Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue Mar 26 11:39:07 MST 2002

>Quick query.  A comrade recently went to Mexico City for a conference on
>Colombia. At the conference, an organization was handing out free books on
>different issues on Colombia. One of the books they handed out and was given
>to me was a book written  by a Manuel Marulanda Velez.  Can anybody
>enlighten me with a short bio and his involvement with FARC?
>por el socialismo,
>erik toren

(Obviously, since Rohter is the same guy that Carlos Rebello just blasted,
we should take this article with a grain of salt. In any case, it does have
the biographical essentials.)

The New York Times
July 19, 1999, Monday, Late Edition - Final

A Colombian Guerrilla's 50-Year Fight


BOGOTA, Colombia, July 17

He was born Pedro Antonio Marin and took the name Manuel Marulanda after he
became a guerrilla half a century ago. But all over Colombia, people know
him simply as "Tirofijo," which translates as "Sureshot." He acquired that
intimidating nickname because of his military prowess, but in recent years
his political aim has proved nearly as unerring.

Written off just a decade ago as in irreversible decline, the guerrilla
movement Mr. Marin leads, the left-wing Revolutionary Armed Forces of
Colombia, or FARC, today operates in nearly half of Colombia. Little more
than a week ago, the 15,000-strong army attacked more than a score of towns
and military outposts, prompting President Andres Pastrana to impose a
curfew in 10 of the country's 32 provinces. On Monday, Mr. Marin and his
rebel group were scheduled to begin formal peace talks with Government
negotiators in an effort to end a conflict that has lasted more than 35
years. He was doing so from a position of strength: No cease-fire has been
declared, the Colombian armed forces are resentful of concessions Mr.
Pastrana has made to get the insurgents to the table, and rebel leaders
said they intended to continue their military campaign even as the talks
took place.

But late today, the negotiations were indefinitely postponed, the result of
a dispute with the Government over the role that international observers
are to play. Shortly after the postponement, five soldiers and a guerrilla
were killed when an army patrol was ambushed in a working-class
neighborhood of the capital here, an action that seemed aimed at
bludgeoning Mr. Pastrana into further concessions.

"Marulanda is a warrior, but it is important to remember that he took up
arms for political reasons," said Arturo Alape, a writer and painter who is
the author of "The Lives of Tirofijo" and two other biographies of the
guerrilla leader written with Mr. Marin's cooperation. "The FARC practices
politics through arms, but it does have a political project, and that
project is based on Marulanda's conception of life and history."

Mr. Marin was born into a peasant family in a coffee-growing area of
west-central Colombia, in 1930 by his account, in 1928 by most others. The
oldest of five children, he received an elementary school education before
going to work as a woodcutter, butcher, baker and candy salesman.

His family supported the Liberal Party, and when a Liberal President was
assassinated here and civil war erupted in 1948, Mr. Marin and a group of
cousins took to the mountains. Although his ideological loyalties have
changed markedly since then, he has never ceased being a man on the run.

As a result, "Marulanda's is the logic of the pursued," said Mr. Alape.
"You flee, but there comes a time when you have to stop, turn and strike a
blow at your pursuer."

Because of his peasant origins, the Colombian elite tends to ascribe to him
the personality traits they associate with poor people from the
countryside. In press accounts and interviews, he is often described as
canny but suspicious of outsiders, unlettered and somewhat inarticulate but
upright in his personal dealings.

That image, with all the implicit class bias that flows from it, appears to
color the Colombian Government's dealings with Mr. Marin, even as he
outwits generals and politicians alike. "Tirofijo is a peasant who still
gives value to keeping his word, and I am not going to do anything that
puts mine in doubt," Mr. Pastrana said last week, explaining why he was not
calling off peace talks despite the rebel offensive.

Mr. Marin is credited with having helped Mr. Pastrana, a member of the
Conservative Party, win last year's election by meeting with him during the
campaign, implicitly endorsing prospects for peace. Preliminary "talks
about talks" between the two sides began in January, but Mr. Pastrana was
humiliated when he showed up at the opening meeting and Mr. Marin failed to
appear, sending an underling instead.

"Marulanda is a born leader," said Alfredo Rangel Suarez, author of the
book "Colombia: War at the End of the Century" and a former national
security adviser. "He is not a theoretician by any means, but he is very
astute and has a great capacity for command and organization." Having
"built an army with his own hands," Mr. Marin "has very clear objectives
and fixed ideas," Mr. Rangel continued. "His objective is to take power,
and his ideas are Marxism-Leninism of the most basic sort."

But Mr. Alape, who last met with the rebel leader about three months ago,
disagrees. "His agenda is not a social revolution but only the sort of
social justice that globalization increasingly seems not to take into
account," he said. "He is not asking for the impossible, nor for a utopia."

Still, the rebel group's platform calls for the nationalization of industry
and would all but outlaw foreign investment. The group has its own Web
page, but has traditionally stressed self-reliance and maintained an
ironclad internal discipline, keeping a certain distance even from Cuba and
revolutionary movements in Central America.

"With their penchant for violence and sectarianism, the FARC is, with the
possible exception of Sendero Luminoso in Peru, the closest thing that this
continent has to the Khmer Rouge, with Tirofijo as Pol Pot," said a Latin
American diplomat here. "If they were ever to come to power, which is never
going to happen, Colombia would surely become the harshest and most
fanatical of revolutionary states."

There have already been some signs of an extremist bent in the huge
demilitarized zone that the Colombian Government handed over to the rebels
in November as a good-faith gesture to jump-start the peace talks. During
the recent offensive, which was launched from the zone, 11 residents of the
rebel enclave were executed and 34 went missing, according to government

In addition, three American environmentalists were captured and executed by
a FARC unit in March on suspicion that they were C.I.A. agents. The group
blamed the killings on a local commander acting improperly on his own
authority, but most observers of the rebels describe their command
structure as "vertical," with all power flowing directly from Mr. Marin.

Yet on a personal level, "Tirofijo is very conservative," said Maria Jimena
Duzan, a journalist and author who specializes in national security issues
and has spent time with FARC units. While other leaders "had bottles of
cognac and other luxuries in their homes," she said, "Tirofijo lived in a
peasant's dwelling, a totally austere place," decorated only by spent
cartridges and a misspelled sign that warned "no foul language is permitted

Mr. Marin, who has not been married as far as any of his biographers can
tell, reportedly has numerous children, including a daughter who now lives
in Paris, by liaisons with various women.

Spending time around Mr. Marin in the mid 1980's, when he was in charge of
military affairs and Jacobo Arenas handled political affairs, "was like
being in a medieval court," Ms. Duzan recalled. "A soldier would come in,
snap to attention and announce to Tirofijo that 'Felipe the Fourth has
arrived,' meaning that Felipe from the fourth front was reporting."

After Mr. Arenas's death from a heart attack in 1990, Mr. Marin ascended to
the top spot, with his chief of security, Jorge Briceno Suarez, becoming
his right-hand man. Under their leadership, the military, political and,
thanks to taxes on cocaine and heroin production and a wave of kidnappings,
economic fortunes of the FARC have vastly improved, and along with that,
Mr. Marin's legend.

Polls indicate that the vast majority of Colombians dislike the group and
regard it as nothing but a terrorist band interested in increasing its take
from drug trafficking. Mr. Alape said Mr. Marin is aware of the FARC's
unpopularity, but hasn't given it very much attention.

"This is a big failing that should be of concern to them and make them
change, because otherwise it will be very costly for them," he said. "With
the structure and vision they have, it is hard for them to open up. They
are still acting on the basis of the logic and arrogance of war."

Louis Proyect
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