Farc's Revolution is Over
(International Relations and Security Network 07/7/2008)
Colombian Defense Minister Juan Santos announced on 2 July the liberation of 15 hostages from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), including that of French-Colombian Ingrid Betancourt. It is the best news anyone has reported on Colombia in a generation. Her release, and that of three Americans and 11 Colombians, is tantamount to the end of the FARC as we know it.
With the freedom of Betancourt and the three American hostages, FARC has lost its highly prized bargaining chips. Some 700 other hostages remain, but they are now little more than mouths to feed. Rather than continue to lose face, FARC leaders should lighten their load, regroup and consider their new reality.
They have had a tough year. FARC founder, Pedro Antonio Marin, also known as Manuel Marulanda, is dead. Four front commanders and three secretariat members, including FARC's political mastermind Raul Reyes, have also been killed. A tough, and well-respected mid-level leader, known as Karina, defected and is talking. According to her, FARC is "crumbling."
Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro have told FARC to release their remaining 700 hostages and consider peace negotiations.
FARC's current leader, Alonso Cano, is not known for his grandiose ideas or strong political beliefs. He is a soldier and someone more likely to look at peace as a pragmatic alternative to the current logistics and funding struggles associated with maintaining the remaining 10,000 or so FARC guerrillas. A peace process could allow Cano to reduce his numbers significantly and reorganize FARC into a much smaller, yet more effective drug smuggling organization.
But peace will not come without at least a little more blood. Three days after the hostages' release, the Colombian army seized just over a ton of explosives in a small town 40 kilometers east of Bogota. FARC had planned to bomb specific points inside the capital city. It is possible other such plans are underway.
It is also likely FARC will make a brazen, perhaps desperate, attempt to recover what they lost in Betancourt and the three Americans. The kidnapping of a high-profile individual, or a group of such VIPs would save some face, but it will not recover what FARC has already lost.
Operational security has clearly been breached. With the help of US code-breakers, the Colombian army has decrypted FARC communications. Some reports even suggest that the rebel army must send runners from one front to another to relay messages, a time-consuming process. Karina has said she had been out of contact with her high command for over two years.
Satellite phones are no longer an option, especially since the phone Raul Reyes used acted as a homing beacon to locate his secret camp just across the border in Ecuador.
FARC has also lost international political support from Chavez and Castro, its two most outspoken supporters. Chavez will likely not make any public overture to support the FARC again.
Its support base inside Colombia has long been lost. The guerrilla army clearly struggles with attrition, facilitating the infiltration of Colombian commandos with enough swagger to wear Che Guevara t-shirts during their rescue operation. But they earned it. Not one shot was reportedly fired.
The FARC of old, of even two years ago, is forever lost. What was once a formidable, organized and confident rebel army has ebbed to nearly half its size and operational strength.
Its high-water mark will never again be reached, a reality that possibly has FARC leader Alfonso Cano considering options for downsizing into a smaller group, one specifically focused on the drug trade and avoiding any confrontation with the Colombian military or government installations.
What was once a glorious rebel army with a clear socialist conscious came relatively close to its ultimate goal, overthrowing the Colombian government. Now it must embrace its reality as simply another Colombian drug smuggling organization.
Those FARC leaders who remain tied to a political ideology would do well to heed Castro and Chavez's call: Go home. Those motivated by wealth and the power associated with the tens of millions earned a year from exporting cocaine to Mexico and through Venezuela to Europe will remain in the jungle.
Betancourt's release is the best news Colombia has had in nearly a generation. The moral victory she represents is one Colombians will not soon forget. Lost forever is any romantic notion of FARC and what it represents: That died with Marulanda.
What remains is a drug smuggling organization, along with the 300 or so others that operate in Colombia. There is now a clear choice for what remains of FARC guerrillas: Turn yourself in or dig deeper into the drug trade.
The revolution is over.