[Marxism] The FARC reasserts itself
lnp3 at panix.com
Thu May 26 05:56:36 MDT 2005
Rebels reassert deadly agenda in Colombia
By Indira A. R. Lakshmanan, Boston Globe Staff | May 26, 2005
BOGOTÁ -- A brazen afternoon massacre at a town council meeting in southern
Colombia on Tuesday is the latest episode in an upsurge in deadly attacks
this year by leftist rebels whom the government contended it had driven
After a year of relative quiet since President Álvaro Uribe launched ''Plan
Patriota," an ambitious military offensive that employed 18,000 soldiers
and an estimated $100 million in US military assistance to force the
guerrillas from their strongholds in the south, the rebels have come out of
hiding with weapons blazing.
Since January, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the
FARC, have launched numerous deadly attacks against military and civilian
targets, claiming scores of victims and reminding the public that despite
improvements in security under Uribe, a war is still raging in many parts
of the countryside. Some analysts assert that the government's military
offensive has lost momentum in recent months, giving the guerrillas a
chance to regroup and strike back.
The latest rebel attack, which killed five officials in the town of Puerto
Rico, 200 miles south of Bogotá in the province of Caquetá, has stoked a
national debate over whether the recent FARC attacks are the desperate last
gasps of a debilitated rebel force, or the work of a wily guerrilla army
that has fought the government for 40 years and cannot be defeated through
Political observers say next year's national elections are another element
driving the FARC to step up its attacks, in an effort to undermine public
confidence in the tremendously popular president and his much-heralded
''democratic security" policy, aimed at eliminating illegal armed groups,
drug-trafficking, and corruption.
''This was a very bold operation -- not the work of a group that's cornered
or on the verge of being eliminated," said Andrés Villamizar, a security
analyst and professor at the University of the Andes in Bogotá. ''Twenty
attackers came from the river and killed the city council, and jumped back
in a truck and went back to the river without anyone stopping them -- how?
This is a major intelligence failure in my view."
Observers compared the attack to the mass kidnapping in April 2002 by the
FARC of 14 elected deputies from the local assembly in the province of
Valle. The FARC is still holding those state assemblymen hostage, trying to
use them as bargaining chips with the government.
Puerto Rico is a town of 25,000 in a region that has long been jealously
controlled by the FARC because of its strategic location near the borders
of Peru and Brazil, on a river used for drug-smuggling, an illicit industry
that funds both leftist and rightist paramilitary activities. Puerto Rico's
mayor was killed by the FARC in August 2001, as was his replacement four
months later. A third mayor was named, and the next month he barely escaped
a FARC assassination attempt that killed his two bodyguards.
Julio Casas Pachon, 30, a councilor who survived Tuesday's attack by
leaping out of a town hall window, described the harrowing scene in a
telephone interview with the Globe. Some 15 to 20 attackers, believed by
witnesses and officials to be members of a special forces unit of the FARC,
drove into the town square in a pickup truck and burst into the council
meeting, gunning down three councilors and the town council secretary with
assault rifles. Another councilor died of his wounds later Tuesday,
officials said in a telephone interview. Two councilors, a police officer,
a journalist, and a bystander were wounded, police said.
Colonel Gabriel Rodríguez, commander of the Caquetá police, said in a
telephone interview that the rebels were disguised in Colombian military
uniforms, so their attack took local police and the councilors' bodyguards
Casas said pamphlets distributed around town by the FARC in recent weeks
had ordered the councilors to resign their posts or pay with their lives.
Two weeks ago, the FARC placed a bounty of about $3,500 on the head of any
town councilor in the state of Caquetá.
Despite the trauma of the killings, Casas vowed he would ''continue in my
post, continue to represent the government of Uribe, because no other
president has achieved as much security as he has." At the time of the
massacre, the town councilors were meeting to discuss a peace march planned
for tomorrow intended to protest FARC threats against local officials -- a
march that Casas said he is now too afraid to participate in.
Historically, the FARC have tried to influence local elections and control
town officials and their budgets through everything from bribery to
intimidation to assassination. Villamizar estimates that some 200 mayors in
small towns out of 1,098 municipalities nationwide live under FARC control.
When rebels cannot control local officials, they send a deadly message to
persuade others in the government to comply, he said.
In 2003, 75 town councilors across the country were killed; that number
dropped to 18 in 2004. So far this year, 13 city councilors and one town
secretary have been killed in the country's south -- 10 by suspected FARC
militias, and another four by suspected right-wing paramilitaries,
according to Oscar Andres Núñez, executive director of the National
Federation of Town Councils.
The FARC ''see councilmen as representatives of the state and of Uribe. But
councilmen are the representatives of the local people who elect them. This
was a desperate and cowardly act by a group that is losing its influence in
the local and national area," Núñez said.
General Arnulfo Martínez Baron, commander of the Army's 12th Brigade in
Caquetá, disputed criticisms that the military campaign has waned in recent
months. Since January alone, he said, his brigade has killed 55 FARC
guerrillas in Caquetá -- including 11 in Puerto Rico -- out of an estimated
2,000 rebels in the province. He said his forces have captured more than
100 rebels, along with hundreds of tons of their provisions, munitions,
weapons, communications equipment, and coca base, the raw material for
cocaine that is sold to raise money for supplies. ''About a year and a half
to two years ago, the clock started ticking for the rebels" under Uribe's
policy to eliminate them militarily, he said. ''The end will be very near
But Alfredo Rangel, a military analyst and director of the independent
Foundation for Security and Democracy in Bogotá, cautioned that the state
''has prematurely declared victory." He compared the contention to
President Bush's appearance two years ago, on an aircraft carrier where a
sign proclaimed ''Mission Accomplished," before hostilities ended in Iraq.
''The FARC last year were in a planned retreat. They were playing for time
and waiting for the government to tire out. The military has not been able
to neutralize the FARC, and now the rebels are trying to weaken Uribe and
influence the next election."
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