The case study of social moblisisation in Latin America that I wish to cover in this critical analysis is that of the “Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia—Ejército del Pueblo” (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—People’s Army) or FARC for short, located in Colombia. I wish to analyse and critique the FARC in terms of its contributions to positive social mobilisation in Colombia. I will also attempt to address some key questions in the analysis, such as
1. Have the actions of the FARC helped or hindered those which they seek to represent?
2. Does the FARC still stand for the fundamental ideals it was born from?
1. Does the FARC still have a place in modern day Colombia?
The FARC are a guerrilla organisation that have been involved in the armed conflicts that have plagued Colombia since 1964. Their origins stem from the peasant struggles of the 1920s and 30s in Colombia. These regional guerrilla peasant groups sprang up in response to harsh working conditions on coffee plantations and the failure of recognition of land tenure of the peasants and indigenous people by the government. These regional groups were heavily involved in the proceeding period of civil unrest in Colombia known as “La Violencia”.
This era of violence was sparked by the assassination of Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, a politician, who was the leader of the emerging populist movement in Colombia. Although there is conflicting reports, it is said that La Violencia claimed the lives of between 200,000 and 300,000 people over the course of 10 years (1948-1958).
It was out of the ashes of this violent period that the FARC was formally established in 1964, as a collective peasant guerrilla organisation defending the interests of peasant communities and with political ideals of seizing national power through the course of the armed struggles. This was cemented with the formation of the South Bloc of the FARC, with support from the CCP (Columbian Communist Party) clearly indicating the CCP’s intention of using the FARC as its military wing.
The FARC have grown to substantial power through the mobilisation of the affected people. There are a substantial number of female guerrilla fighters and the FARC has continually attracted female members in large quantities relative to a guerrilla armed force. They themselves claim to have almost 40% female members, but the actual numbers is likely closer to 20/25%. They attained this by giving women the opportunity to earn money and gain a status within their regional society that they would otherwise not occupy.
Women also join as an escape from domestic abuse and exploitation. Although the FARC would tell you that they provide food, shelter and skills and that Colombian women join as an act of protest against the life they would otherwise be forced to accept, it can equally be seen as a guerrilla force with a communist political agenda preying on those people most vulnerable and impressionable in the fractured Colombian peasant societies. This is more evident when we look at the practice of recruitment of children as guerrilla fighters, be it voluntary or involuntary on the child’s part.
The FARC recruit and train child soldiers and informants and it is estimated that up to a quarter of its fighters are under the age of 18. With the majority of child combatants in Colombia it is hard to not keep these figures in mind when considering the FARC as a social mobilisation force for good. Although the FARC themselves have claimed that they will not recruit any children under the age of 15 as a rule, it is reported that the from multiple sources, including that of numerous Human Rights Watch reports (2001/2003), that this rule is not enforced.
These are worrying reports considering that the FARC are indifferent to service from a child or adult, with children participating in activities which no child should witness (torture, killings etc). The FARC have used these said child soldiers to deploy devastating weapons such as adapted gas cylinder mortars and landmines that have taken the lives of many civilians not involved in the conflict in question showing a growing disregard for the lives of innocent people and a continued blurring of the lines of what the FARC is striving to achieve in Colombia.
Violence against indigenous Colombian leaders who tried to prevent FARC incursions into their land and tried to stop the forcible recruitment of indigenous children was widely condemned in the international community and placed further spotlight of the changing nature of the organisation.
The FARC maintained a policy of taxation on drug cultivators and traffickers located in its perceived geographic territories since its inception. The agreements were a relationship of convenience for the drug traffickers as in return for tax, they received protection and an establishment of law and order in the different regions from the FARC. It was this involvement in the drug trade that led the FARC to delve into self production and trafficking in the 1990’s which provides a substantial amount of the organisations funding.
In their controlled territories the FARC ensure that growers receive a much larger share of the profits and demand the traffickers pay their workers adequately. Any criticism of using the illegal drug trade for funding was rebutted by FARC spokesman, Simon Trinidad, in 2000. In an interview with English Journalist Dominic Streatfeild, he claimed that there was alot of “false morality” on the matter of the drug trade, saying that the drug trafficking and its profits permeated all facets of society in Colombia to some degree and that to single out the FARC in its participation was hypocritical.
Also the FARC claimed that they werea fairer alternative to people in their territories found selling to non-FARC traffickers, who would simply be asked to leave the territory rather than their paramilitary counterparts who would resort to the killing of such individuals. Still one struggles to find the morality if any in these circumstances, as most cases the FARC arguments over paramilitary forces seem to be the lesser of two evils, but evil all the same.
Kidnappings are also a dark side of the FARCs operations, being responsible for the majority of kidnappings nationally. These kidnappings are carried out both for ransom and political motivations. Despite peace negotiations in 1984, and a condemnation of the practice from the leaders of the organisation, kidnappings increased in the following years culminating in a directive issued by FARC in 2000 called “Law 002” which required all individuals and corporations with assets in excess of $1 million to pay a tax or run the risk of being “detained” by the guerrilla forces. Again Simon Trinidad spoke out in defense of the FARC in 2001 (this time speaking to the a New York Times journalist) claiming that the FARC did not kidnap individuals, but rather “retains [individuals] in order to obtain resources needed for our struggle”. In recent times (Feb 2012) the FARC has repealed law 002 and formally released the last of its policitcal prisoners although the fate of its civilian prisoners still remains unclear.
During the 90s negotiations between the FARC and the Columbian government were largely unsuccessful with continued fighting and death on both sides along with continued illegal activities. A turning point for the FARC with a low point for its image with the international community was the killing of 3 USA – based indigenous rights activists by FARC guerrilla fighters who had been working with the U’Wa people to build a school for the local community while trying to stop the encroachment of multinational oil companies on the natives land.
In 1998 President Pastrana initiated peace talks with the organisation and allocated them a safe zone to bolster the chances of a positive outcome to the negotiations. A series of high profile guerrilla actions, eg. A plane hijacking and the arrest of the IRA Columbia three (IRA bomb experts teaching the FARC) to name a few, resulted in the end of these peace talks with the FARC once again being seen as public enemy number one to the Colombian Government. Following from 2002 on the FARC seemed to have lost its place in a modern Colombia with then president Alvaro Uribe declaring his intention to rid the country of guerrilla armed organistaions, paramilitary organisations and put an end to the ingrained illegal activities in Colombian society.
There was no place for the FARC in this new world of heightened democracy and decreased political corruption. This coupled with pressure from human rights activists, the United Nations, pressure from the US who wanted to see an end to the organisation and an heightened offensive by the Colombian government led to strategic withdrawal from multiple operations and areas held by the FARC.
This continued over the following years with the FARC losing further ground as a reputable force in Colombia, with negotiations and hostage transfers taking place. Although these gestures were positives they were marred by continued illegal activities and the deaths of multiple hostages in the FARCs care. This period of uneasy decline culminated in 2008, with thousands of Colombians marching in protest of the FARC and its operations all over Colombia. A further blow to the organisation was the killing of two of its top secretariat, Raul Reyes and Ivan Rios, and the death by heart attack of the groups main leader, Manuel Marulanda Vélez.
It was at this time that Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan leader who had previously been sympathetic in part to the FARCs cause, denounced the practice of kidnapping and armed struggle and epitomised the already looming truth by saying “The guerrilla war is history…At this moment in Latin America, an armed guerrilla movement is out of place” (Published June 09, 2008, Associated Press). Losing support from Hugo Chavez was a serious blow also to the FARC as it had used the Venezuelan border as means to evade capture.
The FARCs power continued to be eroded and its public perception also suffered a downward spiral. Military operations continued against the organisation with the freeing of political and civilian hostages, and the FARC declared that they were releasing the last of their political hostages in Febuary 2012, with the gesture being described as “not enough” by the current Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.
In august of 2012 it was announced that peace talks had begun between the Colombian government and the FARC leadership in efforts to establish a lasting ceasefire and end to the conflict. At the time of writing the peace talks were taking place in Cuba and were being described as positive by both sides.
To conclude this analysis I would like to harken back to my original questions at the start and see if the information covered adequately relates an answer for them. In terms of whether the FARC helped or hindered the people it was trying to protect, we can see that despite good original intentions, that with any guerrilla armed force, as also with legitimate governments the world over, with power comes corruption, and in the case of the FARC this led to a deviation from the original path of equal rights for civilians and peasants.
The bloody history and years of conflict masked the truth for the FARC: that the world’s governments, and particularly Latin Americas governments, were changing for the good, and that there was not a need for taking up arms to achieve their goals, and in fact was increasingly alienating them from the people they sought to represent and people who were originally sympathethic to their cause. These recent peace talks seem to be the final nail in the coffin for an organisation that have been left behind by world developments, and have been in decline for several years.