FARC: a sort of
Name of group: Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC).
Also known as Communist Revolutionary Armed Forces.
Also known as Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces—People's Army (FARC-EP).
Also known as Bolivarian Militias.
Also known as the "Third Cartel."
Headquarters and important fronts: The general headquarters were in La Uribe (Meta), Colombia, until the Army uprooted them from that area in December 1990. Today, it is believed that the headquarters where the "joint chiefs of staff" of the FARC operate, is somewhere in the eastern mountain range, in the Paramo region, possibly in El Sumapaz, 100 kilometers southeast of Bogotá. It is also suspected that the FARC has a "mobile headquarters" which moves within the departments of Meta, Guaviare, and Caquetá, and possibly Cundinamarca and Huila.
Founded: officially, on May 20, 1964 in Marquetalia (Tolima), but the decision to form the FARC and its founding nucleus was created at the full plenum of the Colombian Communist Party (PCC) in 1947.
Locations of operations, areas active: They operate in virtually all of Colombian national territory, but especially in the rural regions, perhaps with the exception of Amazonas, Vaupés, and Guainía. The FARC's greatest area of control is in El Guaviare and El Meta, as well as in the eastern mountain range which embraces Huila, Tolima, Cundinamarca, Boyacá, Caquetá, Santander, and North Santander departments.
Major terrorist actions: Rather than spectacular terrorist actions, the FARC carries out terrorist actions daily, with the intent to impose their "authority" on the inhabitants of a certain region through assaults on police and Army targets. They impose a kind of "war tax" or "vaccination" (vacuna) (payment of monthly dues to the guerrillas allowing the residents to work), carry out kidnappings, and forcibly recruit the children of farmers who cannot pay. In late 1995, they are planning to lay siege to the capital city of Bogotá de Santa Fé, which would include attacks on transportation infrastructure, airports, water reservoirs and pipelines, and electricity generating plants.
Modus operandi: Some of their members are "guerrillas" who are farmers by day, but at night can be called on to carry out some action in a nearby town. Others are permanent terrorists who travel in groups of 30. Sometimes these groups join forces to carry out attacks of 100-300 men. They seize small towns in which they overwhelm the defense capacity of the local police, they assassinate policemen, steal their weapons, and rob the local banks, especially the local Agriculture Unions. Sometimes they force the inhabitants of a town to meet, to hear their "revolutionary" harangues. Later, if they do not leave, they may lie in wait for Army or police reinforcements, to ambush them with dynamite and other explosives, and then disperse.
Before carrying out their "occupations," they conduct intelligence, so that during the action, they can point out someone to accuse of collaboration with the Army or the paramilitaries, whom they "execute" as a "lesson" to the town. In some parts of the country, they distribute leaflets in the form of "wanted posters," in which they offer rewards to anyone in the area who can deliver or denounce the commander of a battalion or a professional soldier. In the city of Cali, the FARC has been offering rewards of $1,000 to anyone who murders a soldier or policeman, a technique that was used by Medellín Cartel drug trafficker Pablo Escobar Gaviria.
The FARC has people who specialize in kidnappings, from which they not only derive part of their income, but which also weakens the national economy by affecting company management structures. It is estimated that the FARC and the National Liberation Army (ELN) combined carry out 700 kidnappings a year. Foreigners are the favorite target. Kidnappings of both Colombians and foreigners rely on the active collaboration of the "human rights" non-governmental organizations (NGOs), such as Pax Christi, whose representatives come to Colombia to "receive" the kidnap victims after their ransoms are paid. The International Red Cross plays the same role, and is currently the leading mediator agency in these kidnappings.
Non-payment of ransom means death for the kidnap victim. In some cases, despite having received ransom, the victim is not delivered and a new ransom is demanded. In other cases, when the family or the company pays the ransom, they receive the dead body of their employee or family member in return.
Recruitment to the FARC is usually forced, not voluntary. Farmers are forced to contribute their children to the "revolution." The Communist Party (PCC) has also sent cadres who serve as political representatives to their armed wing. In all cases, the first lesson of new recruits is how to assassinate alleged traitors. Discipline is maintained through cruel punishment and the constant threat of death if rules are violated.
The FARC also maintains a death squad to murder "enemies of the revolution" both within and outside their own organization. There are suspicions that the FARC assassinated Bernardo Jaramillo, who was president of the PCC's electoral front, Patriotic Union, in 1990, and Carlos Pizarro León-Gómez, Presidential candidate of the M-19, which had been recently legalized, also in 1990. The FARC has also murdered at least 1,000 activists of the Hope, Peace, and Freedom movement (EPL), a faction of the People's Liberation Army (EPL), which was legalized through a peace agreement with the government, primarily based in the Urabá (Antioquia) region.
Leaders' names and aliases: Pedro Antonio Marín, best known by his alias Manuel Marulanda Vélez (a.k.a. Tirofijo, or "Sureshot"), is the general commander of the FARC. However, the ideological leader is Alfonso Cano. Also part of the leadership staff are Rigoberto Losada (a.k.a. Joselo), Elmer Briceño Suárez (a.k.a. "El Mono Jojoy"), Iván Márquez, Raúl Reyes, and Jaime Guaraca. The true political leader of the FARC until August 1990 was Luis Alberto Morantes Jaimes, a.k.a. Jacobo Arenas. According to the FARC, he died of a heart attack, but other sources say he murdered a guerrilla in front of his "troops" for having stolen a couple of loaves of sweet bread from the storehouse, and that the victim's brother, also a member of the FARC, shot him in revenge.
Allied groups nationally or internationally:
National: Colombian Communist Party, Patriotic Union, Permanent Committee for the Defense of Human Rights, Communist Youth of Colombia (YUCO), National Liberation Army (ELN), People's Liberation Army (EPL), Simón Bolívar Guerrilla Coordinating Group (CNG), National Pro-Housing Organization, Unified Workers Federation (CUT).
International: São Paulo Forum member.
Religious/ideological/ethnic motivating ideology: classic Marxism-Leninism, with particular admiration for Joseph Stalin. They combine Marxism with demands for "agrarian reform." More recently, they have added the "ecological" and "ethnic" ingredient to their actions. The FARC helped create the Quintín Lamé Command, an indigenous group in which drug trafficker Carlos Lehder Rivas was an active figure. They recruit black people from across the country to bring them to the Chocó, where they promote ethnic separatism. They also justify the kidnapping of engineers who build dams with the argument that they are defending ecology and the habitat of the Indians.
Known controllers/mentors/theoreticians: The Colombian Communist Party (PCC), backed at the time by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Jacobo Arenas, Manuel Cepeda, Alvaro Vásquez del Real, all members of the PCC central committee, and Gilberto Vieria, the secretary general of the PCC for 30 years. Also brothers Nicolás (Center for Social Studies and Investigations, CEIS) and Enrique Buenaventura (Experimental Theater of Cali, TEC).
Number of cadres: estimated at about 8,000 men under arms.
Training: Guerrillas recruited during the so-called La Violencia (the undeclared civil war between Liberal and Conservative parties) between 1947 and 1953, were trained in the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and East Germany. In the 1980s, they grew closer to the Fidel Castro regime and established an alliance with their old factional rival, the ELN, from which point they also began to train in Cuba. Inside Colombia, the FARC maintains various training camps.
Known drug connections/involvement: The FARC is known as the "Third Cocaine Cartel," after the better-known Medellín and Cali cartels. They defend cocaine laboratories in Guaviare, Caquetá, Meta, Casanare and Putumayo. They control at least 70% of the production of coca leaf in the country. They also have their own cocaine laboratories, but it is not known if the FARC directly exports to the United States or simply sells the drug to networks of allied drug traffickers. They also have agreements with the two other cartels, and collect quotas which range from between 10% and 30% of the value of cocaine produced at laboratories under their protection, and for the protection of airstrips, per landing and unloading of each narco-plane, and they also collect a tax, which they call gramaje, that ranges between 10% and 30% of the estimated value of coca leaf production, depending upon the size of the plantation. The networks of assassins who were left temporarily unemployed with the death of the drug trafficker Pablo Escobar, were turned into the FARC's or ELN's Bolivarian Militas in urban centers.
Known arms suppliers/routes: The bulk of the FARC's weapons are of U.S., Israeli, German (east and west), and Russian origin. In certain cases, the drug traffickers pay their "taxes" to the FARC with weapons they buy primarily in the United States. The FARC also inherited arms trafficking networks out of Europe from the Liberal guerrillas of the Violencia period.
Political defenders and supporters: Alfredo Vásquez Carrizosa, former foreign minister; Alvaro Leyva Durán, "Conservative" politician; Alberto Mendoza Morales, who was the Patriotic Union's Presidential candidate in 1994; Augusto Ramírez Ocampo, former director of the U.N. mission in El Salvador, ONUSAL; Carlos Andrés Pérez, who, as Venezuelan President in 1990, offered to serve as intermediary in negotiations between the FARC and the Colombian government. The FARC also has the invaluable collaboration of the national Attorney General's office.
World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), American Association of Jurists, Andean Commission of Jurists, Latin American Federation of Associations of Disappeared (Fedefam), Pax Christi International, Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, Rechtvaardigheid en Vrede, Comission Justice et Paix, Centre National de Cooperation au Développement (CNCD), National Centrum Voor Ontwikkelingssamenwerking (NCOS), Justice and Peace Service—Latin America (Serpaj-AL), Amnesty International, International Red Cross.
Known funding: They finance themselves through the vacuna, a protection "tax" paid by the large majority of landowners in the rural zones, and also by the mayors of many rural towns from local and municipal budgets. Also through bank robberies, kidnappings of businessmen and ranchers, and, of course, through drug trafficking. They also have extensive investments in real estate, in the stock market, in legal enterprises ranging from goldmining to cattle raising, hotels, pharmacies, and businesses overseas. Defense intelligence estimates are that approximately $1.6 million enters the coffers of the National Guerrilla Coordinator, the combined FARC/ELN forces, on a daily basis, more than the income of Colombia's most profitable company, the National Coffee Fund.
Thumbnail historical profile: The Colombian Communist Party created the FARC at a full plenum in 1947, where it approved "the use of all forms of struggle." Jacobo Arenas, Alvaro Vásquez del Real, and Manuel Cepeda were assigned to recruit to communism the Liberal guerrilla leaders involved in the Violencia civil war. The Communists were further considered the allies of the Liberal faction allied with Alfonso López Pumarejo (President from 1932-38, and 1942-45), father of former President Alfonso López Michelsen. After the 1953 coup d'état by Col. Gustavo Rojas Pinilla, which initiated the "pacification" of the country and the surrender of Liberal guerrilla forces through the pact known as the National Front, the guerrillas organized by the Communists did not surrender, but instead remained in the mountains and formed the base of the FARC. This occurred in Marquetalia, a place which was dubbed an "independent republic" under guerrilla control. On May 20, 1964, the FARC was officially created. In 1968, they almost disappeared from the map because of a tactical error, in which they began to operate as a regular army, with all the visibility of a regular army. In battles in Tolima and Caldas, the FARC lost 70% of its forces. Manuel Marulanda Vélez and Jacobo Arenas, two of the few "commanders" who did not participate, decided to reorganize the FARC as a mobile guerrilla force dispersed in various parts of the country.
Their power was relatively small and manageable, until the peace process launched by President Belisario Betancur in 1982. In 1984, an agreement was officially sealed in a pact between the FARC and the government, which provided for an amnesty for FARC members and the release from prison of their captured members. At the time, FARC leaders were presented by the media as "statesmen." They organized the Patriotic Union as their electoral front. From that moment forward, the FARC has grown like a kind of "Wallenstein's Army."
Its links to the drug trade trace back to the black market in weapons. The known direct collaboration between the FARC and the drug trade surfaced in the department of Caquetá in the late 1970s. The first coca crops in the Amazon jungle were planted in inaccessible areas. The FARC, familiar with the terrain, lent their men to transport the bundles of coca leaf through the jungle to the traffickers' airstrips. Later, the FARC collaborated in the construction of airstrips closer to the areas of coca cultivation, and later, in the same areas, hired out to build entire "cocaine cities," including cocaine laboratories, dormitories for the "workers" and "guards," and airstrips. Experts in guerrilla warfare, the FARC designed means of camouflaging the installations by using huge movable pots planted with typical jungle trees to hide the sophisticated drug production centers. Despite all of these efforts, the anti-narcotics police, using satellite information and triangulated radio signals, succeeded in locating and raiding the laboratories of Tranquilandia and Villacoca in 1983 and 1984, when Rodrigo Lara Bonilla was justice minister. Those laboratories were under FARC protection. Today, with the Cali and Medellín cartels nearly dismantled, it is feared that the FARC could appropriate the drug-trafficking routes used by the two cartels.
The César Gaviria government, in international coordination with the United Nations and its NGOs, attempted to carry out a "peace process" with the FARC and ELN in 1990, 1991 and 1992. However, these efforts were completely discredited nationally by the FARC's insistence on continuing kidnapping, assassinations, and terrorist attacks against national infrastructure. Current narco-President Ernesto Samper Pizano continues to hope for a negotiated peace agreement, on the El Salvador model—a policy which has the support of members of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue.