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Friday, 22 January 2016

Who are the FARC?

Recently (as of writing) the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolutionarias de Colombia (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia in English) or better known as FARC have asked the UN to moderate talks between the two combatants. Who are the FARC exactly and why are they organizing a ceasefire with the Colombian government?

FARC originated through a variety of means. It can be traced back to a period of violence in Colombian history known as La Violencia, a civil war between the Liberal and Conservative party. After ten years of bloody fighting a power sharing compromise (called the National Front) was made between the two parties. However many of the future members of FARC who had fought in the Liberal bands quickly became disillusioned with the Liberal party, especially as the Colombian government's economic project evicted small farmers from their lands and that only the Conservatives and Liberals were represented. In all around 400,000 peasants were forced to move to cities. People turned to the Communist Party of Colombia including the founder of FARC Manuel 'Sureshot' Marulanda (real name Pedro Antonio Marin) and Jacobo Arenas. In 1964 Arenas and Marulanda formed FARC as a Marxist-Leninist guerrilla group with the intent of overthrowing the Colombian government to install one similar to that of Castro's Cuba. 
FARC operated on a same basis as other Marxist-Leninist guerrillas. Largely they would work in rural areas where they had support among the peasantry. Here they would stage attacks on the army and government forces. When the National Front collapsed in the 1970s they even entered politics moving to cities to gain small amounts of middle class support and alongside several other left-wing militias entered talks with the government. They even founded a party called Union Patriotica. However the UP was severely hindered by proto-paramilitary groups, drug barons and even members of the army acting above the law assassinated UP members, in the 1990 election 70% of presidential candidates were assassinated. In 1990 talks with the Colombian government broke down, both sides were at fault with the army attacking a FARC compound and FARC had continued with their military activities.

Following 1990, and the death of Jacobo Arenas, FARC went from being somewhat sympathetic to a major criminal organization. Many governments during the 1990s even labelled FARC terrorists. FARC went into almost open war against right-wing paramilitary groups and the government. FARC started using car bombs killing many innocent people and they did the bombings in cities such as Bogota. They had shifted from the rural areas to cities to enact their policies. During this time even the peasantry who had once supported the militia started to turn against them as FARC rule in areas turned increasingly authoritarian. FARC started to fund themselves through kidnappings and through drugs. It is thought 60% of the cocaine entering the US is from FARC and 50% of the world's cocaine as well. They earn between $500-$600 million annually through trading drugs. Other than drugs and kidnapping groups such as Amnesty International have accused FARC of human rights abuses. Child soldiers are often used by FARC as well as landmines, poison gas, extrajudicial killings, the killings and displacement of indigenous people and even sexually abusing their own female recruits. In 2000 alone 496 civilians were executed by FARC and since 2004 80,000 indigenous people have been displaced by FARC activities.  

Decline and why Colombia is negotiating
Alphonso Cano, one of the killed leaders
FARC has been in decline from the early 2000s when President Alvaro Uribe vowed to crack down on the group. From around 16,000 fighters in 2001 this has dropped down to around 8,000. This been put down to desertions, government arrests and the fact that FARC had alienated a wide proportion of the people who once supported them. In a short space of time three FARC leaders also died. Marulanda died of a heart attack in 2008 and his successor Jorge Briceno was killed in a raid in 2010. Briceno's successor, Alphonso Cano, was then killed in 2011 during a bombing and ground raid. 

Currently the government and the militia have entered talks because the people of Colombia are tired of the sustained violence. For close to 26 years car bombings, murders and kidnappings have caused death and destruction causing there to be annual protests. With FARC slowly going into decline this is the perfect opportunity to create a ceasefire. FARC is not the only paramilitary group in Colombia with the left-wing ELN and the right-wing AUC being active alongside FARC. By negotiating with FARC this could possibly remove one of the violent groups in Colombia today and bring the ever sought after peace a step closer.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to share this post and follow the blog. The sources of information that I have used are as follows:
- Globalisation, Democracy and Terrorism by Eric Hobsbawm

Next week will be the next part of World History where we'll look at Ancient Mesopotamia. I hope to see you there!

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