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Thursday, March 26, 2009
By Steven L. Taylor

Speaking of the FARC and their broader capacity to persist into the foreseeable future despite their recent setbacks, the International Crisis Group has released a report on that exact subject today: Ending Colombia’s FARC Conflict: Dealing the Right Card. The link will take you the executive summary and links to the report itself and to a nifty multi-media presentation.1

The report makes clear that while the FARC is “under stress” that it has remarkable “adaptive capacity”–both of which are clearly the case. As such, the report concludes that a military victory over the group is unlikely in the short-to-medium term, and doesn’t make any long-term predictions. On page 24 the report states:

The FARC’s resilience is being put to the test by seven years of sustained government military offensives that have clearly weakened it. Evidence suggests, however, that the insurgents are not close to defeat in the short or even medium term and that the best option for the Uribe administration would be to complement continued military pressure with a comprehensive strategy aimed at establishing peace negotiations, stepping up
efforts to protect human rights, expanding the rule of law across the country and improving protection of
vulnerable populations.

I concur with this assessment and comports with a post related to this subject that I wrote early last year:

the only likely endgame will be one that features some amount of negotiation. This has been true with every armed group in Colombia that has demobilized, including those portions of right-wing paramilitary groups who have disarmed during the Uribe administration.

And speaking of the groups that the Uribe administration has negotiated with, namely the AUC (the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia), they were also hip-deep in drugs, kidnapping and murder, so it isn’t as if there isn’t already political precedence for talking with such groups. There is no easy black and white solution here where the evil get punished and the just are rewarded2. The practical matter for the Colombian state is which imperfect road will enhance the quality of life for its citizens over the long haul. Such a path, I would argue, has to involve a political solution. Along those lines, the report concludes with the following paragraph (p. 29):

Sustaining military pressure is important, but the government should also strengthen its efforts to seek negotiations with a still-functioning rebel leadership. Likewise, it should keep all options for the liberation of the remaining hostages open, including an exchange of hostages for prisoners. Establishing communication channels and building confidence with the FARC’s Secretariat could be helped by the already-proven and neutral support of international players, such as the ICRC, Brazil and possibly Chile.

It would be nice if the US would play a role in at least persuading the Colombian government to pursue in such a process, and/or in encouraging regional leaders to help out. Brazil is a logical choice, as not only is it a major regional power seeking to enhance its international prestige, but Lula’s bona fides (i.e, leading protests against the military government in Brazil (including jail time), his union activism, his leadership of the Worker’s Party and his general ideological credentials) and his general stature (he is well regarded) in the region would make him a potentially potent arbitrator.

And, by the way, if one doubts the sustainability of the FARC’s fight, note that with an estimated troop strength of between 8,000-10,000 it is taking in an estimated income from illicit activity of between $500-$600 million per annum. That’s a per capita GGP (Gross Guerrilla Product)3 of $50,000 to $75,000. And I hear-tell that living expenses deep in the Colombian jungle are fairly low.

  1. The dude talking is informative, but the timelines and other dood-dads are where the “nifty” comes in. I would take minor issue insofar as I think that presentation downplays the drug trafficking issue, which started for the FARC in the 1980s, although its full impact was not until the 1990s and 2000s. []
  2. There never was such a time in Colombian politics, indeed it is a rare occurrence in experience of humanity, despite what we like to tell ourselves []
  3. Yes, i just made that up. []
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One Response to “Speaking of the FARC…”

  1. MSS Says:

    About those living expenses: well, the supply lines are rather long.

    More seriously, is there anything to negotiate with the FARC, in terms of a process that could end the war? I’m all for seeking political solutions, but the FARC has never seemed to me to be an organization with much incentive to bargain. Its impressive ability to sustain itself would seem to suggest it could, well, sustain itself. For a long time.


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