Thursday, May 28, 2009
By Steven L. Taylor

Via the BBC: Oldest insurgent force marches on

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) are celebrating their 45th anniversary, making them one of the oldest insurgent forces in the world – and, despite recent setbacks, still one of the strongest.

“The Farc are at their worst point in 45 years of fighting,” said Alfredo Rangel, head of the Bogota think-tank Security and Democracy.

“Up until recently they had always been growing, in numbers and territory. Now they are being driven back, and their numbers are falling. They are in terminal decline.”

Has the FARC Declined relative its zenith in 2002? Absolutely.

Is it at its lowest points historically? It depends on how one wants to look at it. The groups has been smaller, indeed significantly smaller in the past than it is now. It is also still the most significant armed group in Colombia–something it has not always been in its 45 year history. Without a doubt the group has suffered more significant setbacks in the last year and half than perhaps it ever has in its entire history.

Is it in “terminal” decline? I fear that we cannot go that far. The group still has ~8,000 fighters and access to wealth derived from kidnapping and the cocaine trade. As such, the capacity to keep the fight going indefinitely remains in place.

Indeed, as the BBC piece notes:

Much of the Farc’s longevity, certainly since the mid-1980s, can be attributed to one thing: cocaine.

Whilst the Farc are ultra conservative in their doctrine and tactics, they have proven themselves to be adept businessmen, latching onto the drugs trade and taking their cut from all the links in the narcotics chain, from the coca fields up to the vacuum-packed bricks of cocaine that leave Colombia’s shores at a rate of over 600 tonnes a year.

According to Roman Ortiz, security expert at the Ideas for Peace Foundation, the drugs trade has provided more than just overflowing coffers.

“The Farc have also inherited a support base from their involvement in the drugs trade,” said Mr Ortiz. “They get support and recruits from the peasants who cultivate and harvest the drug crops.”

None of that is likely to go away soon (indeed, if ever).

Will they ever be able to overthrow the Colombian state? No-but then again that has never actually been a real possibility in my estimation.

Meanwhile, the Miami Herald reports that Colombia’s FARC rebels work on rebirth plan, although the story itself does say all that much about the plan itself. Most og what is mentioned included enhanced political indoctrination of recruits to curb desertions and the use of mines and snipers to cut down on direct combat with the armed forces. The latter two points are, no doubt, a direct result of the diminution of troops available. But all that really means is utilization of classic guerrilla tactics, something that the FARC has been doing for decades. Rather than being a sign that the end is nigh, all of this is more an indication of going back to what could be considered normal for the FARC. In other words, the recent era of FARC growth was the period that was out of the norm compared to the group’s 45 year existence and the size and tactics being discussed under the “rebirth” rubric sounds very much like baseline FARC behavior.

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One Response to “FARC at 45 Seeks “Rebirth””

  1. MSS Says:

    8,000. I know it is a big rugged country, but that number still amazes me for a guerrilla organization that has suffered as many blows as it has recently. I fear it can keep going a while.

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