Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - People's Army
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - People's Army (Spanish: Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - Ejército del Pueblo), often known by its Spanish initials FARC, is a left-wing Colombian guerrilla army which originated in 1964 and is still active in 2008. Since the 1980s, FARC has been involved with drug trafficking in Colombia, both directly, and by extorting protection money from drug traffickers. FARC's current strength is estimated at 12,000 to 18,000 persons under arms, approximately 25% of which are children forcibly enlisted.
History of FARC
Since La Violencia had started in 1948, and even before then, small self-defense groups had been formed by liberals and socialists around Colombia against conservative attacks, and the group which would become FARC was initially a group of this type. It was initially comprised of 48 poorly armed men and women led by Manuel Marulanda Velez. They managed to withstand and survive the 1964 assault by the Colombian armed forces.
The group that would become FARC was initially formed in response to the launching of Operation Marquetalia on May 27, 1964. Operation Marquetalia was a military campaign launched by the Colombian armed forces, and advised by the U.S. military. Marquetalia was the name the Colombian government used for an area which contained much of the southern part of the department of Tolima, Colombia. Operation Marquetalia was the first such attack by the Colombian government against regions which were ruled by guerrilla bands in defiance of central authority. The attack was claimed by FARC to have consisted of 16,000 troops backed by artillery and the air force. Soon after, the Colombian armed forces attacked other guerrilla enclaves, like Riochiquito, El Pato and Guayabero.
They then moved to the north-eastern part of the department of Cauca, an area called Riochiquito, and were welcomed in solidarity by the peasants there. This strategic move was not because a retreat was necessary, but part of a tactic to deceive the enemy. The Velez-led group did not carry out military operations in Riochiquito, and thus they could be left alone there to organize, make contacts, and establish supply lines. They would cross into other areas and carry out military operations, in order to make the Colombian armed forces keep its forces dispersed over a wide area. They also made contacts with sympathetic comrades in Riochiquito and other regions nationally. They decided to organize Velez's 48 person and peasant guerrillas from nearby areas into the Southern Bloc (which would later be called FARC). In Riochiquito, the First Conference of the Southern Bloc was held on July 20, 1964 which formulated strategies and put forth an agricultural program.
Official creation of FARC
In May 1966, the Constitutive Conference of the FARC (also known as the Second Conference of the Southern Bloc) took place, which was when FARC was officially formed. A single general staff was formed of the guerrilla groups from various regions - the Velez-led Marquelita group, as well as groups from departments like Huila and Meta. FARC would have close ties to the Communist Party of Colombia for the following years.
In May 1982 FARC held its Seventh National Conference and renamed itself the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - The Peoples Army (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - Ejército del pueblo).
The Patriotic Union
In 1984, FARC-EP signed the Uribe Accords, as did the government of Colombia, the president of which at the time was Belisario Betancur Cuartas. These peace accords were a cease-fire between the Colombian government and FARC. The Colombian government signed similar agreements the same year with other leftist guerrilla groups as well.
With a cease-fire in place, FARC became involved in the Patriotic Union (Unión Patriótica, UP), a political coalition which included the Communist Party of Colombia. The first elections the UP participated in were in 1986, where 14 UP congress members were elected to the Senate and the House, 18 UP deputies were elected in 11 departmental assemblies, and 335 UP counselors were elected in 187 councils. While the UP kept to peaceful political methods, its opposition did not, and UP candidates and supporters were being killed even before the 1986 election took place. By the end of 1986, 3 UP congressmen had been killed, as well as hundreds of other UP elected officials and supporters. Despite the violence, FARC kept to peaceful political methods throughout this period.
The assassination of UP candidates and supporters, as well as inactive FARC personnel, continued into 1987. In June 1987, the Colombian armed forces and FARC engaged in some minor skirmishes, ending the three-year truce. In October 1987, UP presidential candidate Jaime Pardo Leal was assassinated. By 1988, 30% of UP candidates were being assassinated even before they were elected. In March of 1990, UP presidential candidate Bernardo Jaramillo Ossa was assassinated. The UP's only senator, Manuel Cepeda Vargas, was assassinated in 1990 as well. By this time, thousands of UP candidates and supporters had been killed. FARC's attempt at peaceful political activity had been met by massive violence, thus it resumed military activity and winded down its work with the Patriotic Union.
In December 1990 the new president of Colombia, César Gaviria Trujillo, had the Colombian armed forces attack FARC headquarters, Casa Verde, in La Uribe, which FARC felt was in bad faith. Despite this, FARC and other left-wing guerrilla groups underwent peace negotiations with the Colombian government in the following years, but the negotiations didn't go anywhere.
Colombian unrest and FARC military success
On August 30, 1996 FARC attacked the Las Delicias army base, capturing 60 Colombian soldiers. This was the most sophisticated military operation FARC had ever carried out, and its success stunned the Colombian government, as did subsequent FARC military victories. On top of FARC military successes, the government began having problems from worker mass movements around this time as well. In September 1996, hundreds of thousands of peasants demonstrated against the policies of the Colombian government. In February 1997, hundreds of thousands of workers went on a general strike to protest government privatization plans, violence against trade unions, laws against union organizing, and wages not keeping up with inflation. FARC continued winning impressive military victories in this period.
In 1997, negotiations commenced between the Colombian government and FARC for the 60 prisoners captured at Las Delicias (as well as 10 more that had been captured in January 1997). As part of the deal, the Colombian government agreed to withdraw Colombian troops from the Cartagena de Chaira municipality in the Caquetá department. On June 15, 1997, under the observation of the Red Cross and international observers, the prisoners were released.
In 1998, both leading presidential candidates in Colombia said they would be willing to hold talks with FARC. Andrés Pastrana Arango was elected president on June 21, 1998 and took office on August 7, 1998. He quickly began negotiations with FARC. As part of the deal for the peace talks, in November of 1998 Pastrana ordered the Colombian armed forces to withdraw from five municipalities while talks were ongoing.
The Bolivarian Movement for the New Colombia (Movimiento Bolivariano por la Nueva Colombia) was launched in the Spring of 2000, with the support of FARC. Like the UP, the Bolivarian Movement for the New Colombia is a political movement. Having learned the lesson of the massacre of UP candidates and supporters, the Bolivarian Movement for the New Colombia works clandestinely.
Plan Colombia was put into effect in July 2000. Plan Colombia is a billion dollar aid package which is mostly military aid, with most of the foreign aid money coming from the United States. Most of the military activity covered by the plan is on departments where FARC has a heavy presence.
Peace talks between FARC and the Colombian government ended on February 20, 2002 when Pastrana announced he would retake the five municipalities the Colombian government had withdrawn from in 1998, and issued arrest warrants for FARC negotiators.
- Colombia's most powerful rebels, BBC News, September 19, 2003. Retrieved on 2007-10-11. .
- James J. Brittain, R. James Sacouman. Is the FARC dependent on narcotics?, New Colombia News Agency, March 23, 2006. Retrieved on 2007-10-11.
- Colombia: Armed Groups Send Children to War, Human Rights Watch, February 22, 2005. Retrieved on 2007-10-11.