Sunday, September 25, 2016

The End of Farc

In their 52-year fight against the Colombian state, Farc rebels used assault rifles, shrapnel-filled gas canisters, homemade landmines and mortar shells.

Those weapons are now set to be silenced forever as part of a historic peace deal with the government, to be signed on Monday. Once the demobilisation of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia is complete, their arsenal will be melted down into three monuments that will mark the end of Latin America’s longest-running conflict – and decades of armed uprisings in the region.

“This is an agreement with the last of the great guerrilla movements that emerged in the context of the cold war,” said Gonzalo Sánchez, director of the National Centre of Historical Memory in Bogotá. “There might be other episodes, but strategically the armed project, the armed utopia, is closing its cycle with Farc.”

Like many other Marxist and Maoist followers of the “armed struggle”, the Farc were inspired by the audacious exploits of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, who set out to Cuba on the rickety fishing vessel Granma with just 80 men in 1956, and went on to overthrow dictator Fulgencio Batista three years later.

It was certainly not the first armed rebellion in Latin America, which had witnessed numerous bloody independence campaigns against Spain in the 19th century and a smattering of communist militias in the 1940s. But the Cuban rebels’ success ignited a fresh blaze of revolutionary fervour across the continent that was fuelled by cold war politics, military coups, US backing for rightwing dictators and the murderous suppression of more moderate leftwing activists.

In the 1960s and 70s, guerrilla groups sprang up in every country in the region except Costa Rica: the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) in Nicaragua, the 8th October Revolutionary Movement (MR*8) in Brazil, the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN) in Venezuela, the People’s Revolutionary Army (ERP) and Montoneros in Argentina, the Tupamaros in Uruguay, the Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR) in Chile. These and many others carried out assassinations, hijacks, kidnappings, bank robberies and attacks on military and political targets.

In Central America, they were among the factors that led to bloody civil wars in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua, where the Cuban-trained Sandinista guerrilla Daniel Ortega – who was once arrested for robbing a bank with a machine gun – secured power through revolution in 1979 and was then elected president of Nicaragua.

In South America, however, the communist militants made little headway. After Che Guevara was executed in Bolivia, Cuba and the Soviet Union cooled their enthusiasm to export armed struggle. Funding and weapons supplies – never very great in the first place – were cut. Splintered, outgunned and rarely able to secure popular support outside of remote strongholds, the guerrillas never came close to seizing power through military force.

Instead, many turned to the ballot box after the restoration of democracy in much of Latin America in the 1980s took away much of their raison d’etre. Some reached the highest office.Dilma Rousseff, a member of a clandestine Marxist group who was arrested and tortured after a gun was found in her handbag, became president of Brazil. José ‘Pepe’ Mujica, a Tupamaro who was shot and imprisoned in the 1970s, became president of Uruguay. Dozens of other former guerrillas became senators and congressmen.

Elsewhere, armed groups were sporadically active in countries that were slow to move towards democracy – such as Mexico, which had to wait until 2000 for its first change of government in more than 70 years.

The Zapatista Army of National Liberation staged high-profile military campaigns in 1994, but is now committed to peaceful means. “They are 21st-century guerrillas, shooting off more press bulletins than bullets,” said Eduardo Pizarro, a Colombian sociologist and conflict expert. The Guerrero-based Popular Revolutionary Army, however, staged attacks on oil facilities as recently as 2007 and has since been blamed for kidnappings and violent demonstrations.

The longest-enduring groups, however, are in Peru, Paraguay and Colombia – all countries that are not coincidentally centres of drug production and smuggling, which is a source of funds and guns.

by Jonathan Watts and Sibylla Brodzinsky, The Guardian |  Read more:
Image: uncredited