FARC Terrorist Group in Colombia Diminished but Still Dangerous

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Three Americans (front row) rescued from the FARC stand with members of the U.S. Army.

Washington – A long-standing Colombian terrorist group known as the FARC no longer is a threat to democracy in that country, but it remains capable of carrying out violent acts against the Colombian people, Latin America analysts tell America.gov.

Stephen Donehoo, managing director of McLarty Associates, a Washington consulting group, says the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) is finding it “more and more difficult” to “operate, finance itself, and to recruit new members.”

“Life for existing [FARC] members has become less and less fun. So they’ve had more desertions and more people killed and wounded in combat and more people captured,” said Donehoo, a former U.S. military intelligence officer specializing in Latin America.

The FARC has suffered “some tremendous blows over the last two years,” and the Colombian armed forces, police and intelligence services are “tremendously more capable now than they were 10 years ago.”

The FARC suffered what analysts considered a huge setback in July when the Colombian army used an elaborate ruse to rescue 15 hostages, including three Americans, from FARC captivity. (See “United States “Delighted” by Successful Colombian Rescue Mission.”)

Donehoo said Colombian forces have devised “any number of very clever military intelligence operations” against the FARC that have been successful. Such operations, he said, end up demoralizing the terrorist group “because the FARC becomes embarrassed publicly by the fact they’ve been snookered [tricked].”

The U.S.-backed Plan Colombia, Donehoo said, has provided the Colombian forces with equipment and invigorated training to give the Colombians “much more experience and confidence in themselves. They’re able [to] and do act much more quickly and effectively against the FARC,” which means that the FARC “gets whacked more often than not,” and “also means they get caught by surprise more often than not.”

Donehoo said, however, that the FARC still has some 5,000 to 8,000 armed members in Colombia, and possesses “a number of intelligence assets penetrating different institutions and locations around the country.” Five years ago, FARC was said to have some 18,000 members.

Donehoo warned that the FARC remains a threat as it continues to recruit new members on Colombian university campuses and looks for places to commit terrorist acts.

In the last few months, he said, the Colombian armed forces have deactivated more than 20 car bombs that were meant to attack key facilities in Bogota, the Colombian capital.

President Bush, right, met with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe September 20 at the White House.

Colombian authorities said a suspected FARC car bomb exploded September 1 in the Colombian city of Cali, killing four people and wounding at least 12 in one of the deadliest urban attacks in Colombia in 2008. Authorities view the bombing as linked to the killing or capture of several of FARC’s commanders in recent months.

The FARC was established in 1964 as a self-proclaimed communist guerrilla organization seeking to overthrow the Colombian government. The State Department has designated the FARC as a foreign terrorist organization. (See “Death of Terrorist Leader Might Help End Colombia’s Civil Unrest.”)

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control on September 30 named another eight individuals as key members of FARC’s International Commission who “provide material support to a narco-terrorist organization.” (See “Treasury Designates FARC International Commission Members .”)


Bruce Bagley, professor of international studies at the University of Miami, said the FARC has been “severely reduced in terms of the threat that it represents” to Colombia’s government, “but it remains a significant threat nonetheless.”

“Plan Colombia has helped stabilize the Colombian political system and modernize the Colombian military,” he said, but added that the plan has not reduced “the amount of coca leaf produced in Colombia or the tonnage of refined cocaine exported from Colombia to the United States.”

In 2007, Bagley said, the total number of hectares under coca cultivation in Colombia increased by 27 percent. (See “United States To Shift Focus of Funds for Colombia.”)

Kevin Casas-Zamora, a senior fellow in Washington for the Brookings Institution’s Latin America Initiative, said FARC’s demise probably will help anti-narcotics efforts in Colombia, but the problem of illicit drugs in Colombia “does not end with that.”

The FARC, he said, is just one of many Colombian groups that are involved in drug cultivation and trafficking.

Casas-Zamora said the weakened FARC is, at most, a “military annoyance” but that does not mean its long campaign to overthrow Colombia’s democracy has ended. He cited Guatemala, where that country’s guerrilla force was “all but defeated since the 1980s,” but did not sign a peace agreement with the government until 1996.

The FARC, he said, “lost the battle for public opinion” long ago. He pointed to a public opinion poll with figures showing the unpopularity of the FARC that were “just staggering.” By a margin of 86-1, the Colombian people oppose the FARC, he said.

Casas-Zamora added that because many in the FARC’s old-guard leadership have “passed away peacefully in bed or were killed,” the organization’s founding generation mostly is gone. “That’s always a trauma in any organization, particularly if you are weak from a military standpoint with no public support.”


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