Commentary: FARC fighting two wars

Tue Sep 9, 2008 10:27am EDT

(Leon Valencia, former Colombian guerrilla fighter and now a political analyst and university professor. The opinions here are his own)

By Leon Valencia

(Reuters.com) -- The FARC has two wars. One is the war using their hostages and the use of kidnap victims to get attention, to negotiate and to pressure the national and international community. The other is the defensive war, deep in the mountains, resisting attacks from the state over the last six years under the government's policy of Democratic Security.

Of these two, they have lost one: the war of the hostages because the rescue in Operation Check freed those seen as most important among the hostages -- Ingrid Betancourt and the Americans -- and those unfortunately seen of lesser interest -- the soldiers and some politicians. The FARC has lost that instrument it had to pressure the international community and to pressure the country and now the rebels are left just with the defensive war from the mountains and they have lost a lot in this war, too.

The central command has lost several leaders, some by natural causes, such as Manuel Marulanda Velez, and others by military action, such as the cases of Reyes. The FARC's force has been reduced from 18,000 to around 11,000 at the moment, so in that sense they have been weakened. That does not mean they have been defeated, or that they are over. The FARC rebels have shown in their long existence a capacity to maintain themselves, to defend themselves and to continue their pressure against the state and society. They have never really had any aspiration to take power, that is to say they have never made the force to take power. It is a strange movement, more about resistance.. than a offensive guerrilla force like the traditional rebel forces around the world. So there they are, with a social base of coca growers, marginalized residents, with a force hidden deep in the mountains, surviving, and I think we will have guerrillas for a while if there is no peace negotiations.

The government and President Uribe have no interest in negotiating, Uribe's government is looking to destroy the FARC in the same way Fujimori did with rebels in Peru with the same social and humanitarian costs and I think over the next two years they are going to employ that to the maximum.

But nor do the FARC have any interest in negotiating and they will just resist until President Uribe's government ends although they do not know when that will happen because there could be a second reelection. They are playing the same game as the government, they respond militarily to the military offensive by the state and they will keep at it. That is the best scenario for the government and in that sense the FARC have made a terrible mistake. The scenario where President Uribe feels most insecure and where he has the least room to maneuver is the scenario of negotiation and reconciliation, because that is not Uribe's idea and the FARC have never made that move. And I doubt they will take that step with president Uribe.

The FARC has insisted and keep insisting in entering a military competition with the government, which feels at home there. The president feels very comfortable on that ground because he has already delivered several blows to the FARC and has managed to capitalize on them politically. Every military strike means 10 points in the polls and that is glory for a politician -- to have an enemy you can strike at and win points in the polls. That has helped the president so much in his popularity and will help him in any second reelection.

The FARC are greatly mistaken, for one in the pain they have caused the country, and in another, in going against common sense to fight on ground where your enemy -- in this case Uribe -- is very strong.

Today I am starting to doubt whether it is impossible to defeat the FARC militarily and end them. I would say that 70-30 percent. I believe around 70 percent in the possibility that there will not be a defeat because of the political element, some marginal social bases who still accompany them, their long history and leaders stronger than those of Shining Path.

The most likely possibility is that they can resist, to hold out and survive for years, which is a shame for them and for the country because it persistence in the war will take them to deep degradation. The FARC base their war on activities like kidnapping, recruiting minors, drug trafficking. On the other hand, the state too has been degraded, because it is capable of paying someone to bring them the severed hand of a guerrilla, and now they have violated basic ethics or the state used the Red Cross symbol to trick the enemy says a lot about the state of the war.

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