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Who Are The FARC?

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Following the announcement that Colombia‘s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), and the Colombian government have reached a historic peace agreement.

Who are the Farc?

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc, after the initials in Spanish) are Colombia’s largest rebel group.They were founded in 1964 as the armed wing of the Communist Party and follow a Marxist-Leninist ideology.

Their main founders were small farmers and land workers who had banded together to fight against the staggering levels of inequality in Colombia at the time.

While the Farc have some urban groups, they have always been an overwhelmingly rural guerrilla organisation.

How are they organised?

The rebels are organised in small tactical groups that in turn make up larger fighting units which are organised in regional “blocs”.

They are controlled by the Secretariat, a group of less than a dozen top commanders who devise the overarching strategy of the Farc.

The Farc’s top leader is Rodrigo Londono Echeverri, better know by his alias Timochenko.

Why did they take up arms?

The Farc were founded at a time of brutal repression against any form of action considered subversive.

Colombia has historically been a country which suffers from huge levels of inequality, where vast swathes of land are owned by a very small elite.

This is partly due to the fact that the Colombian state sold off large tracts of land to private owners in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries to pay for its debts.

Some of the founders of the Farc had established an agricultural commune in the region of Marquetalia, in central Tolima province.

Inspired by the Cuban revolution in the 1950s, they demanded more rights and control over the land. But their communist ideals were seen as a threat by big landowners and the state, which sent in the army to disband the commune, or Marquetalia Republic as it had come to be known.

The Farc says that it was after the clashes with the army in Marquetalia that they decided to make their struggle an armed one.

Was Colombia peaceful before the Farc?

No, Colombia went through a 10-year civil war before the Farc were even founded.

During the period known simply as La Violencia (The Violence), between 200,000 and 300,000 people are estimated to have been killed.

La Violencia was triggered by the assassination in 1948 of Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, a popular presidential candidate for the Liberal Party.

His shooting in Bogota caused riots in the capital, which were followed by 10 years of conflict pitting the followers of the Liberal Party against those of the Conservative Party.

The man who would later become the top leader of the Farc, Manuel “Sureshot” Marulanda, had fought in La Violencia.

Who do they fight?

The main enemy of the Farc have been the Colombian security forces. Farc fighters have attacked police stations and military posts, and ambushed patrols.

But they have also blown up oil pipelines, electricity pylons and bridges and bombed social clubs.

Many of their victims have been civilians. They have included children who died when home-made Farc explosives fell short of a rural police station and hit a school, and thousands of people maimed by landmines laid by the Farc.

Thousands of people were kidnapped by the Farc for ransom.

One police officer, Luis Mendieta, was seized in an attack on a police station in 1998 and held for 14 years before being freed by the army in a rescue operation dubbed Chameleon.

How do they finance themselves?

Analysts think the Farc are among the richest rebel movements in the world.

Guerrilla commanders have denied the group has stashed away large sums of money.

Colombia is one of the main producers of cocaine and the rebels get a large part of their income from drug trafficking or levying “taxes” on those who do.

They have also resorted to extortion and kidnapping for ransom to fill their coffers.

Why did they join the peace process?

The Farc have been hit hard by the Colombian security forces over the past years.

The Colombian army and police received millions of dollars in funding and training from the US government, much of which they invested in fighting the rebels.

Many of the top leaders of the Farc were killed or died within the past decade.

In 2008, senior rebel leader Raul Reyes was killed in a bombing raid and Farc founder Manuel Marulanda died of natural causes.

In 2011, Alfonso Cano, who took over from Manuel Marulanda, was also killed in a bombing raid.

The number of active fighters also diminished from its estimated high of 20,000 to around 7,000 after thousands of guerrilla fighters were demobilised or killed.

The Farc themselves insist that they wanted peace all along but that the conditions were not right before.

After three-and-a-half years of formal talks and another two of secret negotiations which preceded them, the rebels say they are ready to lay down their arms.

Source: BBC

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