The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have confirmed the death of rebel leader Alfonso Cano, but reject the idea that the group must demobilize or perish, a statement of defiance which many experts of the 47-year guerrilla struggle feel is more accurate than Pres. Santos's assurances the the rebel force will soon be annihilated.
According to an official statement signed by FARC's secretariat and published late Nov. 5 on the rebel-friendly news web site Anncol, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia has vowed to continue its guerrilla warfare against the Colombian government. The statement also makes it clear that Cano, killed Nov. 4 by the country's armed forced, would be replaced, refusing a government order to lay down all weapons.
Defiant in the face of guffaws and enthusiastic toasts by Colombia's elite establishment, the leftist rebels paired their statement with an attack in Cauca, a southern province of Colombia. At least one died and nine other were wounded early this morning, according to TVNZ, when a group of men identified as FARC rebels threw four home-made gas cylinder bombs into a settlement in the Piendamo municipality. The attack is the third of its kind since Cano, real name Guillermo Leon Saenz, was killed in a raid on his jungle hideout.
Pres. Santos: FARC At Breaking Point.
Many Colombians, especially thsoe in the upper-class, had hoped the death of the 63-year-old leader would trigger a breakdown of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, ending a civil war that has lasted almost 50 years.
Starting as a Marxist uprising meant to represent Colombia's peasants and battle the country's sharp and corrupt disparity of wealth, FARC has come to rely increasingly on the cocaine trade and on high-profile kidnappings for financing its guerilla warfare. Tens of thousands of Colombians have died caught in the crossfires of FARC, the Colombian government, or right-wing insurgents allied with the military.
The assassination of Cano, whom President Juan Manuel Santos called el numero uno, seemed to break the everlasting stalement, one already weakened by Santos's partnership with the U.S.
Plan Colombia, an America-backed program of financial aid, military training and intelligence cooperation, has routed FARC consistently. Following the natural death of Manuel Marulanda (known as Tirfijo, Sure Shot) in 2008, Colombian troops killed Raul Reyes, chief member of FARC's secretariat and its main spokesman. The army later launched a hostage rescue mission that recovered 15 hostages, including senator and then-presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt.
Since 2008, Cano has been the fourth man ruling from FARC's seven-man secretariat to die violently, though the first to be assassinated by the government. An estimated 7,000-9,000 rebels remain, of the 17,000 when the group was at its peak. After years of controlling large portions of the country, reports indicate the rebel fighters have lost control over a large part of Colombia's territory.
Santos released a statement on Nov. 5 vowing that FARC was at breaking point. He told combatants that the door was still open to negotiation, but warned them to stop any attempts at retaliation or guerilla warfare. This is the moment to decide to lay down your arms, Pres. Santos stated, because as we've said many times, the alternative is prison or a tomb.
Santos also said that Cano's rank were infiltrated by rebel defectors, but refused to discuss the details, according to CNN.
Underlying Conflicts: The FARC Aren't Done.
Despite Pres. Santos's assurances, however, many experts doubt that this will be the end of the FARC insurgency. The group has survived over forty years, and still has a central corps of very experienced, mid-level commanders.
And although Cano, who had a $3.7 million bounty on his head, was largely despised by Colombians, The Post reports strong pockets of support on the extreme left and among some university students.
More importantly, there are those, especially of the still-prevalent peasant class, who remain deeply angered by grossly uneven land and wealth distribution, indifference to an enormous refugee population, and the often murderous activities of right-wing parliamentaries, who are themselves clsoely associated, though not officially backed by, Santos's government.
The FARC aren't done. The FARC are going to react in some way because it's important for them to show that the death of a leader doesn't mean a process of desertion or surrender, said Camilo Gomez, who was peace commissioner under Santos predecessor Andres Pastrana. Gomez took part in a series of failed negotiations with FARC from 1998-2002, and says that the likelihood of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia surrendering or breaking apart is slim to none.
Hope that the burial of Canos' body could begin some short-term peace negotiations is similarly ill-founded. The middle-ranking commanders are not going to negotiate over the cadaver of Cano, Ariel Avila, an analyst with the Nuevo Arco Iris think tank, told Fox News. Their peace intentions are going to be paralyzed for a time. There's no lack of unity in the FARC's interior.
Steps Toward Progress
Groups like FARC, and fellow leftist guerilla group The National Liberation Army (ELN) will never disappear until the government starts addressing the underlying social issues that have fueled the conflict for so long.
Pres. Santos has taken steps in this direction. Earlier this year, he passed a law seeking to redress the wrongs suffered by about 4 million victims of Colombia's civil war, including thousands of peasants whose land was stolen by the military and right-wing insurgents working for wealthy land barons. Cano actually praised the President's initiative in a New Year's message to FARC, but the enterprise wil take at least a decade, costing billions.
In the meantime, there is increasing speculation that Santos, in addition to planting spies, may also be engaged in secret negotiations with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Cano had always declared his willingness to negotiate a resolution to the 47-year-old conflict, but Santos had always reiterated his predecessors, saying he would open a dialogue when terrorist action ceased.
Two veteran rebels, Ivan Marquez and Timochenko, are possible replacements for Cano. Both belong to the secretariat, though Colombian officials say they currently reside in Venezuela. Too little is known about Marquez and Timochenko to speculate on the progress of peace talks between Santos and FARC under their leadership.
Public Statement [Full Text]:
Public Statement from The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
We hear from the Colombian oligarchy and its generals the official announcement of the death of comrade and commander Alfonso Cano. Their guffaws and enthusiastic toasts still resound. All of the voices of the Establishment agree that this means the end of the guerrilla struggle in Colombia.
The only reality that symbolizes the death in combat of comrade Alfonso Cano, is the immortal strength of the Colombian people, who would rather die than live on their knees begging. The story of the struggles of this people is full of martyrs, women and men who never let their arm be twisted in the pursuit of equality and justice.
This will be neither the first time that the oppressed and exploited in Colombia are mourning one of its greatest leaders, nor the first they replace this mourning with the courage and absolute conviction of victory. Peace in Colombia will not be born from any guerrilla demobilization, but from the abolition of the causes that give rise to the uprising. There is a policy laid out and that is the one that shall continue.
Comrade and Commander Alfonso Cano has died. He has fallen most fervently convinced of the need for a political solution and for peace. Long live the memory of commander Alfonso Cano!
Original Text, in Spanish:
Escuchamos de la oligarquía colombiana y sus generales el anuncio oficial de la muerte del Camarada y Comandante Alfonso Cano. Resuenan aún sus alegres carcajadas y sus brindis de entusiasmo. Todas las voces del Establecimiento coinciden en que ello significa el final de la lucha guerrillera en Colombia.
La única realidad que simboliza la caída en combate del camarada Alfonso Cano, es la inmortal resistencia del pueblo colombiano, que prefiere morir antes que vivir de rodillas mendigando. La historia de las luchas de este pueblo está repleta de mártires, de mujeres y de hombres que jamás dieron su brazo a torcer en la búsqueda de la igualdad y la justicia.
No será esta la primera vez que los oprimidos y explotados de Colombia lloran a uno de sus grandes dirigentes. Ni tampoco la primera en que lo reemplazarán con el coraje y la convicción absoluta en la victoria. La paz en Colombia no nacerá de ninguna desmovilización guerrillera, sino de la abolición definitiva de las causas que dan nacimiento al alzamiento.Hay una politica trazada y esa es la que se continuará.
Ha muerto el Camarada y Comandante Alfonso Cano. ha caido el mas ferviente convencido de la necesidad de la solución política y la paz. ¡viva la memoria del comandante Alfonso Cano!