Jorge G. Castañeda
A Bunch Of Crooks On The Run
With the death of its leader, the band faces extinction. It would be high time. They've degenerated into criminals.
Jun 9, 2008
Early in 1964, a group active during La Violencia—a period of extreme violence and turmoil that wracked Colombia during the 1950s—launched a peasant uprising in what became known as the "Republic of Marquetalia," a rough-and-tumble backwater of western Colombia. Small farmers and day laborers rose up in arms against the government and rich landowners. Needless to say, the "Republic" didn't survive; Régis Debray, the French revolutionary and theoretician then affiliated with Fidel Castro, denounced it as a form of "passive armed self-defense," and the experiment didn't last long. Yet its founder—Pedro Antonio Marin, also known as Manuel Marulanda Véle and Tirofijo ("Sureshot")—lived on, until his death two months ago. The news, confirmed only last week, may well mark the beginning of the end of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the guerrilla movement he went on to found and the last Latin America rebel band linked to the glory years of Che Guevara, the Colombian priest Camilo Torres, the Nicaraguan intellectual Carlos Fonseca, the Argentine journalist Jorge Massetti, the Uruguayan union leader Raúl Sendic, the Chilean martyr Miguel Enríquez and the Brazilian Communist Carlos Marighela. They all died long ago, but Marulanda made it to 78, finally felled by a heart attack (according to his comrades). With his death, the FARC may also be on the verge of extinction. It would be high time. The FARC has long outlived its era; as the years passed, it lost its revolutionary fervor and degenerated into a criminal band that finances its operations through the drugs and kidnappings, forcibly recruits child soldiers and uses mines and bombs against civilians.
The high point of Marulanda's career was probably in 1999, when Tirofijo was invited to a meeting with then President Andrés Pastrana and Gabriel García Márquez—a meeting the jaded peasant fighter decided not to attend. After that it all went downhill for Marulanda, especially after President Alvaro Uribe's accession to power in 2002. Uribe pursued a policy of "democratic security" during his unprecedented two terms in office. This campaign has done less than expected to reduce drug trafficking and the cultivation of cocaine, and has not always been waged with full respect for human rights. But Uribe has managed to disband the right-wing paramilitary groups that had been set up with the complicity of the Colombian Army. He's also forced the FARC to retreat from the center of the country toward regions bordering Venezuela, Brazil and Ecuador, and may be on the verge of defeating them.
Tirofijo's demise also coincides with the stunning revelations that followed a March attack by the Colombian Armed Forces on a FARC camp in Ecuador, which killed another FARC leader, Raúl Reyes, and seized his computer. Data obtained from the computers, recently certified as genuine by Interpol, provides incontrovertible evidence that Presidents Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and Rafael Correa of Ecuador received aid from the FARC during times of need—and showed willingness to repay those debts when they had the opportunity to do so. To be fair, all the computers prove is that Chávez and Correa intended to grant safe haven and huge sums of money to the narco-guerrillas—not that they ever actually did so. And one should remember that Chávez has become famous in the region for promising everything … and delivering much less. Nonetheless, the new evidence, and Chávez's reaction to its exposure, has opened a magnificent window of opportunity for Uribe and his friends in the region to launch a major diplomatic counteroffensive against the Venezuelan caudillo.
Colombia, the United States, Mexico, Costa Rica and others should use the moment to convene a special session of the Organization of American States to invoke the United Nations' wide-ranging antiterrorism resolution, 1373 (approved shortly after 9/11), in order to label the FARC a terrorist group and condemn, without name-calling, those countries that have supported it in its efforts to overthrow a democratically elected Latin American government. The computer files would provide ample evidence for this charge, as would other materials uncovered by the surprisingly effective Colombian intelligence agencies. This might not be enough to ensure such a measure passes at the OAS or the United Nations, but it would begin setting precedents and building a case for the future. And most important, it would force other Latin Americans to take sides: something they intensely dislike.
It is perhaps logical that the once epic struggles of the guerrilla groups of the 1960s and 1970s have ended with the FARC farce. In Argentina last week, to mark the 80th anniversary of Che's birth, a cast-iron sculpture was marched down the streets of Buenos Aires and his hometown of Rosario, cheered on by adoring crowds. But it was Manuel Marulanda who ended up writing Che's essential epitaph and providing his legacy: a bunch of criminals on the run. It's a sad but fitting end to a once mighty rebel movement.
Castañeda is a former foreign minister of Mexico and Global Distinguished Professor at New York University.