Military


Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia
Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC

Colombia and FARC rebels have engaged in a bloody civil war that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. Since 1964, the militant group has engaged in political kidnappings and carried out attacks on security forces in its battle against the government. The FARC has been hammering out peace terms with government negotiators since November 2012 to bring an end to five decades of war. The government wants a peace agreement signed by the end of 2013. Negotiations between the two sides began in October 2012 in Norway and moved to Cuba in November 2012.

The first topic on the agenda is the complicated issue of land reform. Other equally thorny topics will follow, including a mechanism to end hostilities, the political future of FARC, the illegal drug trade, and compensating victims of the conflict. On May 26, 2013 the government of Colombia and the country's largest rebel group, FARC, agreed on land reform, after more than six months of peace talks. Their deal called for the economic and social development of rural areas and providing land to poor farmers. Land reform was one of the most contentious issues in the talks on ending five decades of conflict. This step was the first major advance in six months of peace talks taking place in Cuba. A joint statement warned that the agreement is "conditioned on reaching an agreement on the totality of the agenda," because the talks are based on the principle that "nothing is agreed upon until everything is agreed upon."

On November 19, 2012 Colombia's leftist FARC rebels announced a two-month unilateral cease-fire as the rebel group and Colombian government resumed peace talks in Havana. FARC said it would halt all military operations and acts of sabotage through January 20. In November 2012 Colombia, at war with the FARC since 1964, launched a controversial bid to negotiate peace with the rebels during talks in Havana, Cuba. On December 03, 2012 Colombia's president set a time limit for peace talks with the rebels of Latin America's longest-running insurgency. Juan Manuel Santos said the talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, should not last any longer than November 2013, at the latest.

Critics say Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is negotiating behind the nation's back and handing the FARC whatever they want. Former President Alvaro Uribe, once a Santos ally, charges that the FARC, mostly funded by extortion and drug trafficking, will trick the nation as it has in previous peace talks and get away with crimes without being punished. Government and rebel negotiators are seeking common ground on a five-point agenda, beginning with the thorniest issue of rural development and land reform. Social inequality in Colombia's vast rural territory is considered the root of the conflict - with land ownership concentrated in very few hands.

Latin America's longest-running insurgency has left tens of thousands dead, seeded vast rural and mountainous areas with landmines and left scores of villages and towns economically isolated. While a 10-year military offensive against the FARC has pushed the rebels deep into inhospitable territory and helped rejuvenate the economy, the FARC is still a formidable presence and able to sow fear and cause damage to the nation's economic infrastructure. The FARC is considered a terrorist group by the United States and Europe.

Numerous peace efforts in Colombia since the 1980s have brought mixed success, with some smaller armed groups demobilizing. But the FARC, Latin America's biggest rebel group, has pressed on, funded in large part by drug trafficking. At the last peace talks in 1999-2002, former President Andres Pastrana ceded the FARC a safe haven the size of Switzerland to promote talks. But the rebels took advantage of the breathing space to train fighters, build more than 25 airstrips to fly drug shipments and set up prison camps to hold hostages.

Description

Established in 1964 as the military wing of the Colombian Communist Party, the FARC is Colombia's oldest, largest, most capable, and best-equipped Marxist insurgency. The FARC is governed by a secretariat, led by septuagenarian Manuel Marulanda (a.k.a. "Tirofijo") and six others, including senior military commander Jorge Briceno (a.k.a. "Mono Jojoy"). The FARC is organized along military lines and includes several urban fronts.

In February 2002, the group's slow-moving peace negotiation process with President Andres Pastrana's administration was terminated by Bogota following the FARC's plane hijacking and kidnapping of a Colombian Senator from the aircraft. On 7 August, the FARC launched a large-scale mortar attack on the Presidential Palace where President Alvaro Uribe was being inaugurated. High-level foreign delegations-including the United States-attending the inauguration were not injured, but 21 residents of a poor neighborhood nearby were killed by stray rounds in the attack.

The Colombian military's momentum against the FARC slowed somewhat in 2009. Unlike in 2008, the Colombian military did not kill or capture any of the FARC's Secretariat members. Fewer FARC members deserted in 2009 (2,058 as of December 10) than in 2008 (3,027). However, Colombian security forces captured or killed a number of mid-level FARC leaders, continued to debrief deserters from the group for detailed information on their respective units, and reduced the amount of territory where terrorists could operate freely.

The group had a number of setbacks in 2009 highlighted by the loss of several key mid-level commanders and the continuing decline of its fighting force, down to 8,000 members. The FARC in October 2009 attempted to confront the Colombian Government with an offensive aimed at a wide range of military and civilian targets. Colombian security forces largely thwarted the attacks in another setback for the group. Bogota frustrated similar FARC attempts to disrupt the March 2010 congressional and May 2010 presidential elections. In September 2010, Colombian forces killed veteran FARC military commander Victor Julio Suarez Rojas, better known as Mono Jojoy.

By 2010 FARC Supreme Leader Alfonso Cano was still consolidating his authority and proving his mettle as a military commander. It would have been impossible for Cano to have broached peace talks so soon after taking the reins of the FARC in May 2008. Still, the deaths of three Secretariat members in 2008 had resulted in replacements that were more educated, intellectual, and aware of the international context of the conflict. This, coupled with an analysis of recent FARC communiques, suggested that the organization was open to a political solution to the conflict. FARC's preferred end-state is the transition to a series of social networks (presumably comprised of demobilized fronts) that interface with a political party. Such a solution was years away.

Government of Colombia's announced September 23, 2010 that they killed Manuel Julio Suarez Rojas, also known as 'el Mono Jojoy' and the second in command of the FARC. He was the FARC's top military leader and the terrorist group's highest ranking member to be eliminated since the death of 'Raul Reyes' in 2008. The death of 'El Mono Jojoy' is the biggest blow against the FARC in the organization's history. He had been accused of being involved in several acts of terrorism, including the assassination of two American missionaries in 1995. The result of this operation is evidence of the professionalism of the Colombian Armed Forces, the effectiveness of sustained bilateral cooperation and the need for Colombia's neighbors to take assertive action against the FARC presence in their territories.


Strength

As a result of the government's military and police operations, the strength of the FARC has been reduced to approximately 8,000 members in 2010 -- down from 16,000 in 2001. FARC demobilizations were lower in 2009 (2,128) compared to 2008 (3,027).


Location/Area of Operation

Colombia, with some activities-extortion, kidnapping, logistics, and R&R-in Venezuela, Panama, and Ecuador.


External Aid

The FARC is believed by knowledgeable Colombians to take in as much as $2 million a day in illicit drug proceeds.

Cuba provides some medical care and political consultation. Explosives management training for the FARC by the IRA, and possibly by other foreign-based terrorists suspected by the Colombians, such as Cubans, Iranians, ETA (the Spanish Basque terrorist group), among others, has markedly improved the FARC's proficiency in urban terrorism.

The FARC habitually used safe havens in Ecuador because of Ecuador's inability to control its border and territory, and in Venezuela, because of difficult terrain and the apparent laissez faire complicity and demonstrated support of Caracas for the FARC. According to the International Crisis Group of Brussels, the weak link in Colombia's security policy was its undefended and open borders. Brazil and Peru made serious efforts to prevent the FARC from using their territories.

Hugo Chávez had campaigned internationally to have the FARC recognized as "belligerents."

Although the FARC-controlled safe haven, or "despeje" -- which is situated between two of Colombia's largest coca cultivation areas -- is not considered a major area for coca cultivation or drug trafficking, many FARC units throughout southern Colombia raise funds through the extortion ("taxation") of both legal and illegal businesses, the latter including the drug trade. Some insurgent units raise funds through extortion or by protecting laboratory operations. In return for cash payments, or possibly in exchange for weapons, the insurgents protect cocaine laboratories in southern Colombia. Some FARC and ELN units are independently involved in limited cocaine laboratory operations. Some FARC units in southern Colombia are reported to be directly involved in drug trafficking activities, such as controlling local cocaine base markets.

FARC obtains weapons and ammunition from avariety of sources, including regional black market dealers, capture or theft from government troops,and - in at least one case in 1999 - the international gray arms market. The local black market offers the FARC a relatively low-risk and convenient source of small arms and ammunition and probably will prove difficult to interdict - a problem compounded by the FARC's use of redundant supply channels. The FARC during the past three decades has procured military weapons and ammunition in the countries surrounding Colombia and from Central America, where surplus weapons from Cold War-era insurgencies are available on the black market and smuggling routes and networks are well established. Many regional black market arms traffickers also are involved in the narcotics trade and are willing to take drugs in exchange for weapons.

The IRA has had well-established links with the FARC narco-terrorists in Colombia since at least 1998. Apparently IRA explosives management training techniques are resulting in more effective explosives attacks against the Colombian urban infrastructure including bridges, power lines, reservoirs, and other facilities.

On August 11, 2001, two members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), along with a representative of Sinn Fein, the IRA's political wing, who was known to be stationed in Cuba and reportedly on the payroll of the Cuban Communist Party, were arrested by Colombian authorities at the El Dorado airport in Bogota after leaving territory in southern Colombia controlled by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a designated foreign terrorist organization. The three men were carrying false identification documents (passports) and were found to have traces of explosives on their clothing and on items in their luggage. Two of the Irish nationals were the IRA's leading explosives engineer and a mortar expert. The three claimed they were in Colombia to monitor ongoing peace efforts in that country between the government of President Andreas Pastrana and various rebel groups. The three were later formally indicted by the Fiscalia in February, 2002 and charged with training FARC terrorists in explosives and using false passports to cover their true identities while in Colombia.



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