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Las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias De Colombia History Essay

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In 1948, Colombian revolutionist Jorge Gaitan was brutally killed in Bogotá, Colombia; his death sparked the rise of organized armed groups known as the Liberal guerillas. Many years of oppression and a lack of equal distribution of wealth in the rural areas was what helped to create the notorious organization known as Las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, or better known as FARC. This group was first established in the early 60s as a "military wing of the Colombian Communist Party." Manuel Marulanda was credited for being the founder of the group. At first he had a peaceful ideology; all he wanted was fair treatment for his people and the right to protect the natural resources from their land. Unfortunately, the group felt that numerous rallies expressing their frustration did not have much of an effect on politicians and other influential people. Thus, the organization felt they had to resort to more violent means. The organization began kidnapping and murdering people, however they needed financial profits to continue their expansion. The FARC sought an easy opportunity to gain millions of dollars for their organization by drug trafficking. At the beginning their network was only worth a few pesos, but eventually this grew exponentially as the U.S. Department of State estimated they were making as much as $300 million a year. What was first a movement for the people turned into a major money making business and greed became the fuel that kept the organization going. Numerous efforts from the U.S. government and Colombian authorities have greatly helped put a stop to this organization. Although, the FARC is still active they do not have as much of an influence as they once did years ago.

Introduction

The origin of Colombia's war problem was a result of "Liberal and Conservative parties taking the land of peasants in order to expand their properties and be able to industrialize their holdings and compete in the merging global coffee market" (Dudley, 2006, p. 5). The peasants were living in injustice, but with no political help it was even harder for them to request back their lands and defend themselves against the richer and powerful upper class. In the mid-1940s Jorge Gaitan, a well-educated labor minister and politician, became the spokesperson these poor civilians had prayed for. This also meant Gaitan would become the enemy and target of Liberal and Conservative leaders. In 1948, the voice of the poor was once again shut silent as Gaitan was killed outside his office in Bogotá; his death caused great mayhem in the country's most popular city. Thousands died in the violent disarray. This incident resulted in the rise of organized armed groups known as the Liberal guerillas. "The drive of the powerful for more wealth and power brings violence to the weak. The weak, in turn carry out violent terror against their perceived oppressors" (Nassar, 2005, chap. 2). Perhaps it was ignorance or the Colombian government did not see these guerillas as a threat, since their actions became unnoticed for years to come.

Socio-Historical Context of Terrorist Organization

Presently FARC-EP is involved in the unending Colombian armed conflict; a civil war which began in 1966 and that was triggered by La Violencia (The Violence). La Violencia was a civil clash that took place from 1948-1958 between supporters of the two major political parties of Colombia: the Colombian Liberal Party and the Colombian Conservative Party (Roldan, 2002). Historians state that this traumatic event was sparked by the murder of Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, which evidently lead to nearly 200,000 deaths during the 10 year agonizing period.

Jorge Gaitan was apparently important to a particular set of Colombian supporters. Simons (2004) tells us that Gaitan was one of the most charismatic leaders of the Liberal Party, one who supported the "little people" and who sought to protect them from the discrimination and injustice of the wealthy. In 1953, during the mess of all things, the Colombian government tried to negotiate with the combatants. Some accepted but others fled to the outskirts of the country to gain further strength. Jacobo Arenas, who is to become one of the ideological leaders of FARC-EP, is sent by the Colombian Communist Party to help strengthen these isolated groups and form guerillas (Roldan, 2002).

By 1958 a majority of civilian rule was re-established after moderate Conservatives and Liberals united forming La Frente Nacional de Colombia (The National Front). Nevertheless, several communist groups in isolation continued to grow stronger and for a short time the Colombian government seemed to ignore them (Dudley, 2004). In 1964 conservatives began to take notice in the guerilla threats, so the Colombian National Army was ordered to dismantle such opposing forces. The communist guerillas retaliated by forming a group called El Bloque Sur (The Southern Block), the name due to their strength of formation in the south-eastern rural parts of Colombia (Dudley). El Bloque Sur later renamed itself Las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). The initials EP were later added to amend Ejercito del Pueblo (The Peoples Army) in 1982; which would symbolize change from guerilla warfare to conventional warfare.

By the mid 60s' FARC-EP (simply FARC during those years) was recognized as the military wing of the Colombian Communist Party. The new military wing was the largest movement against the Colombian Government, its actions and policies (Alapa, 2000). Jacobo Arenas and Manuel Marulanda, the main leader of FARC-EP, had full control of this new power. Along that era, La Union Patriotica - UP (The Patriotic Union) was also developed. This union was a leftist political party founded by FARC-EP and the Colombian Communist Party. Its purpose was to become a peace negotiator between the guerillas and the conservative administration, but the Union's power declined after various military efforts (Dudley, 2004).

On August 10, 1990 Jacobo Arenas dies, possibly due to natural causes. His death was very significant to FARC-EP since he was the main principle that had transformed the dispersed guerillas forces into a belligerent rebel army (Alapa, 2000). In 2000, FARC-EP founded the political structure Partido Comunista Clandestino Colombiano - PCCC (Clandestine Colombian Communist Party) after breaking away officially from the Colombian Communist Party. In 2005, President Alvaro Uribe's Plan Patriota, a joint effort between the US and Colombian government, is commenced to put an end against FARC-EP and other Colombian terrorist forces (Simons, 2004). FARC-EP retaliates with further attacks.

March 26, 2008 Manuel Marulanda dies of a heart attack but his death is kept secret until May 24. The death of FARC-EP's founder would not change their efforts. His leadership was replaced by Alfonso Cano, currently the main leader of FARC-EP (Alapa, 2000).

Presently FARC-EP remains as the largest insurgent group in the Americas. FARC-EP is a violent non-state actor, described as a terrorist group by the Colombian government, the U.S. Department of State, the Canadian government, and the European Union. But other governments such as the Venezuelan government are less hostile towards FARC-EP. President Hugo Chavez rejects their classification as a terrorist group (Reyes, 2009). Many political heads state that FARC-EP's power is only declining due to the fall of its main leaders, but within the past few months their threat seems apparent, especially after the kidnapping and death of Governor Luis Francisco Cuellar in December 2009.

Description of Terrorist Organization

FARC-EP came about due to the turmoil and fighting in the 1950's between liberal and conservative militias. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia was founded in 1964 in Colombia by the Colombian Communist Party in response to the communist's controlled rural area. FARC-EP is the oldest, largest and best equipped terrorist group in Latin American. It is well known throughout the word for the guerrilla activities and marxist beliefs.

"Today the FARC-EP is a rural movement composed of more than sixty separate cells, or frentes, proudly claiming at least eighteen thousand dedicated supporters" (Welna & Gallon, 2007, p. 28). In the fight of the United States against terrorism, the U.S. Department of State classified the FARC-EP as a terrorist group on their September 2001 report on Foreign Terrorism. It is through American efforts and cooperation from Colombian officials that we have come to learn much of the information we know regarding this group's structure and how it operates under a hierarchal chain of command consisting of a Central General Staff of seven secretariats. The structure of FARC-EP combines militaristic rank, structure and ideology. The lower rank fighters are not paid; they are forced to live under extreme weather conditions. Most recruits that join are poor peasants between the ages of 16-30. Many individuals join because of poverty, unemployment, family instability and vengeance, as well. This terrorist organization operates in jungles of the southeast and plains at the base of the Andes. FARC's structure is very similar to any militaristic organization composing of different ranks within squads, commands and guerillas. FARC-EP maintains a military academy and a two month basic training programs which teaches new recruits infantry tactics. After basic training stronger guerilla fighters move to advanced training.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia receive most of its funding which is estimated to about $300 million per year in the 1980's and that amount rose to $500 Million in the late 1990's (Nacos, 2006; US State Department, 2002; Harmon, 2008) . FARC-EP makes money from taxation of the illegal drug trade, ransom kidnappings, bank robberies and extortion of large landowners. Just from the illegal drug trade alone, it is estimated they earn between sixty and one hundred million dollars per year. In the beginning, FARC-EP was not involved in drug cultivation, trafficking or transport. Instead it gained profit by taxation on the production that took place in the territories they controlled in exchange for protecting the growers and establishing there new laws in those areas. During the 1990's is when FARC-EP started trafficking and productions of illegal drugs, which provided a large portion of its funding. In 2006 the U.S. Department of Justice indicated that FARC-EP was also responsible for supplying more than half of the world's cocaine. FARC-EP is also responsible for many ransom kidnappings in Colombia. Targets are often wealthy land owners, businessmen, police, military and foreign tourists.

In 1976, the Dutch consul was taken hostage in the city of Cali and freed after the $1 million ransom was collected. After a $250,000 payoff and 22 years in captivity, a U.S. Corps member was released in 1999 (U.S. State Department, 2007). After much negotiation, ex-presidential candidate Ingrid Bentancourt was freed by the government after being held hostage for six years. The FARC's sadistic attacks and large net worth has made them powerful and often compared as the Hezbollah of the eastern hemisphere. Their wealth has allowed them to obtain guns that not even the military officials own. The M79 grenade launchers and the RPG-7 rocket-propelled grenades are just some of the weapons the FARC-EP are known for using. There are also claims that this group has ties with Cuba, who has provided them with advice, guns, and at times medical assistance. Their strong activities alarmed the U.S. government, which spent over $1.3 billion in aid in 2000 to help Colombia fight the war against "drugs and guerillas." This made Colombia the third highest receiver of help after Egypt and Israel (Dudley, 2006).

Socioeconomic inequality, sustained political violence and cold war tensions fueled the formation of FARC-EP. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia represents the rural poor against Colombia's wealthy classes as well as opposing United States influence in Colombia. FARC's idea of inequality even brought change in the composition of the organization. For example, in 1964, only two women were among the last forty-eight fighters resisting government forces at the battle of Marquetalia. Today FARC's composition is made up of about forty percent women. FARC-EP is dedicated to its Marxist ideology. FARC continues to fight the war of words devoted to marxist principles despite that many of its battles are fought with less idealistic motives of controlling the illegal drug trade.

Violence and Crimes

The ideologies of the FARC are more politically and socially motivated than religious. This left-wing guerilla group has an extensive violent terrorist/criminal history. The FARC have approximately 9,000-12,000 armed combatants who have carried out hundreds of crimes since their existence today. FARC have been known to commit the following crimes: murders, mortar attacks, narco-trafficking, extortion and hijacking. The most notable crimes that FARC is known for are there bombings and kidnappings for ransom. The crucial crimes that assist this Colombian terrorist group are kidnappings for ransoms, and drug trafficking; these two types of crimes gross the biggest financial revenue for the organization. Financial profit is what keeps FARC active.

Kidnappings for ransoms are extremely common among the FARC. Their targets tend to be wealthy people, government officials, and tourist. These targets are sometimes taken as hostages in exchange for there comrades in prisons and/or monetary gain. As in the November 2005 kidnapping of 60 people, many of whom were being held hostage by the FARC until the government decides to release hundreds of their comrades in prison. The most prominent hostage was Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, who was kidnapped in February 2002 after traveling in guerrilla territory.

FARC has become Latin Americas leading cocaine trafficking organization. Approximately 65 percent of FARC's financial woes are credited to its drug trade.

Group Status

Although FARC is the largest terrorist organization in the Americas it has weakened over the years. Once 18,000 strong, FARC has cut its members in half, due to losses in its command and other organizational defects. FARC-EP currently holds an active role as a terrorist organization according to Colombia, United States, Canada, and the European Union (E.U.). However, allies of the FARC avertedly disagree with their status. Venezuela and its President Hugo Chavez firmly believe that Las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, should be acknowledged as a belligerency army, as described by the international law standards.

"In March [2008], three of seven key FARC Secretariat commanders died or were killed: its second-in-command, Raul Reyes; the leader of the FARC's Central Bloc, Ivan Rios; and FARC co-founder Manuel Marulanda Velez" (Kellerhals, 2008).

Legal and/or Political Response

In 1964 conservatives under La Frente Nacional order the Colombian National Army to take full control of communists in rural areas of Colombia who pose a current or future threat to the Colombian government (Dudley, 2004). Their efforts were only partially successful, the stronger more dedicated communists spread further and reorganized more potent in the outskirts of the country. Between 1990-1998 various efforts were taken by the Colombian Government to negotiate with FARC-EP and other armed guerillas but these were also unsuccessful.

Between 1999-2002 President Andres Pastrana of Colombia grants FARC-EP a safe haven (16,200 sq mi) in return for peace (Simons, 2004). The token did not last long, Pastrana ordered his armed forces to retake the FARC-EP controlled zone after further terror attacks conducted by FARC. By 2005, FARC-EP commits multiple attacks in response to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe's Plan Patriota (Patriotic Plan). This plan, a military one, was developed by the Government of Colombia and supported financially by the United States to over through the guerilla groups of Colombia; in specific FARC-EP (Simons).

More recently, in January of 2008, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has called on the Colombian governments as well as others to recognize FARC-EP as a belligerent force, as opposed to simply guerillas. His argument was that this would oblige them to renounce kidnappings and terror acts, and respect the Geneva Conventions. In March of 2008, the Colombian military attacks FARC-EP's campsite in Ecuador resulting in 20 deaths; including the death of Raul Reyes (FARC-EP's international spokesman). This was the biggest attack against FARC-EP in 40 years. During that same year FARC-EP faced criticism through large rallies across Colombia (Reyes, 2009).

Conclusion

Operations such as those of "Operacion Jaque" and the Colombian's Army attack to EP's campsite in Ecuador are some of the hardest hits to the organization and this symbolizes the guerilla's downfall. The FARC still has drug ties and while they might not have the leadership they have been accustomed to in the past, it does not change their devotion and experience as combatants. Reconciliation is necessary to finally bring an end to the war and peace conflict Colombians have been struggling. One needs to learn from mistakes, "the history of the Colombian government attempts to present itself as a victim forced to react to violent actors who threaten the state or as a victim unable to control such violent forces" (Welna & Gallon, 2007). Everyone has a right to fight for what they believe is fair in their hearts, but there needs to be immediate reassessment of the actions once blood spills. Most Colombians oppose the guerillas and with the loss of several top commanders and recent infiltrations it could mean the end of the FARC, but only time will tell.


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