The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) is often cited as one of the longest-lived revolutionary movements in the world. Founded in 1964, the so-called Marxist-Leninist militants still make the headlines with their persistently ruthless, and increasingly indiscriminate, attacks on Colombian soldiers and civilians alike.
Emerging from “La Violencia”, an unprecedented period of violence in the 1950s where civil war was triggered between opposing peasants by their political patrons, FARC was one of several left-wing revolutionary groups in South America seeking to overthrow a repressive conservative regime. To fund the purchase of much-needed weapons, ammunition and supplies, FARC often resorted to criminal enterprises such as kidnapping, extortion and bribery. In their early days, these tactics were seldom used.
Over the years, however, the fine line between revolutionary movement and criminal enterprise has been gradually eroded by FARC which is now little more than an illegal cartel, operating for profit rather than political gain. The latest news that five Colombian soldiers have been murdered by FARC “rebels” despite ongoing peace talks with the Colombian government in Oslo is no surprise. On numerous occasions over the past two decades, FARC has sought to bring the Colombian government to the negotiating table only for meaningful progress to be barred by another spate of kidnappings and assassinations.
FARC’s tactic is clear. Faux peace talks buy its leaders time to re-group after what are now fairly regular setbacks, particularly during the Presidency of Alvaro Uribe. Whether these setbacks be the destruction of its training camps, the arrest of its leaders or disruption to the cocaine trade that the group has become almost exclusively dependent on for income, FARC simply want to stall the government. Quite simply, its leaders have no intention of making peace. Why should they? They are no longer interested in political concessions or a popular leftist uprising of the peasantry. Their motive, like the capitalists they so fervently deplore, is money.
Whilst the drug trade survives in Colombia, FARC will remain a force in the shadows. It may be an embryonic version of its former self, shorn of all political convictions and revolutionary intentions, yet it still has the capacity to rouse fear and suffering amongst the Colombian people.