The FARC Revolutionist by Renate G. Vanegas
Xlibris, paperback: $19.95, hardback: $24.95 (264p)
ISBN13 (TP) 978-1-4415-0316-9
ISBN13 (HB) 978-1-4415-0317-6
Both of Renate Vanegas's published books have dealt with fascism and war. The first, Hitler's Prisoners: Seven Cell Mates Tell Their Stories, which she co-authored with her late father, Erich Friedrich, who was one of the actual prisoners in the book, peels open the grim reality of repression and tyranny that German citizens themselves experienced during the Third Reich.Her new book, The FARC Revolutionist, focuses on stark realities in Colombia, which, while on the surface a democracy, also has a long-standing Right-wing/fascist oligarchy pulling strings behind the scenes when not actively intervening in a more brutal, overt manner. This has, unfortunately, been the traditional way of political life throughout South America for many decades until more recently, when populist movements began to sweep away the deep inroads of oligarchy in Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, Argentina, Uruguay and Bolivia especially. Colombia, however, remains mired in economic and social inequality, drug lords, poverty, crime, murderous Right-wing militias and an elitist-dominated two-party system, although the Liberal Party has championed such causes as the abolition of slavery and land reform in the past, while the Conservative Party, strongly allied with the Catholic Church, has always attempted to hold onto as much land, privilege and profit as possible, while promoting the unity of church and state.
Brief History of the FARC
It is estimated that women make up 30% of FARC's force. Photographer: Alvaro Ybarra Zavala (source)
Because legitimate political expression and the redress of grievances have been so repressed for the lower strata of Colombian society for decades, it was inevitable that more violent ideologies and movements would come to the forefront. Here is a decent account of this evolution posted on the website Third World Traveler entitled, "Colombia: Origins of the FARC" by Jan Bauman, MITF Report, April 4, 2001:
The 20th century began in violence as landless peasants, joined by their reformist allies, battled the landowning oligarchies who were backed by the conservative hierarchy of the Catholic Church. These early struggles form the backdrop to today's civil war in Colombia. The peasant struggles bore fruit when from 1930 to 1946 a series of Liberal Party administrations initiated land reform that triggered furious political opposition from the Conservatives. When the internally divided Liberal Party was defeated in 1946, the new Conservative government resorted to political violence to regain the lands of the oligarchy. In 1948 a charismatic progressive Liberal and land reform leader, Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, was gunned down in Bogota. His assassination set off a popular insurrection in the capital and in almost every city where the Liberals were strong. In response brutal gangs funded by leaders among the elitist wing of the Liberals and Conservatives roamed the countryside committing atrocities against civilians. During the decade La Violencia claimed the lives of between 200,000 to 300,000 Colombians.
La Violencia came to an official end in 1958 with a National Front that allowed the Liberal and Conservative elites to share public office and alternate the presidency. Nothing in the agreement addressed the plight of Colombia's landless peasantry. In 1964, the army unleashed a major land and air attack against Marquetalia, a rural resistance community that had been established as an independent republic during the violent decade. Under attack, 48 guerrillas fled to the mountains in the southwest state of Cauca where, later that year, the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) was founded. In the same period other guerrilla groups, the ELN (National Liberation Army) and the EPL (People's Liberation Army) were established. (source)
As was quite natural at this point in time, given the model and success of the fresh Cuban Revolution in overthrowing its own oligarchy, the FARC embraced the Colombian version of Marxist-Leninism, its principle intellectual leadership coming from the Colombian Communist Party, led by Manuel Marulanda, nicknamed Tirofijo or "Sureshot". He only just died of a heart attack in 2008 according to the FARC, still in charge to the end.
As social and economic realties continued to remain polarized in Colombia, the FARC gradually grew into a formidable guerrilla movement of perhaps as many as 18,000 fighters by the end of the 20th Century, while controlling as much as 20% of the country, The FARC was initially quite popular to a wide cross-section of Colombians because their manifesto demanded equal opportunities for all and a more equitable redistribution of land. But over time the FARC lost popularity within some sectors of Colombian society, which critics attribute to two key policy decisions: 1) to raise funds from coca production in Colombia and 2) to raise funds through kidnappings, particularly of wealthy ranchers. Jan Bauman also discusses the origins of both with the FARC in her article:
- Photographer: Alvaro Ybarra Zavala (source)
Forced off their lands, many of the campesinos fled to some of the mountainous areas where the FARC had their strongholds and began to cultivate coca, a plant that needs no pesticides or fertilizers. At first the FARC resisted the cultivation of coca but the leadership realized that banning of the crop would alienate peasant support. Thus began the gramaje, a coca-trade tax, a tax levied by the FARC on coca growers and drug-traffickers. The US government has often alleged that the FARC are narco-trafficker but in a recent meeting Colombian President Andres Pastrana and Mexican President Vicente Fox agreed that, for the moment, no proof or evidence exists that the FARC is a drug cartel (April 6, 2001 meeting in Barrancabermeja, Colombia - Mac).
Through the mid-1980s the FARC was active in staging raids against government forces while also kidnapping wealthy Colombians and holding them for ransom. In 1984 the FARC declared a truce with the government and attempted to enter the political arena through the establishment of a legal party, the Union Patriotica (UP).