Who is the FARC?
Though the Cold War officially ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, echoes of Communist influence still influence Latin American rebel groups. For more than 50 years, the group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) has waged war against the Colombian government through various attack methods, including kidnapping of government officials and participation in drug trade and trafficking. At its peak, more than 18,000 FARC rebels actively plotted and executed attacks throughout 25 of Colombia’s 32 regional provinces, and in 2014, the group measured in at over 7,000 rebels. These guerrilla fighters sought justice for rural farmers, who were believed to be unequally represented in Colombian federal government. This FARC revolution was meant to raise the rural poor in societal ranks, but they were instead exploited by the FARC.
The U.S. government has spent close to $8 billion to aid the Colombian government in its fight against the FARC. Why is the U.S. concerned with a Colombian rebel group? The FARC is more important to Western Hemisphere diplomacy than you might think.
Fighting for the Poor
Rooted in Marxist-Leninist Communism, FARC goals are rooted in advocacy of the rural poor through government overthrow and implementation of Socialist theories, which they believe benefit poor farmers. To achieve this, they have sought territorial gain, namely in smaller rural communities which were difficult for the central government to defend, and through actively fighting against privatization of business. Many members of the rural population felt neglected and distrusted the Colombian central government, acting as the Proletariat pinned against a wealthy urban Bourgeoisie where the only means for attracting attention and stimulating change was through a revolution. In a country where the government limits the media’s freedoms of speech and press, the FARC’s fight is as much for their message to be heard throughout the masses and echo change into the minds of politicians.
Drug Money and Hostage Situations
The FARC funded itself through taxing farmers in regions under its control, gaining between $500 million and $600 million annually. In the 1970’s, the group began taxing marijuana farmers and coca plantations claiming that the tax is for their protection, which lead to taxing cocaine labs in the 1980’s. These taxes allowed consistent FARC growth and superior weapons accumulation, but the FARC ran into trouble when the groups they collected taxes from ceased payments, so they began kidnapping drug lords, political figures, and their family members.
Bombings and road blockades in cities as well as massacres of rural community members and attacks of Colombian military bases spread throughout the FARC’s 50 year history and have affected Colombian nationals, indigenous groups, and tourists. Notable incidents include the 1983 kidnapping and murder of an American citizen, a 1998 attack and temporary seizure of a police station in Mitu where nearly 800 FARC fighters were killed in a 3-day rampage, the bombing of the Presidential Palace during President Uribe’s inauguration, and the kidnapping and murder of a regional governor in 2009.
As the largest rebel group in the Western Hemisphere with over 50 years of experience in fundraising, attack strategizing, and recruiting, the FARC is a friend and mentor to other rural rebel groups throughout Colombia and South America. Both the Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional (ELN) and Autodefendas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) are like-minded Colombian rebel groups which have benefitted from FARC support, though there have been instances of leadership clashes regarding the groups’ ultimate goals.
Outside of Colombia, the Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP) is also influenced by FARC Marxist ideology and sends their guerrilla fighters to Colombia for training. This group represents rural farmers as well as conducts attacks and kidnappings similar to the FARC. In Peru, the acclaimed terror group Shining Path is connected to the FARC through drug trade and trafficking in the Andes Mountains. However, both the FARC and Shining Path have run into conflict with drug-traffickers who refuse to pay levied protection taxes, but the groups have managed negotiations enough to garner mass profits from illegal drug trade.
Possibility for Peace?
Despite enduring more than five decades of conflict, on June 23, the FARC and Colombian government signed peace accords. This is seen as one of the last steps for peace between the nation and the rebel group, and according to the BBC, a final deal is expected in the next weeks. However, attempts at peace deals have been negotiated in the past, but a final agreement has yet to be reached.
“Let this be the last day of the war,” FARC leader Timochenko said after signing the peace accords last week. Time will tell if the rebel leader keeps this promise to the Colombian government and Colombian people and bring lasting peace to the nation.
Insight Crime, http://www.insightcrime.org/colombia-organized-crime-news/farc-profile
The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/aug/31/paraguay-guerrillas-epp-aca
Justice for Colombia, http://www.justiceforcolombia.org/news/article/1260/analysis-media-and-the-war-in-colombia
Steinitz, Mark S., https://csis-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/legacy_files/files/media/csis/pubs/pp_steinitz%5B1%5D.pdf
United Nations Regional Information Center, http://www.unric.org/en/colombia/27013-the-guerrilla-groups-in-colombia