The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC) is an insurgent group operating in Columbia driven by both business and political motives. The FARC was founded in 1964, but before then it functioned as a small unit. The small unit that gave rise to the current FARC that was operating to suppress the heavy presence of the US army in Columbia after WWII. In 1964, there were no operations under the name FARC, but under the Southern Block; this is the name the insurgent group was operating with until it was renamed to the FARC in 1966. Currently, the group is almost celebrating its 48th anniversary since its foundation. As a Latin American group involved in both terror activities and narcotics, critics refer to the group as to a Narcoterrorist group. The availability of narcotics in Latin America, especially Columbia, makes the country a target for narcotic businesses, hence paving the way for narcotic related crimes (Collier, 2001).
The founding of the FARC is believed to have been stimulates by the aggravated need to address the issues facing the poor Columbians. In interviews with some of the representatives of the group, it is clear that the purpose of founding the FARC was to address social matters that the government ignored. The Columbia government has been accused by the FARC of negligence in addressing the grievances of its people, hence this served to be the basis of the FARC insurgency. Initially, the group did not take on the government as a substitute option for the people; however, it sought to fight for the rights of the poor. With most of the peaceful negotiations and demonstrations landing on government deaf hears, the FARC embarked on the use of force to suppress the government into giving in to its demands. However, the task of confronting the government from the top was believed to have very little impact in terms of change and control. The FARC seeks to control Columbia as it claims that the government is not doing anything or enough to curb the insecurity and poverty levels. In this case, the group takes on the lowest government administration and then ascents from there. The importance of taking on the government from the lowest point is to destroy its influence on the people it governs corrupting the voters who under other circumstances elect the parliament (Gonzalez, 2001).
Inspite of the fact that the FARC made progress in reaching its point; their motives are seen to be mixed and driven by greed rather than grievances, a fact used by the government to criminalize the group. When dealing with the issues of bad government on the side of the government, the FARC is illegally operating and arming young people, whom it recruits to its force. On the other hand, the FARC’s involvement in narcotics is a basis the government uses to disqualify motives of the FARC as genuine. In this case, the government has, on several occasions, tried to suppress the group by arresting and killing its members or sympathizers; a move that has worsened the position of the FARC in terms of motives and activities carried out.
Like any other group, whether non-governmental or voluntary groups undertaking tasks, operations of any nature depend on funding. Funding is the activity of providing financial support for oneself or being sponsored by a different, but affiliated party. In the case of the FARC, funding does not seem to be a problem for the group as it has several means of acquiring the financial support it seeks. The initial Southern Block’s motive was to protect peasants from being exploited by the rich and to deal with the general unbalanced wealth distribution facing Columbia. Given the tense relations between the FARC and the government, the wealth distribution of Columbia is unbalanced, hence separating the nation into two groups. The two groups involve the rich and the poor – in Columbia there is no middle class. The division between the government and the FARC as well as that prevailing between the poor and the rich makes the motives of either side different, hence creating a barrier of negotiation. The rich are not willing to help the poor, and the government is not willing to listen to the FARC. In this case, the FARC has to survive by reaping financial support from the rich through any means possible to support its operations.
The sale of drugs by the FARC group is one of the most beneficial activities of the FARC and it yields the biggest financial support. In Columbia, the poor do not have any land and therefore survive by working for the rich who own large portions of land. Agriculture in Columbia is a lagging sector and farm products like potatoes, corn, and other legal products have no place on the available plantations. With collaborations of some land owners and the rich, the FARC controls, taxes, and protects the growing, manufacturing, researching, and marketing of coca plantations, coca leaves, and cocaine respectively. For the rich, the cheapest labor they can get is by using the poor to work for them in exchange for food and shelter. This fact makes the poor short of options for they cannot do anything about their poor statuses – they must work or they will starve to death. Considering the value of coca in terms of its illegal status, most of the rich people would rather get involved in such business than do agriculture on legal products. With the protection from the FARC, these rich people are able to carry out their businesses, hence providing a livelihood for the FARC through taxes, shares, and control of marketing routes.
The research conducted by the Amnesty International in 2001 showed that the FARC group had kidnapped more than 3000 people. Kidnapping is a means of acquiring money from the rich and the able. With the government playing governance games with the FARC, it embarks to suppress the group through arrests and killings while, on the other hand, the FARC embarks on making as much money as possible from the government officials and activities. Most of the rich people who fall as victims of kidnapping are government personnel, whose release depends on heavy payment of ransom. In several cases, kidnappings have instilled fear in the government to the extent that around 58% of the government departments are run by the FARC. Some of the activities that the government refers to as of terroristic in nature, involve the kidnapping of government personnel and killing them even after the payment of ransom. Besides funding, the FARC group uses kidnapping as means of sending the message to the government. From any perspective, the message of the FARC to the government is that it needs more control over the sectors that the government cannot address with immediate or progressive effect (Keen, 2000).
The FARC funds itself through the activities it is involved in like drug dealing and kidnapping. Since the year when the FARC came into operations, it is reported that 88 billion pesos is the amount of money that the group has collected from kidnappings alone. With its workforce, of about 18,000 combatants, annual revenue of $300 million to $700 million is by far a sufficient sum for paying its workforce as well as purchasing top-class weaponry. Considering the fact that the government tries occasionally to crack down on the group, it worries about its proficiency in dealing with the group as the group gets foreign training and high-tech weapons. On the other hand, the government of Columbia has suffered immense lack of military personnel and weapons due to the general economic crisis in the country. In this case, activities and the ability of the group are connected to the success the group had within the last decade in suppressing the government down to less than 50% representation in government departments. While the government strives to collect revenue through scattered collection of taxes, the FARC does the same, sales drugs, kidnaps for ransom, and runs business cartels involved in the sale of narcotics. The phenomenon makes the FARC almost or better placed in terms of financing than the government (Marcella, 2002).
A terrorist attack is a terror activity that is carried out by an individual or a group against another individual or group of individuals as a means of paralyzing their activities or sending them a message. Most terror groups use bombing of public sights or government offices as a means of getting attention of the government before making their demands. Logically, terrorism is a form of professional and illegal blackmailing as it uses one’s weakness to get an advantage of a situation. The government of any country cannot guarantee that it will protect every individual of that country, but it can protect itself. Protecting government personnel and departments is an activity that armed forces of any country can effectively perform. However, the protection of citizens from random attack is a difficult task for a government to implement. Terror attacks are not theoretical and do not involve much dialogue – a terrorist will not say that he/she will be attacking the luxury hotels if some demands are not met, he will attack the hotels and make demands promising more attacks if nothing to address his/her demands is done. This logic gets governments worried about their control over the terror groups, as the random nature of attacks is painfully unpredictable.
The FARC does not classify itself as a terror group and nor does any terror group. The affiliation of the FARC with terror groups like the HAMAS, Hezbollah, Irish Republican Army, and National Liberation Army (ELN) makes the FARC a terror group. Besides the affiliation of the FARC with some of the world’s terror groups, the activities and threats that have been performed by the FARC confirm its position in the terror profession. In August 2010, officials uncovered a plot by the FARC to bomb hotels in Cali, Columbia, using some 1.5 tons of explosives. In March of 2011, a car bomb set by the FARC exploded in Calota Cauca, Columbia, heightening tension on the country. Other related offensives carried out by the FARC involve attacks on military installments aimed on crippling the ability of the government to retaliate. For example, a fierce exchange of gunfire was reported in the Columbian village of Tacueyo that the government sought to re-take after it was seized by the FARC. The operation left several military personnel dead on that failed attempt therefore making the military proficiency questionable against the proficiency of the FARC (Sweig, 2002).
Government Influence by the FARC
From the 1940’s, under the control of the Bolivian guerrillas, to the 1960’s when it started to grow, the FARC is qualified as one of the oldest terror groups in the world. This status is influenced by several key factors like WWII and the Cold War. However, Columbia being a territorial neighbor of the USA, the influence of major wars that the US has fought throughout the period between 1940 and 2011 has the potential of paralyzing the existence of a terror group for that long. During World War II, the world went into turmoil, where military bases were set on any soil as long as that nation supported the Soviet Union or the United Nations. Columbia, according to its history, was neither a supporter of the United Nations nor the Soviet Union and either side could use its skies. However, given the economic background of Columbia, any side of the fighting giants could have bullied Columbia into taking sides - a fact the US used to their advantage.
With the FARC surviving the heavy presence of the US military during the periods of WWII and the Cold War, the Columbian government as a smaller unit fears that the FARC ability is much stronger than it anticipates. Unlike Mexico, whose drug cartels were partially seized by the government forces, the FARC is not an agency running drug cartels, but rather a body with specialized military skills, power, weapons, and necessary financial backing. In this case, the government of Columbia is not in a position to defeat or push the FARC out of operations. With this in mind, it is clear that more than 30 government departments under the control of the FARC were acquired through the exercise of militia power and spread of fear throughout the government and the military. With the FARC controlling more of the country side parts of Columbia where narcotics are grown, processed, and sold from; the government has very little control, if at any all, over such areas, hence the influence of the FARC prevails. The access of the government to such areas inspite of the FARC’s presence is further hindered by the rugged topographical alignment of the landscape. In addition, with the FARC controlling municipalities, villages, divisions, and districts; the Columbian government representation in such administrations is figuratively dead and functionally decapitated (CODEP Conference, 2001).
Involvement of Other Governments
There are two reasons why millions of people migrate to the United States every year: the ideology that the US has more opportunities than their countries of origin and the belief that good can only come from the US and not from their countries. This belief and ideology are taken by the FARC as false, hence raising the need to take action against the US influence in Columbia. From the jungles of Columbia, cocaine, heroin, and marijuana are processed and sold to Peru, Mexico, and the USA. The narcotics business does not tie one country with another as partners in trade, hence the situation between the FARC’s belief about the American ideologies and the need to abolish the American influence in Columbia remains. As smooth or rocky as the narcotics’ business goes for the FARC, the selection of whom to sell the drugs does not matter, but it is rather the use of money. The US is the largest consumer of the Columbian heroin in the state of California and the biggest critic of the narcotics businesses. Ironically, the amount of money received from the sale of heroin in the USA is partially used by the FARC against the US influence in Columbia – using US Dollars to fund the US influence extermination.
Besides the reference to the FARC’s motives, other governments have been associated with the FARC in terms of power, supply of weaponry, and business ties. Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, has been reported on several occasions to have meetings with Timochenko, FARC’s narcotics’ production and distribution manager. The authenticity of these media claims is debatable, but through a thorough analysis on dates and events, the possibility of Venezuela’s involvement with the FARC is high. In 1998 and 1999, it was reported that Hugo Chavez met with Timochenko to discuss a deal influencing the FARC to disrupt businesses in Latin America in exchange for financial, weaponry, and military training support. Despite the long periods that the FARC has been in operation, a rather sophisticated order of operations was recorded after 2000, therefore confirming the involvement of external government affiliations (CODEP Conference, 2001).
Political Motives of the FARC
In a number of events and reports from the Columbian government, the FARC is almost a political party with representatives almost in all major departments that it controls. Apart from the narcotic and terrorist actions that the FARC is involved in and associated with, more of political motives have been registered in its routinely activities. Some of the routinely activities, blamed on the government for neglecting, are meant to mend the gap between the poor and the rich. In the municipalities, it is reported that the FARC controls most of the activities through a docket of its own, different from the constitution of the country. The FARC in these settings sets rules on activities like prostitution, drug abuse, payment of taxes, and controls the financial and health sectors of these areas. It is, however, hard to help noticing the claim that the FARC controls drug abuse while in theory and practice, it is involved and funded by the sale of narcotics. Given that Columbia is economically unstable, the narcotics business cartels do not target local markets, hence the logic of the drug abuse rules. Plantation farmers are urged and prevented from selling narcotics to other agents apart from the FARC distributors. This move helps the FARC to stay in control of both the narcotics and their use as well. High local consumption of narcotics devalues the products while reserved consumption on the international markets appreciates the value – a strategic move integrated to the FARC’s docket of rules (Sweig, 2002).
What is it that the government of Columbia has not tried to do, cannot do, and does not want to do, that the FARC believes it can? According to the government of Columbia, the FARC is an illegal group seeking to overthrow the government and get rid of the USA support in Columbia and in no circumstance should such a group be allowed to govern the people of Columbia. Whether the motive of the FARC is to negotiate for better living standards for the poor Columbians or not, the government of Columbia has not addressed itself the issues facing the poor. As much as the FARC claims to have grievances it is seeking to address, the killing of over 50,000 citizens by the group over the period of time it has been in operation is unjustified and a cause for havoc.
The implication of the grievance-claims and the killings; besides other atrocities committed by the FARC, display a state of tension, fear, and unwillingness of adherent politicians to vie for government positions. This state further damages the probability of ever transforming the political terrain of Columbia. The suppression of the government by the FARC seems to work more than the efforts to suppress the FARC by the government. This is because, manifestation of the FARC activities on the government undertakings have led to fear of leadership by politicians. While the FARC is making money to support its operations, arrests and killings of the FARC members can be dealt with through recruiting more members, hence making the FARC prevalence a constant variable. However, kidnapping and killing of government officials by the FARC, bears more fruit; it prevents future officials from addressing the same issues addressed by fallen officials. This trend keeps the FARC focused and goal oriented while at the same time, derailing government officials from executing their duties in accordance with the law for the fear of more chaos in the country, their executions, or escalated general insecurityin Columbia.
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