A new report into how Colombia’s conflict has developed as the FARC guerrillas negotiate with the government shines a light on the strength and tactics of the rebels and their abilities to carry out military, political and criminal actions.
According to the report by think tank Fundacion Paz y Reconciliacion, which was shown to newspaper El Espectador, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) still count on approximately 11,000 troops — substantially higher than the 8,000 figure offered by the government. In addition to this are ideological and logistical support networks and urban militias, taking the total number of people connected to the insurgency as high as 40,000 people, the report states.
The rebels’ reach extends to 11 regions and 242 municipalities, according to the report, meaning they are present in approximately 20 percent of the country (see El Espectador’s map below).
Pay y Reconciliacion say the FARC have also cemented their alliance with Colombia’s second largest guerrilla insurgency, the National Liberation Army (ELN), following a summit between FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño Echeverry, alias “Timochenko,” and the head of the ELN, Nicolas Rodriguez Bautista, alias “Gabino,” at some point in the last two months.
The guerrilla leaders met to discuss how to coordinate their approach to the peace talks with the government — which began in 2012 — and a post-conflict scenario, according to the report. The two rebel groups also discussed their joint campaign against the mining, oil and gas sectors. This has included not only attacks against companies and infrastructure but also a drastic increase in extortion targeting businesses in the sector, according to Paz y Reconciliacion.
The report also details how the FARC have stepped up political operations by influencing social movements and protests, including the recent coca growers strike in the region of Catatumbo.
While the FARC may have suffered serious setbacks as a result of the military assault of the last decade, the Paz y Reconciliacion report demonstrates how they have not come to the negotiating table as a broken force on the verge of defeat, but instead one that has effectively regrouped and adapted.
It also shows how this restructured rebel force is blending guerrilla warfare with ramped up political actions and continuing criminality, effectively covering all bases while negotiators discuss peace in Havana.
These evolutions and strategies reinforce how, despite the unprecedented efforts of the Colombian army, the guerrillas remain a formidable fighting force and major player in the underworld, and this is unlikely to be ended by military means alone.