CSMS Magazine Staff Writers The news came in last Sunday when Timoleón Jiménez, a commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) confirmed the death of Manuel Marulanda, the longest surviving guerilla leader in modern-day Latin America. In a video broadcast by the Venezuelan television network Telesur, Jiménez said that Marulanda died of natural causes on March 26th in the Meta department in central Colombia. No one knows for sure about Marulanda’s real age. But it is widely believe that he could have been 76 years old, although some news organizations claimed he was 80. However, the year of his birth remains a mystery. It is believed to be born in 1928 or 1930 or 1932. Marulanda himself admitted to his biographer, Arturo Alape, that he did not know exactly how old he was. At the beginning, the FARC was considered to be the best and biggest challenge to the Colombian ruling class. It started as a peasant movement with the boy whose real name was Pedro Antonio Marín who grew up in the southern town of Génova, listening to tales from his grandfather about the Thousand Days War, describing the fictional town of Macundo with stories depicted from One Hundred Years of Solitude, the gut-wrenching novel by Gabriel García Márquez. The movement took a structured turn in the late 1940s when Marulanda earned his first experience in warfare during the brutal period called La Violencia, or The Violence, from 1948 to 1958. During that period, the country plunged into a vicious civil war between two bourgeois factions, Conservatives and Liberals. When it was over, 200, 000 lives perished. But it was also that experience that shaped Marulanda’s character as a peasant military leader when he created his rudimentary peasant militia that supported the Liberals under false promises—promises that the peasantry will be top priorities upon a Liberals’ victory. The war ended with a Liberal defeat, and Marulanda retreated to Marquetalia, a peasant community of several dozen families in the Andes Mountains south of Bogotá. For five years, a relative clam prevailed. But this period of relative quietness took an abrupt end, when the Colombian army attacked Marquetalia in 1964. The peasant militia ferociously resisted, and during that same year Marulanda helped transform his ill-equipped militia into the FARC. It was May 27th 1964. He was able to do it in part with great help from Marxists intellectuals and union leaders. By the 1990s, Marulanda emerged as the organization’s leader maximo after the death of its top Marxist ideologue, Jacobo Arenas. However, during that same period FARC grew to something quite unrecognizable, going from a revolutionary vanguard with strong popular support to something that many observers believe has nothing to do with a people’s struggle anymore.
From a national liberation struggle to a virtual dead-end
Many Marxists historians differ on the FARC volte-face. Some like Francisco Moreno, a well known intellectual from the city of Medellin, claims that FARC turned brutal to avenge the killing of about 4,000 members of Patriotic Union, a movement created by the FARC and the Communist Party in the 1980s to enable former guerrillas to enter political life. And others like Uruguayan intellectual Eduardo Galeano assumes that FARC problem is no different than that of the revolutionary dilemma most Marxist movements in the third world found themselves in the 1990s following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. This assertion holds an irrefutable altruism, for the 1990s was described as the period of soul searching for all revolutionary movements worldwide. Some had to be restructured while others completely dissolved themselves because of uncontrolled, internal disputes, like it was the case of PUCH (Parti Unifié des Communistes Haitiens) whose some of its leaders veered completely to the right after their political calculations dictated them that only a cohabitation with La Droite (the Right) could eventually catapult them to the top-end of the state bureaucratic machine. Whether one calls it opportunism for their conviction was only skin-deep, one thing remains constant: their apparent long-held conviction blew into thin air as soon as it was clear that logistical support was no longer going to be coming from Moscow. Their opportunistic argument claims that what happened in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s was the total failure of an ideology that could no longer be sustained in the current world conditions. But this argument is also rejected by many Marxist historians, who argue that the “socialist downfall” of the 1990s was nothing but the failure of a certain interpretation of Marxism—not Marxism itself. They also argue that Marxism is a science, not an ideology. To them, it is foregrounded in scientific analyses based on the great social divide separating the different layers of society. This group although rather small—and many of them claim to be Marxists-non-Leninists—still clings tight to its belief of a dreamed society where the proletarians will reign forever. However, there is a third group that remains, for better or for worse, but no longer believes in the elusive dream. For that, the protagonists of this group had to adapt to new tactics and, sometimes, their new tactics put them in a direct collusion course with the interests of the same masses they claim to represent. The FARC may very well fall into this category. Its brutal tactics and its open-kidnapping business—holding hundreds in the jungle—do not earn it much sympathy among the disenfranchised masses of Colombia. The most famous of all is former presidential candidate with dual nationalities (French-Colombian), Ingrid Betancourt. Many argue that Marulanda, whose marksmanship also earned him the nickname Tirofijo, or Sureshot, has long deviated from the revolutionary train while the country continues to wallow in an endless, brutal war. “The 20th century will leave warriors to history, and the 21st century will leave in history those who took Colombia out of war,” said Gustavo Petro, a former guerrilla who is now a senator in Colombia.
Can peace be spotted in the horizon?
Against all odds, FARC has some tangible arguments to remain at war, whether those arguments are compatible to the organization’s new course is a different story. After more than 40 years of a war that left 200,000 dead, more than a million people internally displaced, just calling it quit with nothing to show for would be tantamount to total defeat, for it will leave the people at the mercy of the army and its allies: the paramilitaries. This is also the argument of the ELN (Ejercito de Liberacion National), an other leftist organization fighting the government. Let’s make no mistake about it. The Colombian army is said to be one of the most brutal ones in the world where fascism seems to be the quintessential requirement for promotion. At its top echelon sit some of the most sadistic individuals backed by their own right-wring paramilitaries and a police apparatus that deals with juvenile delinquency in urban Colombia by systematically killing the children. Its human right record is well documented by Human Right Watch and many other human right organizations. It’s hard to imagine that the Colombian military and its right-wring allies would respect any peace agreement that would require them to respect human rights, get rid of their paramilitaries, and enter their barracks. One can understand why countless peace negotiations have brought nothing. So will the death of Marulanda, said to be one of the most hawkish element within the FARC leadership, finally bring peace to bare? It is too soon to say. However, during the same Sunday communiqué, Jimenez also confirmed Marulanda’s replacement. Alfonso Cano, better known as Timocheko and who is considered to be less-militarist than Marulanda, is now the new party leader. The coming days will be crucial, and one of the biggest obstacles to peace is foreign interference. The United States is financing and equipping the army under the pretext of fighting drug-trafficking. This gives the government little incentives to seek genuine peace. What Colombia and, by extension most of Latin America—needs is a true redistribution of wealth incarcerated for centuries into the hands of a few. Without that, peace will always remain The Great Elusive Dream. Colombia’s cross-border military incursion into Ecuador could spark regional conflagrationAlso see Vladimir Putin solidifies his hold on power in RussiaRussia’s new interest in Southeast AsiaRussia and China in a strategic alliance to counter NATO’s global ambitions