HAVANA — Fidel Castro offers both praise and criticism for late Colombian rebel leader Manuel “Sureshot” Marulanda in a new book published Thursday.
The book appears nearly eight months after the founder of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, died of a heart attack at the age of 77.
Marulanda, Castro said, “did extraordinary things with guerrilla units, which, under his personal direction, penetrated deep into enemy territory.”
But Fidel faulted the FARC’s policy of taking captives – whether prisoners captured in battle or kidnapped civilians – on both tactical and humanitarian grounds.
Under “Sureshot,” who was born Pedro Antonio Marin, the FARC accumulated captives in hopes of trading them for jailed rebels, an approach that was never very effective.
Contending that a guerrilla army can’t afford to burden itself with prisoners, Castro also reiterated his earlier condemnation of the FARC’s mistreatment of captives and of the rebels’ abductions of civilian politicians who had no role in the armed conflict.
Fidel, who fell ill in July 2006 and formally stepped down in February in favor of younger brother Raul Castro, said he likewise disagreed with Sureshot’s broader strategy.
“His conception of first creating an army of more than 30,000 men, from my point of view, was neither correct nor financeable for the purpose of defeating enemy ground forces in an irregular war,” Castro wrote.
Even so, the Cuban hailed Sureshot for “revolutionary firmness” and for “his readiness to fight to the last drop of blood.”
“A truly revolutionary fighter must never lay down arms. That’s how I thought more than 55 years ago. That’s how I think today,” the 82-year-old Castro said.
The book also includes an anecdote related to Castro by a top official of the Cuban Communist Party, Jose Arbesu, about a conversation with erstwhile FARC second-in-command Raul Reyes, killed March 1 in a Colombian raid on a clandestine camp in Ecuador.
The guerrilla told Arbesu that the U.S. government had contacted the FARC with a proposal to cooperate against the trade in illegal drugs.
“‘It was the only thing that interested them’, Reyes said,” according to Castro, who commented: “For the purposes of asking them for such ‘cooperation’, the FARC were not terrorists!”
The Cuban was referring to Washington’s official designation of the FARC as a terrorist organization.
Ultimately, the FARC tapped into the drug trade to finance its operations. The rebels insist, however, that their involvement is limited to “taxing” the production of drugs within guerrilla-controlled territory.