Editor’s Note: This report is the second installment of a four-part assessment of terrorist groups operating within Latin America and the Caribbean. The assessment will focus on the Popular Revolutionary Army, better known by its Spanish acronym EPR (Ejercito Popular Revolucionario), the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Jamaat al Muslimeen (JaM), and Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path, or SL).
− Developed as a Marxist-Leninist insurgency, the FARC grew into one of Colombia’s leading drug trafficking gangs
− Though diminished due to President Alvaro Uribe’s strong policies, the FARC remains Colombia’s most powerful insurgent group
− The rebel group will likely continue its drug trafficking and narco terrorist operations in the region
Established in 1966 as the military wing of the Colombian Communist Party, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) is Colombia’s oldest, largest, most capable, and best-equipped, pro-Soviet, Marxist-Leninist insurgency. The FARC’s stated goal was, and in theory still is, to overthrow the current democratic government of Colombia and replace it with a Communist regime.
A Change in Status
Over the years, though, the face of the organization has changed, most notably in the 1980s when the FARC shifted from a purely guerilla movement and became involved with the illicit drug trade. This caused a separation from the Colombian Communist Party and has caused the FARC to become designated as a terrorist organization by over 30 countries including the United States.
• In October 1997, the US Secretary of State named the FARC as a Foreign Terrorist Organization under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act
• On November 2, 2001, the FARC was designated as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist Organization pursuant to Executive Order 13224
• On May 23, 2003, US President George W. Bush designated the FARC as a Significant Foreign Narcotics Trafficker or drug kingpin pursuant to the Kingpin Act
• On April 29, 2004, the US State Department released the Patterns of Global Terrorism 2003 report in which the FARC was listed as a Designated Foreign Terrorist Organization.
Since its growth in the 1980s the FARC has remained more than 10,000 strong with recent estimates having its membership between 8,000 and 12,000. However, while growing in strength in numbers, its ideological devotion seems all but lost. Controlling the illicit drug industry became the priority and overthrowing the government became a battle the FARC only fought through rhetoric. This remains true to date as the FARC’s recent participation in peace talks (1998-2002) and the hostage release talks (2007-present) demonstrates a certain willingness to negotiate with its ideological enemies. Thus, FARC’s ideological commitment remains in doubt.
The Patriot Plan
Beginning in 2002, the FARC was believed to be in a strategic withdrawal due to the increasing military and police actions of new hard-line president Álvaro Uribe. In 2004, President Uribe launched a large military operation, in cooperation with and aided by millions of dollars from the US, called “Plan Patriota” involving nearly 20,000 government soldiers who pushed into FARC controlled territory in an attempt to re-take part of the countryside from the rebels and capture key Guerilla leaders. The plan was successful on many fronts causing the FARC to retreat and lose territory they had controlled for decades.
However, the hard-line approach was limited in its success of capturing key FARC leaders and drove many of the top rebel leaders into deeper hiding. In 2005, the FARC developed a response to President Uribe’s hard-nosed tactics and resurged with a violent campaign that killed hundreds throughout the course of the year. Since, the FARC has maintained a diminished campaign of attacks, though still remains highly involved with the drug trade and in kidnapping and extortion actions.
There is little doubt that the FARC is less of a threat now than it was before President Uribe’s initiatives began in 2002. However, presence of narco terrorists remains high in rural areas of the nation making certain regions particularly dangerous. Kidnappings still occur on a semi-regular basis even as FARC leadership brokers deals for the release of some of its currently held hostages.
More of the Same
Currently, the FARC’s main goal is financial power, territorial control, and political influence within Colombia. For almost five decades the rebel group has struggled to overthrow the Colombian government, however this is unlikely unless the FARC dramatically shifts its approach and increases its strength. More likely, the FARC will continue to disrupt Colombian democracy through its terrorist and drug trafficking activities in the region.
Financial gains made through kidnapping ransoms, extortion, and drug trafficking has made the FARC one of the richest insurgencies in the world. With such a large income, the FARC will likely be able to continue procuring weaponry and promulgating its violent criminal action for the foreseeable future.
As such, the FARC’s main actions have and will likely continue to include bombings, murder, kidnapping, extortion, hijacking, and guerrilla and conventional military action against Colombian political, military, and economic targets.