FARC 2.0: The Reemergence of Colombia’s Longest Insurgency
Insurgency movements are quickly aligning with terrorism as one of the greatest transnational threats to sovereign nation-states. Defined as “an organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government through the use of subversion and armed conflict,” insurgency movements involve non-state actors vying to establish political legitimacy by amassing popular support, thereby presenting themselves as a formidable security challenge to nation-states.
While the tragic events of September 2001 brought terrorism to the forefront of the international stage, the significance of insurgency should not be shadowed by nor conflated with terrorism. The importance of insurgency and the potential risks that insurgency movements pose to states are just as great as those posed by terrorist organizations. Understanding the history, activities, and resilience of these types of movements can best be understood by analyzing that of FARC in Colombia; the self-declared rebirth of FARC in August 2019 after only three years of inactivity demonstrates how insurgencies can and will flourish in the modern era.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP or FARC) was a Colombian guerrilla movement that formed in the mid-1960s in the midst of the Cold War. As a self-defined Marxist-Leninist “peasant force,” the group operated out of and within rural areas of Colombia with the primary objective of overthrowing the government in pursuit of establishing a Marxist regime that promoted agrarianism and anti-imperialism policies. Founded and led by Pedro Marín, who was better known by his nom de guerre Manuel Marulanda, FARC was one of the unexpected outcomes of the Colombian civil war that transpired during the mid-twentieth century. At the peak of its existence, FARC was comprised of approximately 14,000-17,000 members. Their reliance on the people was also visible by a change in their name; by adding “EP” at the end of their name in 1982, FARC demonstrated its commitment to the public by declaring itself to be an organization of the people and for the people.
Regardless, as the military wing of the Communist Party, FARC was known for its intimidation tactics in which threats, assassinations, and “disappearings” were carried out, as well as its sophisticated use of improvised explosive devices, an element of warfare that the group learned as a result of its ties to the Irish Republican Army. FARC also relied on guerrilla warfare as one of their staple battlefield strategies, which enabled them to capitalize on their massive following in order to successfully carry out well-executed attacks.
For example, in August 1996, the group’s Southern Bloc launched an attack on the Las Delicias military base in southwestern Colombia, killing 54 personnel and wounding 17 others. Then in August 1998, over 1,000 FARC members invaded Miraflores, a town in the Guaviare Department of Colombia, attacking churches and hospitals. This invasion came to be known as the Siege of Miraflores and it resulted in the death of 19 civilians and the kidnapping of 129 policemen. In all, these were but a small number of the larger amount of FARC’s riskier attacks using a variety of fighting methods. While none ever led to the successful demise and restructuring of the Colombian state government, they still illustrated the group’s propensity for violence, which contributed to the death of over 260,000 people and the displacement of millions over the course of the insurgency.
However, while FARC was once Latin America’s most feared insurgency, things changed in 2016 when the Colombian government, led by President Juan Manuel Santos, negotiated an official cease-fire with the group with the help of Norway and Cuba, effectively ending 53 years of violence. The conditions of the peace deal included disarmament, the creation of a transitional justice system, and most importantly, transformation into a political party. This conversion from a lethal insurgency to a legal body slotted ten congressional seats to FARC for eight years, allowing them a spot at the table where they were able to gain political legitimacy.
In a video published online in August 2019, former FARC commander and a key negotiator in the 2016 peace deal, Iván Márquez, announced that a “new phase of the armed struggle” was beginning against the Colombian government. As for this new rally cry, Márquez stated the following: “This is the continuation of the rebel fight in answer to the betrayal of the state of the Havana peace accords. We were never beaten or defeated ideologically, so the struggle continues.”
Despite thousands of FARC members relinquishing their weapons to a United Nations monitoring body following the cease-fire, recent reports reveal that complete demobilization has yet to occur as “smaller rebel groups, FARC dissidents, and drug trafficking gangs have filled the void left behind.” Per FARC’s former top commander Rodrigo Londoño, while a “great majority” of the group’s members are committed to the peace deal and its specified terms “despite all the difficulties and dangers,” there are still an estimated 2,300 dissidents who are willing and able to step back into their roles as guerrillas. It is still unclear whether this self-declared “new era of FARC” will differ vastly from its prior model, but the group will face major challenges in regards to earning public support and electoral gains.
Looking towards the future
In the age of terrorism, the role of insurgency must not be overlooked or disregarded. The viability of remaining FARC members maintaining another prolonged insurgency a mere three years after signing a peace agreement with the Colombian government is slim but not impractical. As the longest-running insurgency in history, FARC is still present on the U.S. State Department’s Foreign Terrorist Organizations’ list, as well as on the European Union’s list of Designated Terrorist Organizations. Their deeply-rooted ideological ties to socialism and continued commitment to improving the lives of rural Colombians are two elements that have copied over from the first insurgency.
This reemergence or rebirth of the group, for many in the international community, is unsurprising given its long and successful history and the shakiness of the peace agreement. While the political climate in Colombia recently changed due to the election of President Iván Duque Márquez in 2018, FARC has shown its own sense of adaptability and resiliency to succeed at a time when the social environment in the country is still ripe for insurgency.