In the early 1960’s, Columbia, as well as other Latin American countries, witnessed a rise in leftist movements motivated by endemic poverty, social inequality and the success of the Cuban Revolution. At that time, the FARC embraced the PCC’s Soviet-style Marxist-Leninist ideology. The early membership of the FARC consisted of communist ideologues as well as noncommunist peasants, many of whom had been active during “la violencia”. The FARC’s stated goal is to overthrow the current democratic government of Colombia and replace it with a Communist government. They claim to represent the rural poor against Colombia’s wealthy classes and oppose American influence in Colombia (particularly Plan Colombia), the privatization of natural resources, multinational corporations, and rightist violence. FARC has shown a willingness to meet with the Columbian government but no agreement has managed to have any permanence. In May 1984, the government and the FARC signed La Uribe peace accords which permitted FARC to form a legitimate political party, the Union Patriotica (UP).
The UP party — comprised of former guerrillas and Communists — espoused anti-corruption policies, harsh penalties against narco-traffickers and progressive land and economic reforms. As the UP gained in popularity and political clout, they soon became the target of para-military right-wing death squads and drug cartels. Thousands of UP members and candidates have either been assassinated or have disappeared. With their hope at political legitimacy sabotaged, the FARC reverted back to violence and narco-trafficking. It is unclear if FARC has actually done anything positive in support of their stated agenda.
The Counsel on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) states, “FARC is extremely out of touch and unconcerned with the interests of the Colombian public today, including the rural populace. ” According to BBC News and COHA, less than 5 percent of the population supports FARC and their involvement with kidnappings and drug-trafficking denigrates their ideological rhetoric. It should be mentioned that Manuel Marulanda Velez died on March 25, 2008 of reported heart failure, after almost five decades of rule. Several of his key leaders have also recently been killed; one at the hands of his own guards.
It remains to be seen what the affect of these deaths will have on the stability and future of FARC. The death of two key members of the Secretariat and a recent successful rescue of hostages from FARC (July 2008) supports the current belief that FARC is in a state of disarray; but they are far from disbanding. It is estimated that they still hold 700 hostages and control millions of dollars in drug trade. Economic and political stability play key roles in reducing the motivation of a populace to vehemently oppose governments.
Programs that reduce the perception of government “injustices” will erode public support for any “radical” factions and erode groups internally, especially if they begin to doubt their purpose. The country practices a democratic government similar to the United States. According to BBC and COHA reports, President Uribe and the government have a high approval rating and the gross national product has been steadily rising along with tourism and trade. One of the weakest key indicators is a high unemployment rate (11%) which should be countered with government programs to employ young adults…the most vulnerable pool for radical organizations.
This will further bolster the economy and take away a recruiting source. Although military pressure is essential with regards to fighting a paramilitary force like FARC, the use of military operations towards FARC should be used in tandem with local civilian authorities. Confidence in local authorities solidifies the local base and further weakens the recruiting pool. President Uribe’s increased military and police efforts have shown a significant reduction in kidnappings and assassinations. Corruption scandals that have plagued previous administrations do not seem to be a major issue with the current administration.
Any signs of corruption should be dealt with quickly and firmly to support credibility of the administration. Colombian scholar Herbert “Tico” Braun suggests that a crucial factor in the mindset of para-military and terrorist organizations is the need to be recognized as a viable and key player in determining local and national policies. Braun states, “…the FARC wants to contribute something, and be perceived as helping the nation. If the FARC can be seen as forcing the government to make important societal changes, it might be willing to give something up in return, and possibly even begin disarming. With their willingness to participate in talks in the past combined with their current perceived vulnerability, talks should be offered again to FARC but only under very strict guidelines to include a limited disarmament. A political wing, comprised of “non-militants” or people outside the direct leadership of FARC, should be offered the ability to establish a political party to forward similar goals of the FARC. The eradication of narco-trafficking is probably the most difficult strategy to implement and enforce. Local and regional efforts should be a high priority of resourcing and highly-publicized.
The international drug trade is lucrative and any hint of corruption within the government needs to be dealt with swiftly. The improvements in economy along with continued subsidies to farmers who grow legal crops will help to erode the drug trade internally. Support directly from the United States should be limited as it benefits the rebel propaganda. With Venezuela’s public withdrawal of support for the FARC, international alliances should be pursued with regards to drug enforcement, especially pertaining to land and water boundaries in order to make it easier for law enforcement to work without restrictions to borders.
Although the geographical and political landscape of Columbia presents unique challenges in dealing with the FARC, the tenants for a counterterrorism strategy are basic: Commitment to a national political strategy, limited but clear and concise military strategy, priority resourcing of regional and local security, implementation of economic reforms, improvement of human rights protection, and a vigorous and effective counter-narcotics program.