARC guerilla forces gradually took hold of various rural areas. The peasants living in these areas are basically coca producers ever since large landholders displaced them from their original source of income. As stated earlier, FARC became involved in this endeavor to continually support their military operations. According to Ricardo Vargas Meza, Colombian coca plantations have covered an expanse that could be as large as 150,000 hectares since 1990 (Meza, 1999).
Moreover, some experts believe that the FARC gathers an estimated amount of $200 million to $300 million annually from its illegal drug trade. They also derive revenues by “levying taxes on medium and large-scale farmers, intermediate coca products, merchants, and processing laboratories and clandestine air strips for cocaine shipments” ( Meza, 1999). Taking into consideration the figures stated above, it is crucial for the FARC guerilla force to ensure that they maintain this status of wealth concentration.
The FARC secretariat devised a system that will assure financial control. This scheme involves pursuing the military activities against the government to divert the latter’s attention from tracking down cocaine laboratories; rotating commanders; allocating the funds to different guerilla fronts; and of course, severely punishing those who will not comply to the agreement (Latin American Report, 2005). Of all these stated plans, the military activities are given the highest priority.
However, according to the report on the War and Drugs in Colombia, it was observed that the insurgent group is not just involved within the drug industry but also in the gold, coal, oil, and cattle raising where it also garners a significant amount of income (Latin American Report, 2005). The FARC is also reported to be gaining a lot of profit from kidnapping, extortions, and some unofficial levies in taxes primarily in the rural areas for “protection and social services” (Hanson, 2008).
Aside from the domestic finances FARC is reaping, they also receive external aid from their partner countries. Cuba, for example is believed to be providing political consultation and medical care to some of FARC’s troops and that the Irish Republican Army also gave advanced training on explosives to the guerilla force after seeing the latter exit from the controlled zone of FARC (Global Security, 2008). The more important external affiliate of the FARC is the U. S consumers and other drug cartels.
Although it has not been reported that the FARC directly coordinated with the Americans, through the coca industry controlled by FARC for the distribution of cocaine to the US, the insurgents are seen to be greatly involved in the labyrinth (“Latin American Report,” 2005). Ultimately, in all the tactics and strategies pursued by the FARC force, the main purpose of the funds and finances they employed is to strengthen their communications capacity and logistical endeavors for their war effort. With the different sources of income, FARC was able to establish a deal with some countries to sell them weapons.
For instance, the Federation of American Scientists, noted how President Pastrana toughens its peace negotiation with the FARC because the latter has “acquired new weapons that completely changed the face of war in Colombia” (“Federation of American Scientists,” 1999). In a report submitted by Raul Elias Monge, National Coordinator of the National Association of Former Fighters of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (ANECFM/LN) of El Salvador, he is denouncing the country’s involvement in supplying weapons to Colombia and stated that his men have firsthand information that Nicaragua has provided new weapons for the insurgent group.
He said that FARC acquired “16 land-to-air missiles, known as SAM 16, 14 and 7, that are used for shooting down planes and combat helicopters” ( Federation of American Scientists, 1999). He also asserts that these artilleries are highly sophisticated and that although it can be handled by an individual, it has the capacity to shoot down a combat plane or helicopter up to a distant of 12 kilometers with a high 90 percent accuracy (“Federation of American Scientists,” 1999).
Whether the accusations of Monge is credible or not, what is of greater significance is the military undertakings of FARC. The military tactics of FARC primarily have plaved them in the U. S. State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations (Hanson, 2008). Although FARC denounced the report of being a terrorist group, and asserted that they are driven by their political ideologies, it is observable that their actions and method prove well that they bring terror and violence to Colombia.
This group used illegal activities like extortion, bombings, murder, kidnapping hijacking and other traditional military actions, which were all directed towards Colombia’s military, economic and political targets. They used these tactics in order to capture the government’s attention and have their grievances and political opinion heard (“Global Security,” 2008). They usually target foreign citizens in their activities to gain international attention as well.
Some of the notable strategic operations of the FARC include: the kidnapping and taking hostage of sixty people in November 2005 until the Colombian government finally agreed with their demand to release some of their members who were imprisoned; the hijacking of a domestic plane and the kidnapping of the Colombian senator on board in February 2002; the kidnapping of Ingrid Betancourt, a Colombian presidential candidate in February 2002 as well; another kidnapping and assassination of the former minister of culture of Colombia in October 2001; and the murder of some US missionaries based in Colombia.
These brutal and harsh undertakings of FARC were used to pursue their so-called “ideology. ” Obviously these are concrete acts of terror and should be a critical issue to the government and a priority in the policy-making capacities of lawmakers. The tactics of the FARC may be complex and extensive for the Colombian government to easily detect, however, the administration should be eager to finally end the reign of FARC and put an end to their violent inclinations threatening both the local and international community. Recent Developments
Although the conflict is still persistent, the Colombian government has been formulating ways on how to stop the atrocities caused by FARC. In a recent news from Aljazeera, it was reported that Nelly Avila “Karina” Moreno, a top FARC commander, surrendered to the authorities who was believed to be dying of hunger when she turned herself to the police (Aljazeera, 2008). Karina had been in Colombia’s most wanted list as she was accused of a number of killings and kidnappings. Aside from Karina’s surrender, another event caught the rebel group off guard.
On Mar 1, 2008, one of the members of the seven ruling commanders of the group and a top leader, Raul Reyes, was killed in a raid by Colombian forces in Ecuador (Aljazeera, 2008). The FARC rebels a few days after Raul Reyes died, also reportedly killed Ivan Rios, another member of the command. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia has been existent for more than 40 years already. Their formative years were observably challenging and difficult for the group but through their tactics and strategic plans, they were able to utilize their circumstances and transform it into something that would benefit their endeavors.
Through the income-generating industries FARC ventured on, they were able to sustain their military expenditures and survival and even enhanced their skills. This then greatly challenges the Colombian army and government as well, to formulate policies and come up with decisions that would weaken and defeat the FARC rebel group and force them to come into a peaceful negotiation with them.
References Aljazeera. (2008). Top female Farc leader surrenders. AlJazeera. net. Retrieved May 20, 2008 from http://english. aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/B47BE94A-37D5-4DF6-96E9-C85E065594D0. htm. Federation of American Scientists. (1999). “FARC Weapons Supplies Revealed. ” Retrieved May 19, 2008 from http://www. fas. org/asmp/profiles/colombia/FARC%20Weapons%20Supplies%20Revealed. html. Global Security. (2008). Revolutionary armed forces of colombia. GlobalSecurity. org. Retrieved May 19, 2008 from http://www. globalsecurity. org/military/world/para/farc. html. Hanson, S. (2008). FARC, ELN: Colombia’s Left-Wing Guerrillas. Council on Foreign Relations.
Retrieved May 19, 2008 from http://www.cfr. org/publication/9272/. Harper, L. (2003). Colombia’s Civil War: Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Online News Hour. Retrieved May 19, 2008 from http://www. cocaine. org/colombia/farc. html. Latin American Report. (2005). War and Drugs in Colombia. International Crisis Group. Retrieved May 19, 2008 from http://www. crisisgroup. org/home/index. cfm? id=3238&1=1. Meza, R. V. (1999).
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Illicit Drug Trade. Transnational Institute. Retrieved May 19, 2008 from http://www.tni. org/detail_page. phtml? page=archives_vargas_farc. Molano, A. (2000). “The Evolution of the FARC. ” Retrieved May 19, 2008 from http://www. icdc. com/~paulwolf/colombia/molano. htm. Rabasa, A. , & Chalk, P. (2001). Colombian Labyrinth: The Synergy of Drugs and Insugency and Its Implications for Regional Stability. USA: RAND Corporation. Thoumi, F. (2002). “Illegal Drugs in Colombia: From Illegal Economic Boom to Social Crisis. Retrieved May 19, 2008 from http://lacc. fiu. edu/research_publications/ working_papers/WPS_002. pdf.