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February 5, 2008
Anti-FARC Rallies in Colombia and Worldwide
By Dr. Steven L. Taylor

Via the BBC: Colombians in huge Farc protest

Hundreds of thousands of Colombians have poured onto the streets of Bogota to protest against Marxist Farc rebels.

The protesters waved flags and wore T-shirts with the slogan: “No more kidnapping, no more lies, no more deaths, no more Farc.”

Some estimates put the number of people protesting in Bogota at between 500,000 and two million

.

Thousands more protested elsewhere in Colombia, and in close to 100 other cities around the world.

While I have argued that the government of Colombia has to negotiate with the FARC, there is also no doubt that the FARC has precious little moral capital to spend with the Colombian population. However, the FARC have no monopoly on reprehensible behavior, ((By this I mean that the government has engaged in its own actions of similar criminality, as have many private citizens in Colombia who decry the guerrillas. As such, there isn’t just actor who has engaged in injustice, which makes the entire situation far more complicated than simply blaming the FARC, even though they desrve much blame.))
which makes the situation a bit more muddled than many would like it to be.

For example, the opposition party, the Alternative Democratic Pole, notes (via the Miami Herald):

Uribe opponents have complained that the conservative president has said little about the estimated 550 persons held hostage by right-wing paramilitaries. But even Carlos Gaviria, president of the opposition Alternative Democratic Pole, a left-of-center coalition, turned up at the Plaza Bolivar in downtown Bogotá, where the marches ended.

Interestingly, the protests were organized, in part, via Facebook. the CSM reports: Facebook used to target Colombia’s FARC with global rally.

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January 13, 2008
On the FARC and Terrorism
By Dr. Steven L. Taylor

Via trhe BBC: Chavez makes Colombia rebel call

Just a day after helping to broker the liberation of two high-profile hostages, Clara Rojas and Consuelo Gonzalez, Mr Chavez used his annual state of the nation speech to make the appeal, addressing himself to Colombia’s conservative President Alvaro Uribe.

“I ask you (Uribe) that we start recognising the Farc and the ELN as insurgent forces in Colombia and not terrorist groups, and I ask the same of the governments of this continent and the world,” Mr Chavez said.

But Mr Uribe quickly rejected the idea.

He said the insurgents were terrorists who funded their operations with cocaine smuggling, recruited children and planted land mines in their effort to topple a democratically elected government.

“The only thing they have produced is displacement, pain, unemployment and poverty,” Mr Uribe said.

The problem is: they are both correct after a fashion.

The regular application of the word “terrorist” to the FARC and ELN ((The The Army of National Liberation, a smaller, less publicaized guerrilla groups that, like the FARC, has been fighting since the 1960s)) both as a descriptor and in terms of public policy is very much a post-9/11 phenomenon. Indeed, I wrote about this development in book chapter published a couple of years ago ((“Colombia: Democracy Under Duress” in William J. Crotty, ed. (2005) Democratic Development and Political Terrorism: The Global Perspectives, Northeastern University Press.)) While the FARC ((For a variety of reasons, it is better to focus this conversation on the FARC and leave the ELN out of it, as they are smaller, apparently not involved in the drug trade, and have been in talks with the government. The ELN has been known to use kidnapping to fund its activities.)) has been called “terrorists” or “narcoterrorists” ((Although that terms was more likely to have been applied to groups like Medellín Cartel)) the regular application of the term “terrorist” comes only after the US declare war on terrorism in late 2001.

The problem with the terms “terrorist” is that it creates an atmosphere in which negotiation is essentially impossible, and if one thing is clear about the situation with FARC, the only likely endgame will be one that features some amount of negotiation. This has been true with every armed group in Colombia that has demobilized, including those portions of right-wing paramilitary groups who have disarmed during the Uribe administration .

And it should be noted that the paramilitaries in question, the AUC (the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia) are, like the FARC and ELN, on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. Further, the AUC has a hideous record when it comes to human rights violations and have utilized tactics that could be easily defined as terroristic. They also have clear ties to cocaine trafficking. As such, it is difficult to argue that one simply cannot negotiate with the FARC if one has negotiated with the AUC. It is also worth nothing in that context that the FARC’s history is one that has more elements of an actual political organization than the AUC’s ever did. ((Although, granted, it would matter what “political” means, but that is a lengthier discussion than I want to enter into at this time))

It should further be noted that the FARC did support an overtly political and non-violent project in the 1980s by the creation of a political party, the Patriot Union, which was eventually systematically slaughtered by right-wing paramilitary groups which had ties in many cases to the military. As such, the FARC carry the memory of their allies being terrorized, and therefore use it as fuel to justify their own actions.

All of the above is so say that Chávez has a point ((Not a sentence I write very frequently)).

Uribe, however, is right as well—the FARC have caused a lot of pain to Colombians, and have also engaged in substantial criminal activity. Even setting aside their involvement in the cocaine industry, they earn somewhere around half of their revenue by kidnapping and clearly have no compunctions about stealing years and years of the lives of whomever they deem a legitimate target. ((And not just overtly political targets, either)) Further, they have engaged in bombings and other violence that has threatened and killed innocent civilians.

There is, therefore, no doubt that it is a desirable thing to stop their activities. Four and a half decades of conflict between the state and the FARC have yet to produce a military victory sufficient to stop the fighting. As such, that option appears unlikely to succeed anytime soon (indeed, if ever). If we also consider the role negotiation has played in the past in Colombia, it again would seem that such a route is inevitable if the violence is ever to cease.

None of this is to forgive or justify the FARC’s actions, but rather it is a practical fact that perfect justice isn’t attainable here and that at some point there are going to have be some trade-offs made.

The truly depressing part is that even if some sort of political rapprochement can be achieved with the FARC’s leadership, the bottom line is that money that can be made via drugs and kidnapping will be enough to encourage many “guerrillas” to stay in the field, so to speak. That fact, however, should not dissuade the government from trying. Indeed, the negotiations with the AUC prove that even an imperfect settlement can reduce the violence, even if it can never eliminate it totally.

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FARC Frees Two Hostages
By Dr. Steven L. Taylor

Via the CSM: Colombian leftist guerrillas free two high-level hostages

Colombian leftist guerrillas released two of their most prized hostages Thursday, in a deal brokered by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez that could pave the way for a broad agreement for the liberation of dozens of others being held in rebel camps.

Politicians Clara Rojas and Consuelo Gonzalez were whisked from the jungles of southern Colombia where they had been held for six years to the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, into the embrace of their families.

“They are finally safe, they are free,” Ms. González’s daughter Patricia Perdomo told Colombian radio from her hotel room in Caracas, her voice trembling with emotion.

[…]

It’s the most important hostage release in the Colombian conflict since 2001, when the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, freed some 300 soldiers and police officers and it’s being hailed as a political victory for Mr. Chávez and Colombian President Álvaro Uribe.

Excellent news, and something of a surprise, to be honest.

The article suggests that this move could spur talks about hostages held by the FARC and prisoners held by the government. Such talks are badly needed, but a heathy dose of caution is needed to go with any optimism that this event may have generated.

Still, it is a wonderful thing for these two to be back with their families.

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December 19, 2007
FARC Set to Release Three?
By Dr. Steven L. Taylor

Via the BBC: France ‘to take in’ Farc rebels

A communique stated they would include Clara Rojas, who was kidnapped with former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt in 2002, Prensa Latina said.

[…]

Ms Rojas’ son, who was born in captivity, and a former congresswoman, Consuelo Gonzalez, were the other two persons to be freed.

May it be so, but one is always cautious in these situations. It is a shame that we are talking only about three persons, however.

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November 20, 2007
Colombian Government Sets Deadline onf FARC-Chávez
By Dr. Steven L. Taylor

.Via the BBC: Deadline for Chavez on Farc talks.

The deadline in question is being set by the Colombian government.

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September 29, 2007
A Dramatic Defection from the FARC
By Dr. Steven L. Taylor

Via the BBC: Farc woman steals plane to desert

An armed female member of Colombia’s Farc rebel group hijacked a small plane to escape her “tortuous life” with the guerrillas, police have said.

The woman, who was identified only by her alias “Angelica,” took over the plane at an airstrip in Puerto Principe, in eastern Colombia.

Carrying a rifle, machete, knife and 150 bullets, she forced the pilot to fly her to the city of Villavicencio.

[…]

Police said the hijacker would not be charged with a crime and would be admitted to the government’s rebel rehabilitation programme.

Wild.

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August 3, 2007
Uribe Offers “Safe Haven” for Talks with Guerrillas
By Dr. Steven L. Taylor

Via the BBC: Uribe offers Colombia talks zone

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has offered to create a temporary safe haven for peace talks, if left-wing guerrillas free hundreds of hostages.

Mr Uribe said he would then also be willing to release rebel prisoners.

[…]

The Farc has not responded officially but a website which carries rebel statements rejected the proposal.

“There will definitively be no humanitarian exchange with Uribe,” a statement on the Anncol website began.

The FARC would prefer a demilitarized zone in the southwest of Colombia. However, after the disaster that was the Pastrana administration’s (1998-2002) attempt at such a zone, I can’t imagine any Colombian president ceding such a space again anytime soon, and certainly not Alvaro Uribe.

I also have a hard time seeing the FARC negotiating with the Uribe administration given that the FARC consider Uribe linked directly to paramilitary groups. This is problematic for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being that the last major peace accord (not the last set of talks, but the last major agreement) between the FARC and the government, back during the Betancur administration (1982-1986) led to the creation of a political party, the Patriotic Union (UP). Over the course of less than two decades, right-wing paramilitary groups (linked directly to the AUC that is in talks with the government to demobilize) assassinated upwards of 4,000 members of the UP, in what has been accurately terms a “political genocide.”

As such, given that the Uribe administration has been negotiating with the AUC (and because there have been credible accusations that Uribe worked with paramilitary groups when he was governor of the department of Antioquia in the 1990s), I have a very hard time seeing the FARC being willing to talk to Uribe. Given that there are also serious problems with the AUC’s demobilization (i.e., not all of those demobilized appear to be remaing demobilized), then one would think that distrust would be high.

Just to add another wrinkle to the story, Uribe’s father was killed by the FARC during a kidnapping attempt.

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July 31, 2007
DefMin: Sensitive Info Leaked to Guerrillas and Narcos in Colombia
By Dr. Steven L. Taylor

Via the BBC: Colombia admits army infiltrated

Drug traffickers and guerrillas have infiltrated senior levels of the Colombian armed forces, seriously compromising their work, officials say.

Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos said the Farc rebels and the main drugs cartel had bribed officials to get information and so avoid capture.

His admission confirms the suspicions of many Colombians, correspondents say.

[…]

Mr Santos’s comments come after two incidents pointed to serious leaks in the security forces.

The first was the arrest of a senior defence department official for allegedly passing information to the powerful Norte del Valle drug cartel.

[…]

The second was earlier this year when sensitive government material was found on guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) who had been killed in combat.

The computer files contained classified information going back several years that would be available only to an informant with very high-level access, officials said.

Sadly, none of this is surprising. The amount of money available to use in bribes in so immense in Colombia that it is miracle that there isn’t more of this going on.

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July 29, 2007
FARC Killed 11 Kidnapped Politicians due to a Mistake
By Dr. Steven L. Taylor

Via the BBC: Farc ‘killed hostages by mistake’

The 11 politicians who died while being held by Farc rebels were killed during an accidental clash between factions, Colombia’s intelligence chief has said.

Andres Penate said intercepted communications showed the left-wing movement had shot dead the hostages after coming across another rebel unit.

Thinking they were security forces, commanders ordered the hostages to be killed rather than let them be rescued.

The Farc said in a statement that they were investigating the incident.

The group had previously insisted the politicians were killed in crossfire when an “unidentified military group” attacked their jungle camp in the western Valle del Cauca region on 18 June.

That is one rather grave mistake. It also demonstrates the ruthlessness of the FARC in regards to kidnapping, as they would prefer to slaughter 11 people instead of letting them be rescued.

The politicians in question were are members of the Departmental Assembly of Valle de Cauca (more or less like a state legislature). They were kidnapped out of the assembly’s chamber in Cali in April of 2002 and had been held until this tragic mistake was made.

This incident may end up having larger ramifications:

The BBC’s Jeremy McDermott in Bogota says that, if it is true, the massacre will pile yet more pressure on the Farc, which after more than 40 years of fighting, has reached its lowest level of public support.

I can see how it might lead to pressure on the FARC to talk to the government, especially since the ELN (the other major guerrilla group) is talking and there has been an ongoing process with the paramilitary group, the AUC. Of course, both sets of talks have some serious issues and it is always dangerous to get overly optimistic about the peace process in Colombia.

Politically this event may redound to the Uribe administration’s advantage as Uribe is suffering some in public opinion over the parapolitica scandal-the linking of the paramilitaries to politicians, including some Uribe appointees. This situation with the FARC diverts, to some degree, a portion of public attention away from the paras situation and also gives Uribe a specific target that he can address with a renewed vigor. Although whether that means expanded military action against the FARC or trying to leverage the situation to try and force talks remains to be seen (the former being an easier route to take).

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July 26, 2007
Landmines and the FARC
By Dr. Steven L. Taylor

Via the BBC: Colombia landmines blamed on Farc

Human Rights Watch says more than 1,000 people were killed by anti-personnel mines in Colombia last year, up from less than 300 in 2001.

The Farc rebel group often places landmines in civilian areas.

The group said the number of civilian victims had increased from 66 in the year 2000, to more than 300 last year.

[…]

Every day, Marxist guerrillas battered by the US-backed security forces are sowing more home-made mines, known as foot breakers.

The guerrillas have perfected the production of these mines using household items like PVC piping and syringes with the rubber taken out, which act as plungers.

It means the mines can be made for as little as $15 (£7).

Human Rights Watch has detailed the damage inflicted by these weapons, not just on the security forces but on civilians, especially children who play in the woods and jungles near their home and trigger the explosives.

More than three victims a day were registered last year, making Colombia the country with the most landmine victims in the world.

A tragic situation, to be sure.

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