[Marxism] The FARC reasserts itself

Louis Proyect 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 
military action.

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 
by surprise.

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 
for them."

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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