Colombia’s “Revolutionaries” and Their Helpers

By Michael Radu | January 28, 2003


During the January 19 Stalinist-organized and allegedly "peace"-motivated

demonstration in Washington, one of the speakers was described as

"representing" a previously unknown and probably nonexistent organization,

"Colombian Trade Unionists in Exile." His language and indeed his very

presence - together with such old hat pro – Latin American terrorist

groups – Nicaragua Network, CISPES (Committee in Support of the People of El

Salvador) and other Leninist nostalgic of the Cold War – clearly

demonstrated the hard Left’s desperate search of some communist cause, any

cause, in the Americas. Indeed the Revolutionary Armed Forces of

Colombia–Popular Army (FARC-EP) the speaker implicitly endorsed, is such a

dubiously "progressive" cause that even Amnesty International and Human

Rights Watch, not known for their hostility to the Left, have occasionally

felt compelled to complain about its barbarity -which included the murder of

three "pro – native" ecologists from the United States – "an error" said

FARC – mass murders of Colombian Indians, and indiscriminate kidnappings for

ransom – including those of "progressive politicians. All this without

mentioning the direct link – admitted by FARC - with massive cocaine and

heroin trafficking.


With some 17,000 armed combatants and about 4,000 underground urban

"militias," FARC is the world’s largest insurgent group. Established in 1964

as the military arm of the pro-Soviet Communist Party of Colombia , it is

also the world’s oldest. And with an annual income of over $600 million

(from cocaine and heroin trafficking, kidnappings, and protection rackets),

it is by far the wealthiest terrorist group.


Paradoxically, FARC’s real growth in size and strength occurred even as it

was losing whatever popular support it may have had at the beginning. Recent

polls have shown its public support to be declining, generally dropping

closer to 2 percent of late than the 4 percent of a few years ago. The main

reason for this is the idiocy and incompetence, often bordering on treason,

of large sectors of Colombia’s elites since the early 1980s. But there is

also the unwillingness and/or inability of the U.S. Congress and successive

administrations to understand the nature and magnitude of the threat FARC

poses and FARC’s own successful evolution from Moscow-supported to

self-sufficient military organization.


To begin with, ever since the presidency of Belisario Betancour (1982–86)

and until last year’s election of Alvaro Uribe, government after government

in Bogotá treated the Marxist insurgencies—FARC was never the only one—less

as a matter of national security and more as a political issue to be

"solved" by negotiations. Negotiations were often accompanied by orders to

the military to withdraw at the very moment they were close to eliminating

the insurgent leadership. After a middle/upper-class Castroite group decided

to lay down arms in 1991, a new Constitution was adopted, in the name of

"democracy," which effectively paralyzed the government. Among other things,

the new constitution dismantled self-defense forces in the countryside and

banned the use of draftees with a high-school diploma for combat—in effect

making the war one between the poor and the Marxists.


This pattern of national suicide reached an apogee during the presidency of

Andrés Pastrana (1998–2002), who simply "gave" FARC a "demilitarized area"

larger than El Salvador in the center of the country in exchange for &ldots;

discussions about future negotiations. The military, judges, and police were

withdrawn from the safe-haven area, and FARC established there what its

declared goal is for the country as a whole—a Stalinist mini-state, complete

with "revolutionary justice," luxurious houses complete with pools for the

"people’s leaders," a place where international figures such as the Chairman

of the New York Stock Exchange could meet the Irish and Basque ETA

terrorists training FARC in the finer points of urban terrorism: a safe

haven for FARC to recruit and train and to keep its hundreds of kidnap



However—and one has to be open and blunt about this—far too many ordinary

Colombians were demanding "peace" at any cost—exactly what Pastrana was

trying to deliver. These Colombians had been encouraged by the burgeoning

human rights NGOs—Colombia harbors half of such groups in Latin America,

virtually all leftist and subsidized from abroad, largely by groups in

Europe but also by U.S. organizations, and most are infiltrated by or

sympathetic to FARC and its smaller Castroite rival, the National Liberation

Army (ELN).


The predictable result is that FARC doubled in size, by 1999–2000 reaching a

level of military effectiveness that allowed it to defeat large units of the

Colombian military in what amounted to conventional battles; to briefly

occupy a remote provincial capital; and to threaten the existence of not

only Colombia’s imperfect democracy, but the very existence of the Colombian

state. The police were always outgunned and outnumbered, and thus deserted

huge swaths of territory. The military was too small and demoralized to

replace the police, and most of the country became a no-man’s land, where

insurgents threatened to replace whatever pretense of national sovereignty

Bogotá had.


Meanwhile, Washington under the Bush Sr. and Clinton administrations was

alternately asleep or had its head in the sand. The FARC problem was seen as

one of drug producing and trafficking, rather than one of a serious

communist threat to a major country in the Americas. Hence the opinion

expressed even in Congress that since the USSR was dead, there couldn’t be a

communist threat anywhere, except in the feverish imagination of

reactionaries. The Democratic Left’s customary manipulation of the lingering

"Vietnam syndrome," together with the enormous influence of NGOs such as

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, blocked any understanding of

FARC, let alone any support for U.S. aid to Colombia in its war against



Prominent Democrats like Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Christopher Dodd

(D-CT), who have never seen a threat from any self-declared Marxist-Leninist

terror group in the Americas, successfully blocked help to the Colombian

military by charging human rights violations—as defined by HRW and

Amnesty—and forced the separation between anti-drug and anti-insurgency

support to Colombia. The fact that by the end of the 1990s FARC had become

the world’s largest single cocaine supplier (and the United States’ largest

heroin supplier) was pushed under the carpet.


The Clinton administration therefore implicitly supported Pastrana’s

irresponsible schemes, refusing to provide military training or equipment to

the Colombian military unless strictly used for drug control, and—here the

Republicans proved to be no more serious or helpful—showing an irrational

preference for the Colombian police, the least effective counterinsurgency

force, over the military. In short, Washington has for a decade gone along

with Bogotá’s irresponsibility.


By the beginning of 2002 things started to change, in Bogotá as well as in

Washington. To begin with, Colombians in their huge majority realized FARC’s

game—to use "negotiations about negotiations" as a tool to advance their

totalitarian project. Hence the overwhelming votes for Alvaro Uribe as

president, although he ran as an independent and, for the first time, won in

the first round. Uribe was and is exactly what previous Colombian presidents

were not: clear in his program, realistic in his approach to FARC and ELN,

and, most important, wildly popular. This makes the U.S. FARC sympathizers

unhappy (see e.g. the article at, the website of the

International Action Center, founded by Ramsey Clark, "The Election of

Alvaro Uribe Velez in Colombia: Why it bodes ill for the people of

Colombia"). Evidently what Colombia’s voters think is both wrong and

irrelevant—so what else is new?


The events of 9/11/01 changed some minds in Washington, and the Democrats’

loss of Senate control diminished the power of the "there is no enemy on the

left" senators, a lá Dodd and Leahy. The false distinction between anti-drug

and anti-insurgency in Colombia became less viable, and the Bush

administration, with Congressional support, did finally get rid of it. That

decision was made easier by newly elected president


Uribe making it clear after his election that any negotiations by his

government with FARC would depend entirely upon FARC’s seriousness and,

ultimately, its renunciation of arms and terror. Otherwise, it will be war.

The Colombian military are better prepared and more effective than at any

time since the late 1970s, when Bogotá began its ill-fated appeasement

approach. And FARC is back to where it feels most comfortable—killing and

kidnapping innocents, occasionally murdering policemen, and destroying the

country’s infrastructure.


Finally, the Colombian people and establishment are on the same

wavelength—defeat the terrorists, put an end to their country being the

place where 70 percent of the world’s kidnappings occur, and support the

military. Uribe, who has been the target of at least three FARC

assassination attempts, is their vehicle.


And "Human Rights"?


For decades now, the international human rights establishment and the

Colombian franchises it subsidizes have used Colombia as an instrument of

international activism. It is time to see this for what it is—outsiders with

money helping to destroy an important country. It’s not that AI and HRW

never condemned the FARC atrocities—they did so repeatedly, but

strategically. Their goal in Colombia remains paralyzing the government’s

anti-insurgency operations. They therefore condemn the government "equally"

with the insurgents. The UN and governments under the human rights

establishment’s influence are vulnerable to such lobbying, while irregulars

are not—a double standard there for the exploitation.


The human rights’ groups targets are always (and this is quite helpful for

the insurgents) the most effective military officers. They are seldom proven

to be legally guilty of cooperating with independent self-defense groups,

but are always suspended from office before being found innocent, as most

are found to be.


And the Self-Defense Groups?


Created by the Colombian state’s inability and unwillingness to protect its

own citizens against Marxist terror, the AUC (Colombia’s United Self-Defense

Groups) were created by an organizational genius, former FARC victim and

narcotrafficker Carlos Castaño. For FARC and ELN supporters, mostly among

human rights NGOs, countering Castaño is the perfect cover for helping FARC

without being seen to do so. He and his associates, it is claimed, committed

atrocities against "civilians" (usually known FARC/ELN underground and

informers) and, it is less credibly claimed, were in cahoots with the

Colombian military.


That the absence of the Colombian state in large areas was the ultimate

cause of the formation of self-defense forces, or that facing the highly

organized FARC and ELN those forces had to imitate the Marxists

methods—which Castaño proudly admits—does not seem to matter to Bogotá ‘s

"human rights" critics. Nor does it seem to count that the AUC does not seek

to overthrow the state in favor of Stalinism; that they never fight the

legitimate Colombian forces; or that they have been more successful than the

army in eliminating communist terrorism (especially ELN) in large areas. The

obsession with eliminating the AUC is the ever-present pretext of NGOs

sympathetic to FARC for preventing any U.S. support for the war against



President Uribe has engaged in what amounts to a political and economic

revolution and yet still enjoys enormous popular support. He has

strengthened the military and, despite the corrupt and inept judiciary,

stuck with it; he is limiting the numbers and perquisites of congressional

members; and he is serious about actually winning the war against Marxist

totalitarians—none of which makes his natural enemies comfortable.


FARC, on the other hand, behaves as if nothing can damage its international

image – and is usually correct. Thus they kidnapped Ingrid Betancourt, a

marginal candidate to the presidency in February 2002—and made her a martyr

in France, where her fashionable citizenship and wooly ideology were popular

(her latest book was a best-seller in Paris, ignored in Bogotá). They have

murdered Native Americans/environmentalists – and had their friends

blame &ldots;the United States. The EU did finally declare FARC a terrorist group,

but the temptation to negotiate with them or press Colombia to do so,

remains strong in Paris, Berlin and The Hague. FARC did manage to get a

representative, masquerading as a "trade unionist" to Washington to appear

on C-Span on January 18—in which appearance he linked their "revolution" to

the efforts of the PLO and Hamas - an accurate association.


There is nothing easy in the war against terror, but it cannot be used by

prominent American politicians as a pretext to protect the largest terrorist

group in the world. In opposing Colombian popular opinion, these American

politicians become responsible for thousands of Colombian deaths in the name

of appeasing—or sympathy for—totalitarians.




Michael Radu is the Director of the Center on Terrorism and

Counter-terrorism of the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia,

and a contributing Editor of FPRI's ORBIS journal.





Adam Isacson

Senior Associate, Demilitarization Program

Center for International Policy

1755 Massachusetts Ave NW, Suite 312

Washington DC 20036

+202-232-3317 fax 232-3440