The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia was established in 1964 as a military wing of the Columbian communist party (Livingstone 2004). The FARC is under the leadership of septuagenarian Manuel Marulanda alongside six other members.The rebel group grew from a small peasant group to an unprecedented military organization. The growth of this group has been largely fueled by its involvement in the illicit drug trade. To weaken the state as well as to lay down a communist state are their core and sole goals. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia include 30% of females, who are mostly under 19 (BBC News, September 19th 2003). The weapons they are using include “explosives, landmines and bombs camouflaged as necklaces, soccer balls, and soup cans” (BBC News, September 19th 2003).
It goes without saying that the ability to comprehend the history of FARC and the changes in the cocaine production plays a key role in “understanding the nature of the evolution of the Columbian conflict and the necessity of developing policies to address the roots of the conflict” (BBC News, September 19th 2003).
The army claims to fight for the rights of the poor, protests against the influence of the United States on the Columbian government, “neo-imperialism, monopolization of national resources, and government violence” (BBC News, September 19th 2003). It supports itself by means of ransom kidnapping, gold mining and the illegal drugs’ production and selling.
It is believed that the group is a terrorist group due to the fact that it has been linked to several terrorist activities. For instance, in June 2002, the FARC kidnapped 12 provincial deputies from the Valle De Cauca Department. It was later reported that 11 of these officials had been killed in a crossfire that took place when an unidentified military force attacked them. However, it is still unclear about the actual events that led to the death of the deputies. In the year 2010, January the group claimed responsibility for the killing and kidnapping of Luis Francisco Cuellar, the governor of Caquetá, on December 22nd 2009 (BBC News Dec 23rd 2009).
Additionally, the FARC is also linked to attacks against security forces and this seems to have been increasing every year since 2005. According to some reports, the FARC makes people, who are between 13 and 60, to work coca or poppy plantations as well as to be engaged in the military actions (BBC News Dec 23rd 2009). In general, historians sometimes describe this war in the following way “It’s like the country got bit by a mosquito in 1948, we scratched and scratched the bite until to got infected and now it’s taken over 85% of the body, festering and in pain (BBC News Dec 23rd 2009)
What is more, the IRA is believed to have played a key role in various FARC attacks (BBC News 9th May 2005). The rebels used IRA techniques in a counter defensive attack launched in the year 2005, February. Copies of grenades used by FARC that were manufactured by IRA were seized by security forces and it was also believed that they had used homemade mortars to bomb towns in the south western province of Cauca. On April 24th, in the year 2001, a report published by the U.S House of Representatives Committee on International Relations implicated that at least 15 members of the IRA were going in and out of Columbia since 1998. It was estimated that the IRA received approximately $2 million in drug proceedings. The money was to go towards the training of FARC members (Warren 2002).
On May 5th 2003, the governor of Antioquia, “his advisor for peace, former minister of defense and eight other soldiers” was killed (Leech 2002). FARC had kidnapped the defense minister and the governor a year earlier, at the time of the march for peace from Medellin to Caicedo in Antioquia. In early February of the year 2005, it is believed that FARC launched a range of small attacks around the regions of Columbia in its South West resulting in an estimated 40 casualties.
Despite the fact that it has been linked to several terrorist activities, some governments such as the Venezuelan government perceive it to be a real army. In many respects, some view the FARC to be a group that fights for the rights of the rural poor, marginalized workers and political dissidents. It is believed that its cause has been demonized by prominent government officials and popular media outlets. Critics point out that acts of solidarity and the struggle for equity are portrayed as a source of national threat while at the very least, it should be viewed as an object of national significance (Leech 2002).
Peter Chalk (2006)compares FARC to Al-Qaeda and states that it should not be considered as an international terrorist organization as it has shown no interest what so ever in involving itself in campaigns against antagonists. This claim came as a result of the belief that the FARC was a threat to the United States. Furthermore, the FARC struggle is believed to be solely within the Colombian territory and is directed at the dominant class.
Questions as to why state officials insist that FARC is a threat to the United States, the EU and Canada have been raised. It is believed that FARC poses a threat to their political interests and economic partners. The FARC ideology consists of a socialized economy which involves public ownership. This is in contrast to the neo-liberal development strategies of contemporary capital.
MichaelKenny (2007) points out that indeed external force has been involved in military operations against the FARC. However, the FARC has maintained its standards and not targeted nations within its boundaries. It has instead focused on improving the inequitable conditions of its country. Numerous countries around the world viewthe group as a force that struggles for peace and social justice within the country.
It is believed that FARC receives its funding from illegal production and distribution of drugs, kidnapping for ransom and from extortion of large land owners, just to mention a few of their income generating activities. This has fueled the belief that it is a criminal organization. It is approximated that their funding amounts to $300 million(Weinstein 2007). During the 1980’s, FARC wasn’t exclusively involved in the drug trade. Alternatively, they imposed a system of taxation in the territories that were under their control. In return, they would then provide protection to those who cultivated the drugs and implemented a system of law and order in these regions (Stokes 2005).
FARC later on became involved in drug trafficking along with its production which turned out to be their main source of income. It was believed that cocaine was farmed by peasants on small fields but in the areas that were under the government’s supervision cocaine was cultivated in large plantations (Alfredo 2006). In addition, it ensured that its farmers got decent wages as compared to farmers that worked in areas controlled by the government. However, the low prices given by areas controlled by the government provided good profits for drug trafficking organizations (Leech 2009).
The drug business is believed to be important to the group because the funding provides funding for its struggle. However, according to a statement made by their spokesman, Simon Trinidad in November 2000, this only represented a portion of what the income did for the FARC. The income they got from drug sale was also managing political campaigns in Columbia. Congressmen, mayors and all other political aspirants sought financial assistance from the drug money, and because of this, drug production and trafficking has become a major income generating activity in Columbia. In addition, the paramilitary group is also believed to receive their funding from the drug production and trafficking trade.
Despite the fact that FARC is believed to engage farmers in drug production, it has also been linked with the fact that it initiated crop substitution programs that enabled farmers to find an alternative means of income generating activities and subsistence. FARC worked with the United Nations alternative development program that facilitated the transition of farmers from cocaine production to subsistence farming. FARC solely introduced some agrarian reform programs in Putumayo (Rochlin 2003).
Other criminal activities that the FARC has been involved in includes kidnapping for ransom. The group has been known to take state officials, police officers and soldiers in order to pressure the government to negotiate prisoner releases or exchange (BBC News November 20th 2004). Civilians have also not been left out of their kidnapping endeavors. Families of notorious drug traffickers, the affluent upper-class as well as foreigners were the targets of kidnapping. Middle class families also became targets of kidnapping by the FARC (New York Times June 3rd, 2001). FARC spokesman once more stated that they didn’t engage in kidnapping but only retained individuals so as to obtain resources for their cause.
In addition, it is believed that they engaged in kidnapping for political and economic reasons. It is not known how many people have been kidnapped by the FARC or how much money has been collected so far but FARC claims that they will continue with the kidnappings until the armed conflict struggle ends in Columbia (The Daily Telegraph September 18th, 2001). FARC also claims that it kidnaps those who don’t pay their taxes. Kidnapping them ensures that they pay their shares. In 2000, they issued a law that demanded co-operations and individuals that had incomes or assets worth $1 million USD should pay their shares.
FARC has been linked to a number of human rights violations such as the murder of protected persons, torture, and kidnapping. It has also been known to train child soldiers and informants (Human Rights Watch, September 2003). The recruitment of the child soldiers could either be forced or done willingly. Those who are recruited willingly do so out of poverty, lack of education, avoiding work in the cocaine farms and a variety of other reasons. However, once one is recruited they cannot leave at their own free will.
Extrajudicial executions have also been associated with FARC. It is believed that FARC carried out executions of civilians believed to carry out paramilitary operations in demilitarized zones. The Colombian human rights organization, CINEP, estimated that FARC had killed a total of 496 civilians 2000 (Human Rights Watch August, 2001). In contrast, if these killings were conducted by the government, they would have been termed as “forced disappearances”. However, according to Human Rights Watch, extrajudicial killings still remain a violation of the international humanitarian law, “which protects against the violence to the life, physical and mental well-being of persons, torture and ill treatment” (Human Rights Watch August, 2001).
Cylinder mortars and landmines were adopted by FARC when attacks were put up. It is believed that the rebel group has killed civilians that were not involved in the conflicts through these methods of attack. Through the use of these methods, FARC has shown its disregard for human lives. What is more, experts argue that it is impossible to aim gas cylinder bombs accurately, and as a result, civilian casualties are bound to occur. In addition, FARC uses child soldiers to carry and deploy the mines, making it an even more dangerous affair (Human Rights Watch 2006).
It has always been argued that FARC threatened or killed indigenous Colombian leaders that are perceived to interfere with their forcible recruitment of the indigenous youth and infiltrations into their territories. Three indigenous human rights activists were believed to have been killed by members of the FARC group in March 1999, resulting in a harmed public perception of the organization.
So, FARC can be considered to be a liberation movement in terms of the ideology that it utilizes when fighting for its cause. Its main ideology is to fight for the change of the already existing social conditions within its region and the periphery. Since its beginning in 1964, peace with social justice has always been its ultimate goal. Peace talks with the government, from 1999 to 2002 failed to work because the state officials refused to consider any changes in the unjust political, economic and social status of the country, leading to the FARC uprising (Dudely 2004). Since the 1980s FARC has been hosting peace talks with the Columbian government. It would be argued that this is because of the fact that it legitimizes its social justice cause and uses the armed struggle as a way to seize national power.
FARC gains its support from an adequate reaction of the government to the hardships faced by peasants in the country. One of its greatest strength is the funding it gets from the illicit drug trade. It has been able to use its resources to increase military prowes and territorial control. However, critics would argue that they use this leverage to take advantage of the unemployed rural youth so as to maintain legitimacy and support in many regions of the country (Leech 2002).
Lack of faith in FARC has been demonstrated by the Columbian citizens through the anti FARC rallies that were held on February 4th 2008 demanding the release of several hostages. The protests received support from social “media outlets as well as the Columbian government” (Kiraz 2008). They provided free advertising in the days that led up to the rally. The protests were not only limited to the citizens of the country but they extended worldwide. However, some critics argue that the protests were fueled by paramilitary leaders that forced the workers to visit gatherings. The stock exchange closed and employers pressured their workers to attend the rally while the government shut down schools and other public institutions (Kiraz 2008).
The protests were widely publicized in social networks such as Facebook and featured prominent Para-military officials. They were promoted majorly by big businesses and Colombian state apparatus (Janicke 2008). This was a major attempt at mobilizing as many supporters as possible to provide support to the Columbian president, Alvaro Uribe (Janicke 2008).
Several important issues have however been ignored in the current Colombian government. Its ability to control arms in the country has declined due to the fact that there is the privatization of force through the support and sponsorship of paramilitary groups. The other issue is that the government’s security forces have failed to take responsibility for the constant human rights violations imposed on the non-combatant civil population. Lastly, the government is responsible for the loss of human lives through assassinations (Leech 2002).
The Columbian government gave power to the insurgents and mercenaries due to the fact that it has a “highly decayed regime” that requires repair in both “socio-economic and institutional framework” (Leech 2002). This allows the insurgents to take advantage of these cracks and obtain military power thus increasing their armed capability. FARC controls 40 percent of Columbia together with the National Liberation Army (ELN). Foreign governments such as that of Venezuela have named FARC to be part of the legitimate groups in Columbia.
As a result, this has ruined diplomatic relations between the two countries. The Columbian government accuses the Venezuelan government of providing a route for the FARC to facilitate transportation of Colombia’s cocaine production. It is also alleged that Venezuela is a key supplier of weapons to the FARC. Not only is Venezuela seen as a military threat to Columbia, but it is also believed to hold prisoners at its territory. However, no evidence has been provided to prove these claims. Critics argue that the claims are aimed at creating a negative international perception. Similarly, they only serve the purpose of shifting attention from the growing Para-politics scandal that has engulfed the Uribe government.
The Colombian government has engaged in acts that could be exclusively described as acts of human rights violation and terrorism. However, these acts cannot be called acts of terrorism as they are perceived to be acts that have to be committed in order to fight mercenaries and rebel groups. Such acts include having cracks in the government administration where the rebels can easily bribe their way through by providing state officials with money received from the illegal drug trade. The government also fails to provide proper development programs that can provide basic services to the civilians (Vargas 1999).
To sum it up, Vargas further adds that the Columbian government should differentiate between farmers that engage in illegal drug production and those that are involved in the transportation and commercialization of the drugs. Abuse of the civilian population by the Colombian security forces must be monitored and addressed by the US policy. In addition, farmers that are engaged in the illegal production of the drugs must also be treated as civilians. Effective counternarcotic policies in the country should also be developed accordingly.
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