Saturday, November 5, 2011

Cano's Killing and the FARC's Future

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! A newspaper vendor displays today's headlines trumpeting Can0's death.  
The Colombian military's killing of FARC leader Alfonso Cano is the heaviest blow ever against Latin America's longest-surviving guerrilla organization.

Cano: 1948-2011
Cano is the fifth important leader the beleagured guerrillas have lost over the last few years, including the death from old age of FARC founder Manuel 'Sure-shot' Marulanda in 2008. The guerrillas have also lost thousands of fighters to defection and military attacks, been driven into more remote areas and lost refuges and support from neighboring countries. Cano's killing is certain to demoralize the guerrillas even further.

Any reasonable observer can see that the guerrillas' backs are against the wall, they're no longer a threat to the Colombian state, their political relevance is gone and all they can  possibly accomplish from Colombia's jungles and mountains is causing more suffering for Colombia's people and compel the government to take money from schools and hospitals and spend it on weapons.

But the FARC's internal decisions are another matter. Many of the group's leaders appear to be still driven by a fossilized ideology about armed struggle and class warfare. With the exception of one recent statement by Cano, the FARC have shown little interest in engaging in Colombian politics - even tho last week's election of one-time M-19 guerrilla Gustavo Petro as Bogotá's mayor showed once again that today the country's democracy system has room for the left.

But maybe not the way he intended:
'Your death contributes to a New Colombia'
says graffiti on the National University campus. 
Most likely, the immediate result of Cano's death will be a burst of FARC terrorism, as the guerrillas try to demonstrate that they are still out there, and still somehow matter. Then, there'll be an internal power struggle between the guerrillas' more militaristic elements and their more politically-inclined ones, which might possibly open the door to some sort of negotiations with the government.

On the National University campus in Bogota, a Portrait of Camilo Torres, a Catholic priest who in 1966 joined the ELN guerrillas and was killed in his first battle. Cano studied and became radicalized at the National University.
Cano's death could also fragment the FARC if regional leaders decide that millions of dollars from cocaine trafficking and extortion is much more attractive than a futile struggle for a lost cause. Military officials reported finding about $100,000 in pesos, U.S. dollars and euros in Cano's jungle camp - a nice trove for any ambitious guerrillas. The military also found lots of computers, hard drives and flash drives, which will provide a trove of intelligence about the guerrillas' internal operations, debilitating them further.

Today, Pres. Juan Manuel Santos congratulated the military for having killed Cano. Santos also predicted that the FARC's leadership would collapse "like a house of cards." He also said that Cano "could have made peace" with the government. Yet, neither Santos nor Canos showed much disposition towards dialogue. And, just a few years, ago Colombia's military killed the FARC's 'foreign minister' Raul Reyes in another bombing in Ecuador, eliminating a possibility for dialogue. Despite the FARC's many setbacks, defeating amy guerrilla force is very difficult, particularly in a mountainous country where the insurgents have a huge income from drug trafficking. For his part, Santos has earned lots of political support by killing FARC leaders, suggesting that he might see more personal benefits in fighting than talking.

Cano is remembered for the bombing of Los Nogales, a luxury club in Bogotá, and the kidnapping and killing of Cali's city councilmen. But the guerrillas' greatest victims are undoubtedly the innumerable anonymous peasants who have been robbed, driven from their homes and murdered.

If the FARC's next leader turns out to be even more intransient than Cano, Colombia could be in for more decades of senseless violence, that would be the greatest tragedy of all.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

No comments: