July 3, 2008


Colombia: The rise and fall of Farc (Jeremy McDermott, 03/07/2008, Daily Telegraph)

[I]n 1982, spurred by civil wars in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala, the Farc fundamentally changed their purpose and set out to take power and impose a Marxist regime in the Colombia.

They also decided to use drugs trafficking as a source of revenue.

As the drugs cartels of Pablo Escobar in Medellin and the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers in Cali began to export hundreds of tons of cocaine, drug crop cultivation increased in Colombia.

And with the growth in coca crops came the growth of the Farc. [...]

Backed by money from Washington and in the post-9/11 environment, Colombia increased its defence spending, offered rewards for those prepared to desert the Farc or deliver intelligence on the rebel group.

Tens of million of pounds have been handed over to informers, and this year alone there have been 1,000 desertions from the warring factions.

March this year showed how vulnerable the Farc had become. Raul Reyes, a member of the organisation's ruling body, the Secretariat, was killed as he slept in a rebel camp within Ecuadorean territory.

The Colombian air force bombed the camp, sparking a major international incident which is still unresolved.

A week later another member of the Secretariat, "Ivan Rios" was killed by his own bodyguard, who went on to claim the bounty the government was offering.

Then the founder and leader of the rebel army, Marulanda, died at the end of March, aged 78. Never had the Farc been without his leadership and guidance in 44 years of fighting.

Now with this latest rescue the Farc are shown to be in a chaotic state, their command, control and communications shattered, many units isolated and feeling abandoned in the face of army offensives.

...thanks to Uribe and W.

Uribe's hostage triumph (The Economist, 7/03/08)

This time the army relied on trickery rather than surprise or force. A former hostage who escaped last year supplied details of the jungle camps where the hostages were being held in the remote south-eastern departments of Guaviare and Vaupés. Army intelligence agents, posing as senior FARC members, communicated with the guerrilla commander guarding the hostages. They gave him a false order purporting to be from the FARC’s new leader, Alfonso Cano, that the hostages were to be taken to a helicopter sent by a humanitarian organisation—mimicking the arrangements when six other captives were released earlier this year after mediation by Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez.

Once on board the helicopter, the two guerrilla escorts were overpowered and the army agents, some dressed in Che Guevara T-shirts, broke the news to the hostages that they were flying to an army base and freedom. “We couldn’t believe it. The helicopter nearly fell because we jumped for joy,” said Ms Betancourt.

The operation is the latest of several devastating blows suffered this year by the FARC, which mixes an antiquated Marxism-Leninism with drug-trafficking and racketeering. [...]

The United States supplies Colombia with military aid and training. It has given particular help in intercepting FARC communications. Juan Manuel Santos, the defence minister, said that he had co-ordinated the rescue plan with American officials.

The FARC claimed to want to swap its trophy hostages (who at one point numbered around 60, including Colombian politicians and military officers) for jailed guerrillas. But e-mails from Mr Reyes’s computer, seen by The Economist, show that their real aim was to use them to embarrass Mr Uribe politically and to gain international recognition.

They wanted the president to “demilitarise” a swathe of territory to allow talks. Mr Uribe was resolutely against that: during past peace talks the FARC used a similar enclave for recruiting and training while continuing to kill and kidnap. The guerrillas also want the European Union to drop them from a list of terrorist organisations—an aim that Mr Chávez supported, calling for their recognition as a “belligerent force”.

Mr Uribe faced much pressure to bow to the FARC’s demands, both from the hostages’ families and, less understandably, from France. (At Mr Sarkozy’s request he freed a jailed guerrilla leader who has returned to action.) Ms Betancourt’s mother was particularly bitter in her criticism of the president during her tireless campaign for her daughter’s release. But Ingrid Betancourt was full of praise for Mr Uribe and for the “impeccable” army operation. She said the biggest blow suffered by the FARC had been when the president succeeded in changing the constitution to allow him to run for—and win by a landslide—a second term in 2006.

That statement must have been particularly sweet for Mr Uribe.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at July 3, 2008 6:37 PM
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