Since its formal inception in 1964 the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia–People’s Army (FARC-EP) has maintained a unique presence within the country of Colombia and Latin America in general. Unlike many revolutionary movements created throughout Central and South America during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, the FARC-EP has held several unique approaches toward creating social transformation. One important characteristic of the insurgency is the method in which it has sought support and organized its internal structure. The insurgents did not form themselves within classrooms or churches; they were not a movement led or largely made up of lawyers, students, doctors or priests. On the contrary, the FARC-EP’s leadership, support-base, and membership has come from the very soil from which it obtains its sustenance, for the insurgents have been largely made up of peasants from rural Colombia.
The relation of the peasantry to the FARC-EP has remained consistent over the past four decades. It has been general practice and knowledge that to enter most sections of rural Colombia is to enter guerrilla-extended territory. The FARC-EP has been exceedingly fluid throughout much of the countryside and within these areas the insurgents have frequently held inspections on primary and secondary roadways, implemented grass-roots judicial centers, and of course, engaged in militant confrontations with state/ paramilitary forces. Recently however these observable social characteristics have changed due to a new military model constructed by the Bush administration in cooperation with the Uribe government.
When Plan Colombia was presented to the United States and passed in 2000 (said to deal with coca production and guerrilla elements throughout Colombia) an extreme amount of opposition was presented to the then Clinton administration. As a result of this pressure the government of the time voted to limit the number of U.S. troops and private contracted forces directly allowed to enter into Colombian territory at 800 (400 U.S. personnel and 400 contracted personnel). The Bush administration on the other hand has manufactured a “war on terror” methodology to cover up the blatant failure of Plan Colombia coupled with the purpose of eliminating the incredibly well-equipped and powerful Marxist-Leninist FARC-EP which poses a tremendous threat to U.S. economic and political interests. Consequently, in late 2003 and early 2004 the Department of Defense initiated an increase of U.S.-based counterinsurgents to execute a direct offensive campaign of armed aggression against specific regions of Colombia through Plan Patriota.
Plan Patriota has allowed the United States government to legally justify an enormous state-sponsored escalation of U.S. troops and contracted forces within Colombia. From the time of its implementation offenses have been carried out against suspected rebel-extended regions, thus leaving numerous noncombatant causalities, displacements, and deaths. The assaults are carried out by a conjoined relationship of United States state/private combatants who are leading over 20,000 Colombian soldiers in a scorched earth policy that is solely meant to eliminate the FARC-EP by combating their support networks (political parties, students, campesinos, food-crops, academics, unionists, etc.). The “plan” is now being largely concentrated in the departments of Putumayo, Caquetá, Nariño, and Meta.
Since the late spring of 2004 it has appeared that Plan Patriota is “succeeding” in rooting out the FARC-EP from regions where they once showed tangible presence, as was witnessed by the author in a recent return to Southeastern Colombia (Cundinamarca, Huila, Tolima, and Cauca). The FARC-EP was not visibly present in many rural towns and villages as has been the case in months and years past. However, the lack of overt presence does not mean that the FARC-EP has fully retracted from the countryside. It is speculated that in actuality the guerrilla has objectively enhanced its reticence for two specific reasons.
The first reason for the FARC-EP’s “absence” is to limit the opportunity of the U.S./Colombian state forces from entering campesino inhabited regions that are, or at one time were, supporters of the insurgency. The Colombian military has a horrendous record of committing human rights abuses against non-combatants; therefore the FARC-EP has chosen to limit its immediate visible presence in the hopes of diminishing the chance of injury against the rural populations of FARC-EP extended regions. The second explanation for their imperceptibility is that the insurgency may be planning the implementation of a large-scale regional assault against the U.S./Colombian state forces in Southern Colombia. Since 1982, the FARC-EP has labeled itself as the Ejercito del Pueblo or People’s Army; however, since that time the FARC-EP has maintained their socio-political activities through methods of guerrilla-based warfare; inducing strategic small-scale attacks or armed missions against specific targets, and not as a formally organized army. Therefore, the author argues that the FARC-EP has pulled back a large percentage of its combatant forces into the region in the purpose of waging a major armed conflict against the Colombian army, paramilitary, and now, U.S. forces.
The interesting aspect of all this is that while the FARC-EP may very well be preparing for a major military confrontation in Southern Colombia the rural supporters of the insurgents are still quietly stationed throughout the country; in the cities, towns, villages, mountainside, and fields. Therefore, the eve of a full-scale revolutionary war between the insurgent forces of the FARC-EP and their rural support-base against the Colombian/United States forces could be a very real reality in the not to distant future of Colombia.
James J. Brittain is a Ph.D. candidate and Lecturer of Sociology at the University of New Brunswick, Canada. Recent publications include; “The Agrarian Question and Agrarian Struggle in Colombia” (with Igor Ampuero) In Reclaiming the Land: The Resurgence of Rural Movements in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Sam Moyo and Paris Yeros (Eds.). (2005, Zed Books); “How Young Canadians Can Respond To Political Impotence: Reexamining the Importance of Marxism” In A Place at the Table: Canada’s Youth Raise Their Voice. Charlie MacDougall (Ed.). (2006, Fernwood Publishers); “The State/Paramilitary Configuration: Contextual Realities of Human Rights Abuse in Contemporary Colombia” Socialist Studies (2005, under peer-review); “The Economics of Violence: Uribe’s Plan to Increase Military Spending” People’s Voice (2004) 12:16, 5. He can be reached at: email@example.com