Farc are weakened but prospects for peace remain remote

August 3, 2008

There’s been much speculation in Colombia and among international pundits about whether the Farc are on their way out. Thomas Shannon, US assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs echoes the views of many, when he recently said the Farc “are in their final phase.” One local analyst believes that in 10 years time, the Farc will be extinct.

Many signs point to the Farc’s gradual demise. Guerrilla commanders are finding it increasingly difficult to communicate with one another for fear of being detected by state intelligence agencies. Growing numbers of desertions are leaving some Farc fronts across the country exposed and on the brink of collapse. According to the government, in 2001 the Farc attacked and took control of 39 villages, while last year they did not seize any. The Farc’s new chief leader, Alfonso Cano, finds himself increasingly under siege. Perhaps more importantly, the Farc have lost support abroad and can no longer rely, at least in public, on the backing of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, who has called on Latin America’s oldest guerrilla movement to lay down their arms.

Hopes were raised in Colombia that a weakened Farc and the loss of its high-profile hostages would mean better prospects for peace. There was expectation that the Farc would be forced to come to the negotiating table and begin peace talks, a strategy that the Colombian government is betting on.
But the latest comments from Ivan Marquez, a member of Farc’s ruling body, have dampened any such hopes.

The Farc, it appears, have no intention of conceding defeat, at least while President Uribe remains in power. The armed struggle is very much alive and will continue, says Marquez.
“A political solution to the conflict is only possible with another government,” Marquez recently told a Venezuelan news channel, Telesur.
He also defended taking hostages as a justified means to secure the release of guerrillas held in state jails. Since Ingrid Betancourt was freed, the Farc have continued to take hostages.

This is not the first time that Farc have insisted that peace talks with the Uribe government are impossible. Marquez’s comments may just be bravado but it serves to show that a demoralized Farc, who have suffered a series of heavy setbacks in the recent months, are not about to change their course of action.
Marquez’s statements further strengthen President Uribe’s popularity (he currently enjoys 80% approval ratings). Colombians back a government that is focused on defeating the Farc by military means. Marquez’s views also serve to reinforce what many Colombians believe, that the Farc have no intention of seeking peace. While such attitudes remain, the prospect of peace in Colombia remains, as always, remote.