On April 15, in Cauca province in the southwest of Colombia, FARC rebels ambushed a patrol of Colombian soldiers with explosives, grenades, and small arms, killing 10. Little detail on the exact events on the ground has been forthcoming in open sources, except that the patrol was attacked in the hamlet of La Esperanza, and afterward, a single body was found wearing black and carrying a rifle—tentatively identified as one of the FARC guerrillas.
FARC, the Fuerzas Armas Revolucionaria de Colombia, the Marxist guerrilla group that has been fighting the Columbian government since 1964, has in recent years turned a great deal toward the drug trade to finance itself. They’ve also been in peace talks with the Colombian government since November, 2012. The talks are being held in Havana, Cuba. It was in Havana that the FARC spokesman, Félix Antonio Muñoz, alias ‘Pastor Alape,’ announced that the attack was a “defensive action” undertaken by the rebels, and that it underscores the need for a bilateral ceasefire. FARC declared a unilateral ceasefire in December 2014.
The government has denied that there was anything “defensive” about the fight that killed 10 Columbian soldiers and wounded 20 more. In response to the attack, President Juan Manuel Santos has declared an end to the bombing ceasefire that has been in place since March. “I have ordered the armed forces to ignore the order suspending bombings of FARC camps until further notice,” Santos said. “Let this be clear to the FARC: I’m not going to be pressured by vile acts like this to make a decision on a bilateral ceasefire.” Santos, a former journalist, has still refused to call off the peace talks, but on April 17, he finally declared the need for a deadline, saying that if FARC wants peace, “They must demonstrate with deeds, not words.”
This is not the first time the FARC has used hostile actions to call for a bilateral ceasefire. In November, 2014, the FARC kidnapped General Ruben Dario Alzate in the village of Las Mercedes, Choco province, as he was traveling along the Atrato river by boat. They claimed he was taken because he was “military personnel moving through a war zone,” and immediately declared that it illustrated the need for a ceasefire. Santos suspended the peace talks after the kidnapping, though they resumed shortly thereafter.
The peace talks have not resulted in a great deal of progress. Much difficulty has arisen over the issue of amnesty for FARC members if peace is declared between the group and the government. The FARC doesn’t want any of their people prosecuted for what they may have done in the past 50 years of conflict, and they definitely don’t want any of them extradited to the U.S., where many of them are wanted on charges related to the drug trade. Santos has said that complete amnesty is off the table, following both U.S. and ICC views on the subject. Considering the amount of aid that Colombia receives from the U.S., that is not likely to change.
Cauca province has long been a FARC stronghold, and the government maintains it is the primary drug corridor to the Pacific, which has become the primary route for cocaine moving out of Colombia in recent years. With the dismantling of the Cali and Medellin cartels, the FARC has become the primary drug-trafficking organization in the country. They are also the richest guerrilla group in at least the Western Hemisphere (considering that most all of their sources of income are illicit—illegal mining, drug trafficking, etc.—there are few if any hard numbers to determine this), and are almost completely self-funded. They have never received a significant amount of support from Cuba or the Soviet Union, who were the primary backers of leftist revolutionaries in South and Central America.
The concern among many analysts is that even if the peace talks succeed, large numbers of FARC guerrillas will either refuse to honor the agreement, or simply set up as organized crime groups (though the line between the FARC as an ideological guerrilla army and organized crime group is already an extremely thin one).
Insight Crime also believes that the ambush in Cauca is indicative of the inability of the FARC leadership to control their people and that the FARC is already fragmenting among units and independent commanders. This is certainly possible, and is in keeping with the pattern emerging further north in Mexico where the various DTOs (drug trafficking organizations) are becoming increasingly cellular and independent, making them much more difficult to combat.
But these are certainly not the first peace talks held between the FARC and the Colombian government. Previous efforts failed, usually after three to four years. This could simply be history repeating itself.
The peace talks are not dead yet, but the pattern of attacks and demands for concessions that the government cannot or will not make does not bode well for an end to 50 years of violence, presuming that successful peace talks actually do anything more than dismantle the FARC in name only.
(Featured image courtesy globaljournalist.org)
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