softening up

Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Ejército del Pueblo), also known by the acronym of FARC or FARC-EP, are a Marxist-Leninist revolutionary guerrilla organization. The FARC are considered a terrorist group by the Colombian government, the United States Department of State, Canada and the European Union. A number of countries, including Brazil, do not classify the FARC as terrorist because it would be an impediment to holding direct peace negotiations with them, while other countries, including Cuba and Venezuela, are more sympathetic to the FARC. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, for example, publicly rejected their classification as "terrorists" in January 2008 and called on the Colombian government and international community to recognize the guerrillas as a “belligerent force”, arguing that this would then oblige them to renounce kidnappings and terror acts in order to respect the Geneva Conventions. In December of 2007 a Copenhagen city court in Denmark found that FARC and the PFLP were "not really terrorist", but in September of 2008 a higher court concluded on appeal that both of them were "terrorist organisations that have committed acts aimed at destabilising a state or a government and have attacked civilian targets".

The FARC were established in the 1960s as the military wing of the Colombian Communist Party. The FARC originated as a guerrilla movement. The group later became involved with the cocaine trade during the 1980s for the purposes of fundraising, but remained closely tied to the Communist Party even as it created the Patriotic Union in the early 1980s and later a political structure it calls the Clandestine Colombian Communist Party.

According to the Colombian government, the FARC have an estimated 6,000-8,000 members (2008), down from 16,000 in 2001, making it the largest as well as the oldest insurgent group in the Americas. However, the Colombian government have claimed to have intercepted data that identifies at least 9,387 members of FARC. Other available estimates are higher, including one of up to 18,000 guerrillas in 2007.

The FARC-EP were present in 15-20 percent of Colombia’s territory in 2005, most strongly in the southeastern jungles and in the plains at the base of the Andean mountains.


The FARC-EP is governed by a secretariat which has been led by Alfonso Cano and five others, including senior military commander Jorge Briceño, also known as “Mono Jojoy”, after the death of Manuel Marulanda (Pedro Antonio Marín), also known as “Tirofijo”, or Sureshot. The “international face” of the organization was represented by another member of the secretariat, “Raul Reyes”, who was killed in a Colombian army raid against a guerrilla camp in Ecuador on March 1, 2008.

FARC is organized along military lines and includes several urban fronts or militia cells. The group added “-EP” (Ejército del Pueblo) to its official name during its Seventh Guerrilla Conference in 1982 as an expression of expected progression from guerrilla warfare to conventional military action outlined on that occasion.

The FARC-EP has proclaimed itself as a politico-military Marxist-Leninist organization of Bolivarian inspiration. It claims to represent the rural poor in a struggle against Colombia’s wealthier classes and opposes the United States' influence in Colombia (particularly Plan Colombia). Other prominent areas of focus for the FARC-EP include, the organization claims, fighting against privatization of natural resources, multinational corporations, and paramilitary violence. The FARC-EP says these objectives motivate the group’s efforts to seize power in Colombia through an armed revolution. It funds itself principally through extortion, kidnapping and participation in the illegal drug trade.

The FARC-EP says it remains open to a negotiated solution to the nation’s conflict, through a dialogue with a flexible government that agrees to certain conditions, such as the demilitarization of locations and the release of all jailed (and extradited) FARC rebels. At the same time, it claims that until these conditions surface, the armed revolutionary struggle will remain necessary to implement the group’s policy objectives. The FARC-EP says it will continue armed struggle because it perceives the current Colombian government as unfriendly and because of historical politically motivated violence against its members and supporters. Activists of the Patriotic Union, a FARC-created political party, were also among those who suffered from political violence.

National and international critics characterize the FARC-EP as terrorist. Critics of the FARC-EP say that the group's methods have discredited its original goals and ideology. The FARC attacks civilians not involved in the conflict , plants landmines, recruits underage boys and girls, maintains hostages for ransom and political leverage, some of them for as long as 10 years, and is responsible for the displacement of civilians through conflict. FARC spokesman Raul Reyes has claimed that FARC always avoids civilian casualties, does not conscript civilians, and does not accept soldiers under the age of 15, although he fails to acknowledge that the use of mines and mortars is inherently dangerous to civilians.

The FARC also frequently recruits teens as soldiers and informants. Human Rights Watch estimates that the FARC has the majority of child combatants in Colombia, estimating that approximately 20 to 30% of the guerrillas are children under 18 years of age. Children who try to escape the ranks of the guerrillas can be punished with torture and death by firing squad. Regarding female members, Human Rights Watch states one of the reasons they join FARC is to escape sexual abuse. Female FARC members "had roughly the same duties and possibilities of promotion as males. Yet girls in the guerrilla forces still face gender-related pressures. Although rape and overt sexual harassment are not tolerated, many male commanders use their power to form sexual liaisons with underaged girls. Girls as young as twelve are required to use contraception, and must have abortions if they get pregnant."


The period that followed the murder of Jorge Eliécer Gaitán in 1948 saw the loss of more than 200,000 lives and became known as La Violencia ("The Violence”). By 1953, the Colombian Conservative Party government of Laureano Gómez (elected 1950 in an election boycotted by the Colombian Liberal Party), unable to cope with the situation, became increasingly unpopular in the eyes of both public opinion and other political figures of both parties. In what was seen as a successful effort that sought to reestablish order, the military, under the figure of General Gustavo Rojas, seized control of the country in 1953.

The new military government offered amnesty to insurgents who surrendered their weapons, leading to the demobilization of thousands of former fighters. However, some radical Liberal and Communist guerrilla groups refused to surrender their arms. They retreated to isolated areas of the country where they continued to operate and organize their own communities. In other areas, such as Villarrica, Tolima, former guerrillas suffered attacks. Jacobo Arenas, who would later become the ideological leader of the FARC, was sent by the Colombian Communist Party as a political activist in order to help organize existing self-defense and guerrilla units in a rural enclave during “La Violencia” (1948–1955).

Civilian rule was restored in 1958 after moderate Conservatives and Liberals, with the support of dissident sectors of the military, agreed to unite under a bipartisan coalition known as the National Front. Political alternation within the coalition eventually resulted in the controversial election of Misael Pastrana in 1970 as president. Armed self-defense groups of communists had by then established their own local government in a remote region of the country, Marquetalia.

Jacobo Arenas later wrote a book called “Diario de la resistencia de Marquetalia” ("Diary of the Marquetalian resistance”). The book includes a chronicle of the events of the fight between the guerrilla fighters and the soldiers of the Colombian army brigade.

According to 1958 US embassy and military records on file at the US National Archives, one of the largest Liberal guerrilla bands that came into existence during “La Violencia” had been known as “Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia” (FARC), This group had been organized some time in the early 1950s by Dumar Aljure, an associate of Guadalupe Salcedo. In the following years, Aljure’s power and that of this early guerrilla organization declined until his own death in 1968, when he still had a degree of control and influence over Puerto Lleras.

Separately, the Colombian government had initially ignored the growing influence of several communist enclaves in and around Sumapaz until 1964 when, under pressure by Conservatives who considered the autonomous communities, which were labeled as “independent republics” by senator Álvaro Gómez Hurtado, to be a threat, the Colombian National Army was ordered to take full control of the area.

Following the attack the communists dispersed, only to later reorganize as the “Southern Bloc” ("Bloque Sur”). In 1964, the Bloque Sur renamed itself the “Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia” (FARC). Jacobo Arenas and Manuel Marulanda were two of the founders of the new guerrilla group and became its two top leaders.

Whether the organization’s new name could have been derived from Dumar Aljure’s earlier Liberal guerrilla, or whether the new FARC may possibly have included among its initial members some of Aljure’s former followers, is not clear. The finer details of this part of the FARC’s early history are unclear, and most histories of the FARC, including those which reference the writings of Arenas and other FARC founders, omit any mention of Aljure’s guerrilla army entirely.

While the group officially came into existence in 1966, some of its leaders were former liberal and communist guerrillas.

Seventh Guerrilla Conference of the FARC-EP

FARC ideologue Jacobo Arenas was allegedly the main figure behind the FARC’s Seventh Guerrilla Conference in 1982, and a contemporary “Strategic Plan”, which would have outlined a series of goals and steps that would organize the FARC into an “Army of the People” (the initials “EP”, Ejército del Pueblo, were adopted during this Conference) capable of potentially seizing power sometime in the 1990s, explicitly combining both the illegal and legal forms of struggle (organically implementing a traditional Marxist and Communist strategy termed “the combination of all forms of struggle”), as well as the political and the military aspects of their group.

Under the guidance of Jacobo Arenas and Manuel Marulanda, the Seventh Guerrilla Conference was a turning point in the FARC’s struggle, as it provided them with the opportunity to finetune their policies and plans in order for them to build their desired socialist state in the future.

Many U.S. and other military experts argue that Manuel Marulanda, as a veteran guerrilla fighter and as an excellent commander for four decades, heads perhaps the most capable and dangerous Marxist guerrilla organization in the world. Marulanda is very often referred to as “Sureshot” ("Tirofijo”), because of a reputation for using firearms very accurately during his earlier years as an insurgent. For some of those analysts, an allegedly problematic aspect in Marulanda’s profile concerns the fact that he has limited educational background, due to the poor economic conditions that his family and many others had to face when growing up in rural Colombia. Jacobo Arenas, on the other hand, had political and ideological education as a communist intellectual, thus it is believed that he realized that FARC’s initial status was not up to the necessary standards needed to properly fight a Colombian Army that could count on the aid of the United States from time to time.

The role of Jacobo Arenas in FARC’s military reorganization was significant. After the Seventh Guerrilla Conference in 1982, Arenas started to work toward the goal of turning the FARC from a guerrilla organization to a rebel army (the “People’s Army”). According to his instructions, FARC added ranks and badges to many of its uniforms, as well as introducing a new inventory system for firearms and ammunition, in addition to providing new weapons and technology for FARC militants. In theory, a properly organized and trained guerrilla army would thus meet the international requirements for the recognition of a “state of belligerence”, contained within the Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949 and its additional protocols.

Jacobo Arenas died in August 1990. Official FARC versions claimed he died of a sudden heart attack. However, claims of foul play have not gone without notice. Different sources from within the guerrilla group state that he was murdered by a low ranking guerrilla officer sometime after Arenas himself had ordered the execution, for unknown reasons, of this officer’s brother.

Period 1980-1989

Until 1980, the FARC grew in a relatively slow way; besides to undergoing a separation form the part of Javier Delgado and Hernando Pizarro Leongómez, old commanders of the FARC, forming aseparate guerrilla called Commando Ricardo Franco Frente Sur. The FARC counted then between 1,000 and 3,000 men. In the Seventh Conference from the 4th to 14th of May of 1982, under the command of the political leader “Jacobo Arenas”, several new strategic directives were issued and it reaffirmed the principle of the “combination of all the forms of fight”, the politcal and ther armed fight.

A rejection to all relation with the emergent phenomenon also takes place of drug trafficking and of its cultures, but gradually during years 80 it is ended up accepting because in the fields it is constituted in an increasing activity. The collection of taxes to producers and narcotics traffickers like financing source settles down gradually, by means of the call “gramaje”

28 of May of 1984, after a meeting of the leaders of the 27 fronts and the General Staff, a cease-fire settles down, like part in the agreements signed with the government of Belisario Betancourt (“Agreements of Cease to the Fire, Truce and Peace”, known like Agreements of La Uribe). The FARC formed Patriotic Union (UP) to lead the political movement.

This attempt of negotiation failed to a great extent due to two elements: the violations of the cease of hostilities by the two parts, and political violence of sectors of the extreme right, among them local political leaders and several members of the Armed Forces, as well as actors of left (among them sectors of the FARC), including between both parts (right and left) some important controls and narcotics traffickers.

In spite of an initial attempt of members of the different guerrillas to reach an agreement with Pablo Escobar, among other narcotics traffickers, the formal contacts due to the kidnappings of relatives and friends of such are possibly broken on the part of the insurgents

The drug trafficking, later also in frontal war against the state to prevent the beginning of the possible one extradition from its members to the United States, it decides to take revenge against the guerrilla and farmers supporters, financing swarms deprived from its own groups of sicarios, including also the participation of associations of cattle dealers and rural proprietors (landowners), counting in addition on the collaboration to several military of the Colombian Army, as much directly or indirectly, constituting the beginnings of the well-known groups at the moment like self-defense or paramilitary (that, from 1997, would be united around AUC).

In September of 1987 all the operative guerrilla detachments (EPL, the FARC-EP and ELN) they were constituted in Guerrilla coordinator Simón Bolivar (CGSB), that would be the result of the entrance of the previous armed groups to the already existing one Guerrilla National coordinator (Cng) in I associate with Commando Ricardo Franco Frente Sur (which soon serious declared enemy of the FARC-EP and expelled from the CGSB by the events of Tacueyó) and Armed movement Quintín Lame; looking for to as much coordinate the actions armed as the negotiations of peace towards the future. This attempt had very little effectiveness and possibly it was divided. The M-19 it ended up signing the peace, and the FARC and the ELN acted completely separated, although later joint operations were made in specific cases.

The Patriotic Union

The violence as much summoned up the lives of important politicians of the traditional legal establishment opposed the drug trafficking, among them the minister Rodrigo Lara Bonilla, like of numerous members of the legal left in individual of then recently founded legal party of the FARC-EP: Patriotic union. This movement, to weighing of the intentions initiates to them to include it within the strategy of the “combination of all the forms of fight”, was not exclusively an organ of the FARC-EP, because on it counted on participation of civil movements, union and working with different intentions. Several leaders of the UP arrived not to be in agreement with driving armed of the FARC-EP and requested to maintain the political route in spite of the new wave of violence untied, criticizing so much to the government as to the FARC-EP not to make more attempts control the situation.

The UP as so it continued insisting on following with the political route, until practically his extermination, of which gives diverse numbers, of between 2,000 to 4,000 assassinated or disappeared militants.

Period 1990-1999

9 of December of 1990, day of the elections for the Constituent Assembly, the army, without previous declaration it express military and when informally still it was continued the dialogue process , it sent an offensive against Casa Verde, seat of the National Secretaryship of the FARC-EP, but it failed and it obtained few results. The Colombian government argued that that measurement was taken because the FARC-EP had not fulfilled their commitments, since still they made criminal activities and they had not take refugen in via negotiated.

The Colombian government not only negotiated with the FARC at that time, also maintained negotiations with other armed groups, being obtained by political agreements and contacts with other guerrillas the demobilization of several groups armed in 1991 (process in that the FARC-EP did not participate). The great majority of the demobilized ones, although did not receive specific counterparts, was pardoned, they were gotten up to the civil life and legal processes were not followed to them. Under the company/signature of La Paz some groups demobilized themselves (EPL, ERP, Armed movement Quintín Lame, M-19), and soon what it was left of the Guerrilla Coordinator Simón Bolivar a series of negotiations with the state began.

During that same year the guerrilla head died Jacobo Arenas.

3 of June of 1991 the dialogue between the Coordinator and the government was reinitiated, in territory Venezuelan (Caracas) and soon Mexican (Tlaxcala). The war did not stop and continued the actions armed by both parts. The negotiation process was broken in 1993 when not reaching an agreement. The Coordinator as so it disappeared not much after that moment, and the guerrilla detachments followed their activities independently.

Before this breaking, one occurred to know a letter written by a group Colombian intellectuals (between who it was included Nobel of Literature Gabriel Garcia Márquez) directed to the Coordinating Simón Guerrilla Bolivar, where one called to each other to them about the ominous form in which they are carrying out its fight and consequences that this one was leaving in the country.[47]

To beginnings of the Nineties, the FARC-EP had between 7,000 and 10,000 combatants, organized in 70 fronts distributed in all the country. In the years 1996 a 1998 the FARC-EP offered to the Colombian Army a series to him of blows, including a taking of three days a Mitú in the department of Vaupés. From this last one, they were a great number of soldiers prisoners.

By this same period in Colombia the cultures of the different ones expanded drugs and they were organized ample marches of farmers coca growers that several routes of the south of Colombia paralyzed, in which, according to the government of this country, the FARC-EP had influence. Its specific responsibility in this situation has not been investigated thorough which would be or not.

1998–2002 Failed Peace Process

On September 4, 1996 the FARC-EP attacked a military base in Guaviare, which started three weeks of guerrilla warfare that claimed the lives of at least 130 Colombians, soldiers and civilians included.

By June, 1997, more than 4,600 Colombian police officers had been killed on the job since 1990, believed to be the highest police fatality in the world.

In hope of negotiating a peace settlement, on November 7, 1998, President Andrés Pastrana granted FARC a safe haven meant to serve as a confidence building measure, centered around the San Vicente del Caguán settlement. The demilitarization of some of the included Colombian locations had previously been among the FARC-EPs conditions for beginning peace talks. The peace process with the government continued at a slow pace for three years during which the BBC and other news organizations reported that the FARC-EP also used the safe haven to import arms, export drugs, recruit minors, and build up their armed forces. After a series of high-profile guerrilla terrorist actions, including the hijacking of an airplane, the attack on several small towns and cities, leaving a trail of death on its path, the arrest of the Irish Colombia Three (see below) and of training FARC militants in bomb making, and the kidnapping of several political figures, Pastrana ended the peace talks on February 21, 2002 and ordered the armed forces to start retaking the FARC-controlled zone, beginning at midnight. A 48-hour respite that had been previously agreed to with the rebel group was not applied at this time; the government argued that it had already been granted and almost used up during an earlier crisis in January, when most of the more prominent FARC commanders had apparently left the demilitarized zone. Shortly after the end of talks, the FARC kidnapped green presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, who was traveling in guerrilla territory. Betancourt was rescued by the Colombian government on July 2, 2008.

Involvement of Irish bomb-makers

The “Colombia Three” were three prominent Irish republicans – Niall Connolly, James Monaghan and Martin McCauley – arrested after being found to be travelling on false passports on 11 August 2001 while waiting for flights out of the country. They had spent five weeks in a demilitarized southern zone of Colombia, then under the control of the FARC. The men have been accused of being Provisional IRA guerrillas, and James Monaghan subsequently stated in his book about the incident that he “fought in the long war as an IRA volunteer”.

On 15 February 2002 they were charged with training FARC rebels in bomb-making. The trial closed on 1 August 2003 with a verdict which found them guilty of travelling on false passports and they were given sentences of up to 44 months. They were found not guilty on the charges relating to training FARC rebels and were released in June 2004 upon payment of fines. An appeal court overturned the original trial verdict on 16 December 2004, and convicted the men of training the rebels, sentencing them to seventeen years. However, by this time they had returned to Ireland.

According to RAND Corporation, beginning in early 2001 FARC sharply intensified its operations, killing more than 400 members of the Colombian armed forces in 18 months with car bombs and homemade mortars similar in design to those previously used by Irish Republicans. FARC then expanded its campaign into Colombian cities. The February 2003 bombing of the El Nogal club in Bogotá was attributed to the guerrilla group by authorities, investigators and prosecutors. FARC themselves denied any involvement.

Post 2002 peace process

For most of the period between 2002 and 2005, the FARC-EP was believed to be in a strategic withdrawal due to the increasing military and police actions of new hardline president Álvaro Uribe, which led to the capture or desertion of many fighters and medium-level commanders. One of the most important combatants captured was Simón Trinidad (Juvenal Ovidio Palmera Pineda), in January 2004. He was a former banker turned rebel, who had participated as a high-profile negotiator in the recent Pastrana peace talks, and who was also part of the central command of the organization.

During the first two years of the Uribe administration, the strength of several FARC fronts, mostly notably in Cundinamarca and Antioquia, was broken by the government’s military operations.

In June 2004, 34 coca farmers were found bound hand and foot and shot with automatic weapons. Blame was placed on the FARC-EP by the government, and after several days of uncertainty the FARC-EP publicly claimed responsibility for the massacre, saying they had killed the farmers for being supporters of right-wing paramilitaries and accusing the government of shedding “crocodile tears” for their deaths. The United Nations condemned the massacre as a war crime. After the FARC’s communique was made public, other human rights organizations likewise denounced the event and called on the Colombian government to protect villagers from the guerrillas.

Another incident occurred on July 10, 2004, when the FARC allegedly killed seven peasants (Francisco Giraldo, Carlos Torres, José Velásquez, Israel Velásquez, Mauricio Herrera, John Jairo Usuga and Pablo Usuga), in Samaná, near the municipality of San Carlos, Antioquia, according to the mayor of San Carlos, Colombian authorities and witnesses to the event.

The victims of the massacre were labourers who had returned to the zone after being forcefully displaced by the FARC earlier, presumably due to military or paramilitary activity in the area. They were apparently murdered because they had not received permission from the FARC to return yet, according to witnesses. The July 10 massacre provoked a further exodus of at least 80 persons from the surrounding rural area towards the urban locality of San Carlos.

On July 13, 2004, the office of the United Nations' High Commissioner for Human Rights publicly condemned this further act of violence and the ensuing displacement, accusing the FARC of violating article 17 of the additional Protocol II of the Geneva Convention and of international humanitarian law, expressing its solidarity towards the families of the victims.

The office reminded the FARC, which in the past has publicly rejected the legal applicability of the Geneva Convention to its case (though it also claims to be following most of its directives anyway), that these principles must be followed by any person or group of persons, independent of their legal condition.

According to the AP news agency, on August 18, 2004, a Colombian arms broker, Carlos Gamarra Murillo, arrested on April 1, 2004 in Tampa, Florida, USA, was charged with attempting to buy $4 million in rocket launchers, machine guns, and other heavy weapons and ammunition for the FARC, which would have been paid for with 2 tons of cocaine (worth 60% of the total amount, according to investigators) and cash.

The weapons would then have been shipped through Venezuela, according to investigators. US Attorney General John Ashcroft stated that Gamarra “attempted to provide the fuel to feed a dangerous foreign terrorist organization”. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) chief Michael Garcia signaled the indictment as “a significant achievement”.

Gamarra apparently made contact with an undercover informant in Colombia in March 2003, according to an ICE agent who testified in April. During the next year, it is alleged that he met and called the agents in order to arrange the weapons shipment and also inquired about buying surface-to-air missiles, presumably for use against Colombian military helicopters and other aircraft. Gamarra is currently held without bail.

On November 27, 2004, Colombian Defense Minister Jorge Alberto Uribe told reporters that apparently the FARC leadership had secretly commanded their followers to attempt to attack visiting U.S. President George W. Bush during his visit to the city of Cartagena. It was mentioned that any such intentions were made impractical by the presence of about 15,000 members of the Colombian security forces in the area, in addition to U.S. security personnel. No specific evidence (such as the content of the intelligence reports) that FARC actually managed to organize such an attack has been publicly released. Interior and Justice Minister Sabas Pretelt later downplayed the comments, stating that he had no specific details about any concrete assassination plots directed against President Bush and the FARC strongly denied the accusation, blaming it on US intelligence sources.

In early February 2005, a series of small scale military actions by the FARC around the southwestern departments of Colombia, resulted in an estimated 40 casualties (dead and wounded). The FARC-EP, in response to government military operations in the south and in the southeast, would now be displacing its military center of gravity towards the Nariño, Putumayo and Cauca departments.

Attacks in 2005

See also: List of FARC attacks in 2005

During 2005, the FARC launched a response to Álvaro Uribe’s security strategy and to Plan Patriota, apparently adopting a new style of operations, in particular near the southwest of Colombia.

The FARC would have previously implemented what was later called “Plan Resistencia” in order to endure Plan Patriota’s continuing effects, by withdrawing into the jungle and executing a temporary halt in its larger scale attacks. It is widely believed that their military capacity has been weakened enormously.

Possibility of prisoner exchange with the government

The FARC-EP have demanded a mechanism for prisoner exchange, which would involve the liberation of 45 political and military hostages (not those civilians held for extortion or ransom, which may number in the thousands) that the group currently holds, in exchange for the release of at least 500 jailed criminal rebels. During the duration of the DMZ negotiations, an exchange took place.

However the current demands of the group include a DMZ including two towns (Florida and Pradera) in the strategic region of Valle del Cauca, where much of the current military action against them has taken place, plus this region is also an important way of transporting drugs to the Pacific coast. This demand has been rejected by the Colombian government based on previous experience during the 2002 peace talks.

The Uribe administration initially ruled out any negotiation with FARC that did not include a cease-fire, and instead pushed for rescue operations, many of which have traditionally been successful when carried out by the police’s GAULA anti-kidnapping group in urban settings (as opposed to the mountains and jungles where the FARC keeps most hostages), according to official statistics.

However, relatives of most FARC kidnapping victims have come to strongly reject any potential rescue operations, in part due to the tragic death of the governor of Antioquia department, Guillermo Gaviria, his peace advisor and several soldiers, kidnapped by the FARC during a peace march (protected by the UN symbol) in 2003. The governor and the others were shot at close range by the FARC when the military made presence in the jungle nearby.

In August 2004, after several false starts and in the face of mounting pressure from relatives, former Liberal presidents Alfonso López Michelsen and Ernesto Samper and, as shown in recent Colombian polls the growing majority popular backing in favor of a humanitarian exchange (more than 60% would consider Colombia a “better country” if the exchange took place), the Uribe government seems to have become more flexible in its position, announcing that it has given the FARC a formal proposal on July 23, in which it offers to free 50 to 60 jailed rebels in exchange for the political and military hostages held by the FARC (not including ransom kidnapees as well, as the government had earlier demanded).

The government would make the first move, releasing insurgents charged or condemned for rebellion and either allowing them to leave the country or to stay and join the state’s reinsertion program, and then the FARC would release the hostages in its possession, including Íngrid Betancourt. The proposal would have been carried out with the backing and support of the French and Swiss governments, which publicly supported it once it was revealed.

The move has been signaled as potentially positive by several relatives of the victims and political figures.

FARC released a communique, dated August 20 but apparently published publicly by August 22, in which they denied having received the proposal earlier through the mediation of Switzerland (as the government had stated) and, while making note of the fact that a proposal had been made by Uribe’s administration and that it hoped that common ground could eventually be reached, criticized it because they believe that any deal should allow them to decide how many of its jailed comrades should be freed and that they should be able to return to rebel ranks.

On September 5, what has been considered as a sort of FARC counter proposal was revealed in the Colombian press. The FARC-EP is proposing that the government declare a “security” or “guarantee” zone for 72 hours in order for official insurgent and state negotiators to meet face to face and directly discuss a prisoner exchange. Government military forces would not have to leave the area but to concentrate in their available garrisons, in a similar move to that agreed by the Ernesto Samper administration (1994-1998) which allowed the rebel group to free some captured police and military. In addition, the Colombian government’s peace commissioner would have to make an official public pronouncement regarding this proposal.

If the zone was created, the first day would be used for travelling to the chosen location, the second to discuss the matter, and the third for the guerrillas to abandon the area. The government would be able to choose the location for the “security zone” among one of the municipalities of Peñas Coloradas, El Rosal or La Tuna, all in Caquetá department, where the FARC has clear rebel influence.

It is considered that this proposal is also seeking to reduce the pressure that recent military offensives may be exerting against the insurgents in Caquetá, Guaviare and Putumayo departments, and president Uribe stated that the “security zone” would demoralize the military, since they should free a region that has been fought fiercely. Also, the FARC has been known to change their mind easily and they seem to be using the kidnapped families' hopes of freedom to put the government under civilian pressure. Relatives of hostages currently in rebel hands have considered that both the FARC and government proposals may represent the biggest public advance in the last couple of years regarding their plight.

On September 14, the FARC released an official communique in which they denied that the 72-hour proposal came from their organization, and instead asked for the demilitarization of San Vicente del Caguán and Cartagena del Chairá in Caquetá department in order to discuss the prisoner exchange, without any concrete time limit. The document also mentions that several hostages had to be moved to other locations, due to increased military activity in the south. The FARC again stated that, while they are open to discuss a prisoner exchange with the current representatives of the government, they will only consider opening peace negotiations with a different administration.

On December 2, the government announced the pardon of 23 FARC prisoners, to encourage a reciprocal move. The FARC ignored the gesture, and the 23 rebels released were all of low rank and had promised not to rejoin the armed struggle. The government is hoping to win the release of dozens of hostages, including three US citizens. In November, the FARC rejected a proposal to hand over 60 (number at the time) of its captives in exchange for 50 guerrillas imprisoned by the government.

In a communique dated November 28 but released publicly on December 3, the FARC-EP declared that they are no longer insisting on the demilitarization of San Vicente del Caguán and Cartagena del Chairá as a pre-condition for the negotiation of the prisoner exchange, but instead that of Florida and Pradera in the Valle department. They state that this area would lie outside the “area of influence” of both their Southern and Eastern Blocks (the FARC’s strongest) and that of the military operations being carried out by the Uribe administration.

They request security guarantees both for the displacement of their negotiators and that of the guerrillas that would be freed, which are specifically stated to number as many as 500 or more, and ask the Catholic Church to coordinate the participation of the United Nations and other countries in the process.

The FARC-EP also mention in the communique that Simón Trinidad’s extradition, which has been approved by the Supreme Court but still lacks the president’s go-ahead, would be a serious obstacle to reaching a prisoner exchange agreement with the government.

On December 17, 2004, the Colombian government authorized Trinidad’s extradition to the United States, but stated that the measure could be revoked if the FARC released all 59 (number at the time) political and military hostages in its possession before December 30. The FARC rejected the demand.

Partial hostage releases and escapes

On March 25, 2006, after a public announcement made weeks earlier, the FARC-EP released two captured policemen at La Dorada, Putumayo. The release took place some southwest of Bogotá, near the Ecuadorean border. The Red Cross said the two were released in good health. Military operations in the area and bad weather had prevented the release from occurring one week earlier.

In a separate series of events, civilian hostage and German citizen Lothar Hintze was released by FARC on April 4, 2006, after five years in captivity. Hintze had been kidnapped for extortion purposes, and his wife had paid three ransom payments without any result.

One hostage, Julian Ernesto Guevera Castro died of an unknown illness on January 28, 2006. He was a police captain and was captured on November 1, 1998. As of January 2008, the FARC had not returned his body to his family.

Another civilian hostage, Fernando Araújo, later named Minister of Foreign Relations and formerly Development Minister, escaped his captors on December 31, 2006. Araújo had to walk through the jungle for five days before being found by troops in the hamlet of San Agustin, north of Bogotá. He was kidnapped on December 5, 2000 while exercising in the Caribbean coastal city of Cartagena. He was reunited with his family on January 5, 2007.

Another hostage, Jhon Frank Pinchao a low ranking police officer, escaped his captors on April 28, 2007 after nine years in captivity. He was reunited with his family on May 15, 2007.

On January 10, 2008, former vice presidential candidate Clara Rojas and former congresswoman Consuelo Gonzalez were freed after six years in captivity.

On January 31, 2008, the FARC announced that they would release civilian hostages Luis Eladio Perez Bonilla, Gloria Polanco, and Orlando Beltran Cuellar to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as a humanitarian gesture. All of them were kidnapped in 2001. On February 27, 2008, the three hostages and Jorge Eduardo Gechem Turbay (who was added to the list due to his poor health) were released by FARC. With the authorization of the Colombian government and the participation of the International Red Cross, a Venezuelan helicopter transported them to Caracas from San Jose del Guaviare.

29 political hostages are currently being held by the FARC.

Murder of 11 hostage lawmakers

On June 28, 2007, the FARC reported the death of 11 out of 12 provincial deputies from the Valle del Cauca Department whom the guerrillas had kidnapped in 2002. The guerrillas claimed that the deputies had been killed by crossfire during an attack by an “unidentified military group.” The Colombian government has stated that government forces had not made any rescue attempts and that the FARC executed the hostages.

The guerrillas did not report any other casualties on either side and delayed months before permitting the Red Cross to recover the remains. According to the government, the guerrillas delayed turning over the corpses in order to let decomposition hide evidence of how they died. The Red Cross reported that the corpses had been washed and their clothing changed before burial, hiding evidence of how they were killed. The Red Cross also reported that the deputies had been killed by multiple close-range shots, many of them in the back of the victims, and even two by shots to the head.

Death of Raúl Reyes

On March 1 2008, the Colombian military attacked a FARC camp inside Ecuador’s territory, resulting in the death of over 20 people, with at least 16 of them being FARC guerillas. Raúl Reyes was among the killed, along with at least 16 of his fellow guerrillas. Raúl Reyes was FARC’s international spokesman and considered to be FARC’s second-in-command. This incident led to a breakdown in diplomatic relations between Ecuador and Colombia, and between Venezuela and Colombia. Ecuador condemned the attack.

This is considered the biggest blow against FARC in its more than four decades of existence. This event was quickly followed by the death of Ivan Rios, another member of FARC's top leadership, less than a week later, by the hands of his own forces as a result of heavy Colombian military pressure.

Death of Manuel Marulanda Vélez

Manuel Marulanda Vélez died on March 26, 2008 after a heart attack. His death would be kept a secret, until Colombian magazine, Revista Semana, published an interview with Colombian defense minister Juan Manuel Santos on May 24, 2008 in which Santos mentions the death of Manuel Marulanda Vélez. The news was confirmed by FARC-commander 'Timochenko' on Venezuelan based television station Telesur on May 25, 2008. 'Timochenko' announced the new commander in chief is 'Alfonso Cano' After speculations in several national and international media about the 'softening up' of the FARC and the announcement of Colombian President Álvaro Uribe that several FARC-leaders were ready to surrender and liberate hostages, the secretariat of the FARC sent out a communique emphasizing the death of their founder would not change their approach towards the hostages or the humanitarian agreement.

Operation Jaque

On July 2, 2008, under a Colombian military operation called Operation Jaque, the FARC was tricked by the Colombian Government into releasing 15 hostages to Colombian Intelligence agents disguised as rebels in a helicopter rescue. Military intelligence agents infiltrated the guerrilla ranks and led the local commander in charge of the hostages, Gerardo Aguilar Ramírez, alias Cesar, to believe they were going to take them by helicopter to Alfonso Cano, the guerrillas' supreme leader. The hostages rescued included Íngrid Betancourt (former presidential Candidate), U.S. military contractors Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes, and Keith Stansell, as well as eleven Colombian police officers and soldiers. The commander, Cesar and one other rebel were taken into custody by agents without incident after boarding the helicopter.

Immediately after the hostage rescue, Colombian military forces cornered the rest of FARC's 1st Front, the unit which had held the hostages captive. Colombian forces have so far elected not to attack the 1st Front, but is instead offering them amnesty if they'll surrender.

Colombia’s Program for Humanitarian Attention for the Demobilized announced in August that 339 members of Colombia’s rebel groups surrendered and handed in their weapons in July, including 282 guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.


Protests against FARC

On February 4, 2008, several rallies were held in Colombia and in other locations around the world, criticizing FARC and demanding the liberation of hundreds of hostages. The protests were originally organized through the popular social networking site Facebook. According to the Washington Post, millions of people in Colombia and thousands worldwide participated in the rallies.



FARC has financed itself through kidnapping ransoms, extortion, and drug trafficking which includes but it is not limited to coca plant harvesting, protection of their crops, processing of coca leaves to manufacture cocaine, and drug trade protection. Businesses operating in rural areas, including agricultural, oil, and mining interests, were required to pay “vaccines” (monthly fees) which “protected” them from subsequent attacks and kidnappings. An additional, albeit less lucrative, source of revenue was highway blockades where guerrillas stopped motorists and buses in order to confiscate jewelry and money, which were especially prevalent during the presidencies of Ernesto Samper (1994-1998) and that of Andrés Pastrana (1998-2002).

Over time, fewer recruits joined the organization for ideological reasons, debatably as a means to escape poverty and unemployment.

In 1991, a small group of guerrillas invaded the Brazilian side of the jungle, and attacked an army post near the Traira River, in the first and only confirmed clash with the Brazilian army to date. Three soldiers were killed and some weapons stolen. A few days later a Brazilian commando struck back, killing seven guerrillas. There has also been alleged FARC activity in Panama, Peru, Venezuela, and Ecuador where in 1993 they ambushed a group of military and police who were training with boats on the Putumayo river 11 Ecuadorian policemen died.

By 1998, some studies showed that FARC’s ranks could have swelled to approximately some 15,000 guerrilla fighters, up from an estimated 7,500 in 1992, and effectively were in a position to control and freely operate through large rural areas of the country (the high-end estimates being about 40%-50%, according to some analysts). Other observers would dispute the current applicability of this assessment in the face of increased U.S. aid and training to the Colombia state and its military.

In 1999 NYSE Chairman Richard Grasso flew into a demilitarized region of Colombia’s southern jungle for his talks with a member of the general secretariat of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

Drug trafficking

The FARC have ties to narcotics traffickers, principally through the provision of armed protection and a form of “taxation” over drugs crops and their profits. During the mid- to late-1990s, several drug war analysts have stated that the FARC would have become increasingly involved in the drug trade, controlling farming, production and exportation of cocaine in those areas of the country under their influence. This claim has been made by U.S. and Colombian authorities.

Brazilian druglord Luiz Fernando da Costa (aka Fernandinho Beira-Mar) was captured in Colombia on April 20, 2001 while in the company of FARC-EP guerrillas. Colombian and Brazilian authorities have claimed that this constitutes proof of further cooperation between the FARC-EP and the druglord based on the exchange of weapons for cocaine. Fernandinho himself and the FARC-EP have denied this. FARC itself has claimed that in their areas of influence the growth of coca plants by farmers would be taxed on the same basis as any other crop, though there would be higher cash profits stemming from coca production and exportation.

In August 2006, Chilean authorities seized more than 108 kilograms of cocaine and captured twelve members of an international drug trafficking ring, which they described as being led by an unnamed Colombian in Panama who received and distributed the ring’s profits to finance FARC activities.

Modus operandi

The FARC-EP has employed vehicle bombings, gas cylinder bombs, assassinations, landmines, kidnapping, extortion, hijacking, guerrilla and conventional military action against Colombian political, military, economic as well as civilian targets, to attack those it considers a threat to its movement. It has not been uncommon for civilians to die or suffer forced displacement, directly or indirectly, due to many of these actions. The FARC-EPs April 16 and April 18 2005 gas cylinder attacks on the town of Toribió, Cauca led to the displacement of more than two thousand indigenous inhabitants and the destruction of two dozen civilian houses. A February 2005 report from the United Nations' High Commissioner for Human Rights mentioned that, during 2004, “FARC-EP continued to commit grave breaches [of human rights] such as murders of protected persons, torture and hostage-taking, which affected many civilians, including women, returnees, boys and girls, and ethnic groups.


The FARC’s tactic of employing a type of improvised mortars made from gas canisters (or cylinders) as explosives, a weapon it often uses when launching attacks at towns and sites in them that they consider as military objectives (such as police stations), has a high degree of inaccuracy. Resulting targeting difficulties have caused these weapons to often level civilian houses and/or harm civilians, such as the case in Toribío on April 24 2005, and the earlier 2002 attack on a church in Bojayá which killed 119 civilians.

Attacks on civilian population

Human Rights Watch considers that “the FARC-EPs continued use of gas cylinder mortars shows this armed group’s flagrant disregard for lives of civilians...gas cylinder bombs are impossible to aim with accuracy and, as a result, frequently strike civilian objects and cause avoidable civilian casualties."

Murder of three Americans

In March 1999, the FARC-EP killed three U.S. Native American rights activists in Venezuelan territory after kidnapping them in Colombia. After initial denials and claims that these U.S. citizens were CIA agents, the FARC-EP subsequently admitted that this action was a mistake and claimed that it would internally punish those responsible.

Human Rights Watch has criticized FARC for not applying any serious punishment to those involved in the incident since "the two guerrillas who killed Americans Terence Freitas, Lahe'ena'e Gay, and Ingrid Washinawatok on March 5, 1999, were eventually sentenced to construct fifty meters of trench and clear land.


The FARC-EP is responsible for most of the ransom kidnappings in Colombia. The group’s kidnapping targets are usually those that it considers wealthy landowners and businessmen, the police and military, as well as foreign tourists and entrepreneurs, and prominent international and domestic officials. Colombian and international NGOs have documented that in recent years the FARC has also resorted to kidnapping people from lower income sectors (that is, from the Colombian middle class downward), in particular when they are thought to be collaborators or relatives of the FARC’s enemies. It is argued that many of these kidnappings have taken place with little to no regard for the target’s age, gender or health conditions.

In February 2005, Juan José Martínez Vega, also known as “Gentil Alvis Patiño” or “El Chigüiro”, was arrested by Venezuelan authorities during a rescue operation that freed the mother of baseball player Ugueth Urbina. According to authorities, Martínez Vega had some 600 to 650 kilograms of cocaine on location. Colombian authorities identified him as a member of FARC and accused him of exchanging cocaine for weapons in the black market. Martínez Vega had several false identity papers, including some which identified him as Gentil Albis Patiño, which delayed his initial identification. Eventually Venezuela confirmed him to be “El Chigüiro” and subsequently extradited him to Colombia.

Arms trafficking

During the first quarter of 2005, joint intelligence and police operations by law enforcement authorities from Honduras and Colombia resulted in the seizure of a number of AK-47 and M16 assault rifles, M60 machineguns, rocket launchers and ammunition cartridges that were stated to be part of illegal weapons shipments from criminal gangs and black market dealers in Central America to the FARC in exchange for drugs, allegedly for two thousand kilos of cocaine. Ethalson Mejia Hoy, a Colombian who was illegally released from Honduran custody in July 2004 24 hours after his arrest, was named as one of the key figures in such an arms-for-drugs traffic. It was reported that “Police intelligence were monitoring communications between two 14th Front guerrillas when they heard 'the package' being discussed. In actuality the package consisted of sufficient weapons to arm a minimum of 180 combatants." Arms dealers in the region were also accused of providing similar weapons to right wing paramilitaries in Colombia.

Organization and structure

See also: FARC-EP Chain of Command


The FARC's force is usually estimated to be at around 6,000 to 8,000 strong, organized in more than 80 fronts.

From approximately 1949 to 1964, during the “La Violencia” period of Colombian history, the FARC’s precursor was a small Communist guerrilla band situated in and around Marquetalia. In May 1964, the Colombian Army retook Marquetalia. The rebels scattered, reorganized, and in 1966, the FARC was formally created as a slightly enlargened guerrilla entity (estimated at 350 members).

During the 1970s, the FARC kept a low profile by staying inside its traditional heartland areas, but the Seventh Guerrilla Conference in 1982 represented a significant change in outlook, as the FARC changed its structure.

Manuel Marulanda was the organization’s leader until his death, subsequently replaced by Alfonso Cano. Jacobo Arenas was the FARC’s main ideologue and academic (died August 10, 1990). From the early 1980s, the FARC added ranks and unit badges to uniforms, and it also introduced a new inventory system for firearms and ammunition, in addition to providing new weapons and technology for its militants. Jacobo Arenas was probably central to planning the logo and flag for FARC-EP, which is used to this day.

Unit structure

These are the units the FARC uses:

  • Squad: the basic unit consisting of 12 combatants;
  • Guerrilla, a unit consisting of two squads;
  • Company (Compañía), two Guerrillas (that is, 48 personnel, a lower level of command than a company in most armies);
  • Column, two or more companies;
  • Front, comprising more than one column;
  • Block of Fronts, consisting of five or more fronts — there are seven such blocks;
  • Central High Command (Estado Mayor Central).

The FARC believes that since the early 1980s it has met the requirements for the recognition of a “state of belligerence” contained within the Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949 and additional protocols. Their opponents and the Colombian government claim that the practice of civilian kidnapping for ransom and the tax levied on coca crop buyers makes it an illegitimate army and also point to a wide rejection of the guerrilla policies in national surveys.

The FARC-EP is organized into seven main operational regions and “block” is the name given to each FARC military command inside one of the main operational regions. According to the FARC’s military operational strategies, which take into account factors such as the size of the area and its population, each block is composed of between 5 to 15 fronts.

In addition, there are various independent, elite or mobile fronts attached to some blocks normally under the direct control of the FARC’s high command. The FARC also maintains various “Military intelligence units”.

The FARC-EP maintains a Military Academy and a two-month basic military training program, mainly involving infantry tactics. After basic training, guerrilla fighters are further assessed and have evaluation and performance records. After some time, better candidates may do advanced training.


Ranks (in ascending order of seniority):

Equivalent to "other ranks":

  • Squad Deputy commander
  • Squad Commander
  • Guerrilla Deputy commander
  • Guerrilla Commander
  • Company Deputy commander

Equivalent to officers:

  • Company Commander
  • Column Deputy commander
  • Column Commander
  • Front Deputy commander
  • Front Commander
  • Block Deputy commander

Equivalent to general officers:

It should be remembered that a FARC company is a lower level of command (of approximately 50 men) than a company in traditional army organization.

See also


Further reading

  • Diario de la resistencia de Marquetalia. Jacobo Arenas, Ediciones Abejón Mono, 1972 (Espanol)
  • Schmid, Alex Peter, and Crelinsten, Ronald D., Western Responses to Terrorism. Routledge, 1993, ISBN 0714640905
  • Kline, H. F., Colombia: Democracy Under Assault, Harper Collins, 1995, ISBN 0813310717
  • Maullin, Richard L., The Fall of Dumar Aljure, a Colombian Guerrilla and Bandit. The Rand Corporation, 1968
  • Osterling, Jorge P., Democracy in Colombia: Clientelist Politics and Guerrilla Warfare, Transaction Publishers, 1989, ISBN 0887382290
  • "Drug Control: US Counternarcotics Efforts in Colombia Face Continuing Challenges", United States General Accounting Office, February 1998
  • "Colombia: Guerrilla Economics", The Economist, January 13, 1996
  • The Suicide of Colombia, Foreign Policy Research Institute, September 7, 1998
  • "Las FARC lamentan expectativas exageradas", El Nuevo Herald, April 22, 1999
  • Killing Peace: Colombia’s Conflict and the Failure of U.S. Intervention, Garry M. Leech, Information Network of the Americas (INOTA), ISBN 0-9720384-0-X, 2002
  • War in Colombia: Made in U.S.A., edited by Rebeca Toledo, Teresa Gutierrez, Sara Flounders and Andy McInerney, ISBN 0-9656916-9-1, 2003
  • The Profits of Extermination: How U.S. Corporate Power is Destroying Colombia, Aviva Chomsky and Francisco Ramírez Cuellar, Common Courage Press, ISBN 1-56751-322-0, 2005

External links

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