In May 1964, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) was established by a group of Marxist rebels intent on creating a communist state in South America. In the intervening half-century some 220,000 people have been killed in the armed struggle between the criminal/terrorist group and government forces.
Like many left-wing guerrilla groups that formed with a strong ideological premise, the Farc has descended into a militant criminal gang, operating in the realm of narco-trafficking, political assassination and abduction more characteristic of the big Colombian drug cartels or the Mafia.
Whilst some progress has been made in the ongoing Havana peace talks between representatives of the Colombian government and the Farc (including agreements on land reform, political participation and the drug trade), a lasting concord appears unlikely. Quite simply, the Farc cannot be trusted. The organisation is no longer a coherent body and militant criminals acting under the Farc banner will quickly discredit any move towards reconciliation.
The failure to completely eradicate the Farc (which had seen its numbers decline from approximately 20,000 to 7,500 in the first decade of this century) is part of the reason President Juan Manuel Santos has lost the first round of his re-election campaign to right-wing candidate Oscar Ivan Zuluaga.
Zuluaga, quite reasonably, sees the peace talks in Havana as a delaying tactic by the Farc, allowing it to rebuild whilst simultaneously drawing concessions from the government.
Because of Colombia’s geography – vast swathes of forest and rural highlands – wiping out every last vestige of the Farc is likely to prove extremely difficult. Just as the Maoist Shining Path group in Peru causes periodic instability, the Farc is likely to continue do the same thing. Indeed, its nominal leader, ‘Timochenko’, has promised just that:
Timochenko dreams of an ‘effective peace’ and refuses unconditional surrender. What concessions he really expects from a country terrorised by his group’s activities for half-a-century is hard to fathom. And the notion that the Farc would willingly uphold any signed agreement, given its history, seems faintly ludicrous.