The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—People’s Army (Spanish: Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia—Ejército del Pueblo, FARC–EP and FARC) are a Colombian Marxist–Leninist revolutionary guerrilla organization involved in the continuing Colombian armed conflict since 1964. The FARC is considered a terrorist organization by the Government of Colombia. The FARC–EP claim to be a peasant army with a political platform of agrarianism and anti-imperialism inspired by Bolivarianism.
The FARC say they represent the poor people of rural Colombia against:
- the economic depredations of the ruling bourgeoisie;
- the political influence of the U.S. in the internal affairs of Colombia (i.e. Plan Colombia);
- the monopolization of natural resources by multinational corporations and
- the repressive violence from Colombian state and paramilitary forces against the civilian population.
The operations of the FARC–EP are funded by kidnap to ransom, gold mining, and the production and distribution of illegal drugs.
The strength of the FARC–EP forces is indeterminate; in 2007, the FARC said they were an armed force of 18,000 men and women; in 2010, the Colombian military calculated that FARC forces consisted of approximately 18,000 members, 50 per cent of which were armed guerrilla combatants; and, in 2011, the President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, said that the FARC–EP forces comprised fewer than 8,000 members. According to an inform from Human Rights Watch, approximately 70-80% of the recruits are minors, most of them are forced to join the FARC. From 1999 to 2008 the guerrilla armies of the FARC and of the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (National Liberation Army of Colombia) controlled approximately 30–35 per cent of the national territory of Colombia. The greatest concentrations of FARC guerrilla forces are in the south-eastern regions of Colombia’s 500,000 square kilometers (190,000 sq mi) of jungle, and in the plains at the base of the Andean mountain chain.
In 1964, the FARC–EP were established as the military wing of the Colombian Communist Party (Partido Comunista Colombiano, PCC), after the Colombian military attacked rural Communist enclaves in the aftermath of The Violence (La Violencia, ca. 1948–58). The FARC are a violent non-state actor (VNSA) whose formal recognition as legitimate belligerent forces is disputed. As such, the FARC has been classified as a terrorist organization by the governments of Colombia, the United States, Canada, Chile, New Zealand, and the European Union; whereas the governments of Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, and Nicaragua do not classify the FARC as a terrorist organization. In 2008, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez recognized the FARC-EP as a proper army. President Chávez also asked the Colombian government and their allies to recognize the FARC as a belligerent force, arguing that such political recognition would oblige the FARC to forgo kidnapping and terrorism as methods of civil war and to abide by the Geneva Convention. Juan Manuel Santos, the current President of Colombia, has followed a middle path by recognizing in 2011 that there is an “armed conflict” in Colombia although his predecessor, Alvaro Uribe, strongly disagreed. In 2012 FARC announced they would no longer participate in kidnappings for ransom and released the last 10 soldiers and police officers they kept as prisoners but it has kept silent about the status of hundreds of civilians still reported as hostages.
La Violencia and the National Front
In 1948, in the aftermath of the assassination of the populist politician Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, there occurred a decade of large-scale political violence throughout Colombia, which was a Conservative – Liberal civil war that killed more than 300,000 people. In Colombian history and culture, the killings are known as La Violencia (The Violence, 1948–58); most of the people killed were peasants and laborers in rural Colombia. In 1957-1958, the political leadership of the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party agreed to establish a bipartisan political system known as the National Front (Frente Nacional, 1958–74). The Liberal and the Conservative parties agreed to alternate in the exercise of government power by presenting a joint National Front candidate to each election and restricting the participation of other political movements. The pact was ratified as a constitutional amendment by a national plebiscite on 1 December 1957 and was supported by the Roman Catholic Church as well as Colombia’s business leaders. The initial power-sharing agreement was effective until 1974; nonetheless, with modifications, the Liberal–Conservative bipartisan system lasted until 1990. The sixteen-year extension of the bipartisan power-sharing agreement permitted the Liberal and Conservative élites to consolidate their socioeconomic control of Colombian society, and to strengthen the military to suppress political reform and radical politics proposing alternative forms of government for Colombia.
During the 1960s, the Colombian government effected a policy of Accelerated Economic Development (AED), the agribusiness plan of Lauchlin Currie, a Canadian-born U.S.economist who owned ranching land in Colombia. The plan promoted industrial farming that would produce great yields of agricultural and animal products for world-wide exportation, while the Colombian government would provide subsidies to large-scale private farms. The AED policy came at the expense of the small-scale family farms that only yielded food supplies for local consumption. Based on a legalistic interpretation of what constituted “efficient use” of the land, thousands of peasants were forcefully evicted from their farms and migrated to the cities, where they became part of the industrial labor pool. In 1961, the dispossession of farmland had produced 40,000 landless families and by 1969 their numbers amounted to 400,000 throughout Colombia. By 1970, the latifundio type of industrial farm (more than 50 hectares in area) occupied more than 77 per cent of arable land in the country.The AED policy increased the concentration of land ownership among cattle ranchers and urban industrialists, whose businesses expanded their profits as a result of reductions in the cost of labor wages after the influx of thousands of displaced peasants into the cities. During this period, most rural workers lacked basic medical care and malnutrition was almost universal, which increased the rates of preventable disease and infant mortality.
Human rights concerns
FARC has been accused of committing violations of human rights by numerous groups, including the Colombian government, U.S. government, European Union, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and United Nations.
A February 2005 report from the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights mentioned that, during 2004, “FARC-EP continued to commit grave breaches [of human rights] such as murders of protected persons, torture and hostage-taking, which affected many civilians, including men, women, returnees, boys and girls, and ethnic groups.”
FARC-EP, the ELN and right-wing paramilitaries all train teens as soldiers and informants. Human Rights Watch estimates that the FARC-EP has the majority of child combatants in Colombia, and that approximately one quarter of its guerrillas are under 18. Forcible recruitment of children, by either side, is rare in Colombia. They join for a variety of reasons including poverty, lack of educational opportunities, avoiding dangerous work in coca processing, escaping from domestic violence, offers of money (mostly from paramilitaries, who pay their soldiers). Human Rights Watch has noted that “once integrated into the FARC-EP, children are typically barred from leaving”.
FARC-EP Commander Simón Trinidad has stated that FARC does not allow the enlistment of people under 15 years of age, arguing that this is in accordance with Article 38 of the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child. He has argued that the alternatives for many children in Colombia are worse, including prostitution and exploitative work in mines and coca production. Amnesty International has rejected the validity of such a position in international law.
In June 2000, FARC-EP Commander Carlos Antonio Lozada told Human Rights Watch that the minimum recruitment age of fifteen years was set in 1996 but admitted that “this norm was not enforced” until recently. Lozada said, however, that it had become an obligatory standard after Commander Jorge Briceño’s statements on the matter in April 2000. A 2001 Human Rights Watch report considered FARC-EP’s refusal to admit children under fifteen years old into their forces to be “encouraging” but added that there is “little evidence that this rule is being strictly applied” and called on the group to demobilize all existing child soldiers and cease this practice in the future.
In 2003, Human Rights Watch reported that FARC-EP shows no leniency to children because of their age, assigning minors the same duties as adults and sometimes requiring them to participate in executions or witness torture.
In 2001, Human Rights Watch (HRW) denounced that the FARC-EP had abducted and executed civilians accused of supporting paramilitary groups in the demilitarized zone and elsewhere, without providing any legal defense mechanisms to the suspects and generally refusing to give any information to relatives of the victims. The human rights NGO directly investigated three such cases and received additional information about over twenty possible executions during a visit to the zone.
According to HRW, those extrajudicial executions would qualify as forced disappearances if they had been carried out by agents of the government or on its behalf, but nevertheless remained “blatant violations of the FARC-EP’s obligations under international humanitarian law and in particular key provisions of article 4 of Protocol II, which protects against violence to the life, physical, and mental well-being of persons, torture, and ill-treatment.”
The Colombian human rights organization CINEP reported that FARC-EP killed an estimated total of 496 civilians during 2000.
Use of gas cylinder mortars and landmines
The FARC-EP has employed a type of improvised mortars made from gas canisters (or cylinders), when launching attacks.
According to Human Rights Watch, the FARC-EP has killed civilians not involved in the conflict through the use of gas cylinder mortars and its use of landmines.
Human Rights Watch considers that “the FARC-EP’s continued use of gas cylinder mortars shows this armed group’s flagrant disregard for lives of civilians…gas cylinder bombs are impossible to aim with accuracy and, as a result, frequently strike civilian objects and cause avoidable civilian casualties.”
According to the ICBL Landmine and Cluster Munitions Monitor, “FARC is probably the most prolific current user of antipersonnel mines among rebel groups anywhere in the world.” Furthermore, FARC use child soldiers to carry and deploy antipersonnel mines.
Violence against indigenous people
FARC has sometimes threatened or assassinated indigenous Colombian leaders for attempting to prevent FARC incursions into their territory and resisting the forcible recruitment by FARC of indigenous youth. Between 1986 and 2001, FARC was responsible for 27 assassinations, 15 threats, and 14 other abuses of indigenous people in Antioquia Department. In March 1999 members of a local FARC contingent killed 3 indigenous rights activists, who were working with the U’Wa people to build a school for U’Wa children, and were fighting against encroachment of U’Wa territory by multinational oil corporations. The killings were almost universally condemned, and seriously harmed public perceptions of FARC.
Members of indigenous groups have demanded the removal of military bases set up by the Colombian government and guerrilla encampments established by FARC in their territories, claiming that both the Colombian National Army and the FARC should respect indigenous autonomy and international humanitarian law. According to the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), 80.000 members of indigenous communities have been displaced from their native lands since 2004 because of FARC-related violence. Luis Evelis, an indigenous leader and ONIC representative, has stated that “the armed conflict is still in force, causing damages to the indigenous. Our territories are self-governed and we demand our autonomy. During the year 2011, fifty-six indigenous people have been killed.” The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has indicated that no military activities may be carry out within indigenous territories without first undertaking an “effective consultation” with indigenous representatives and authorities from the communities involved.
The Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC) issued a statement concerning the release of two hostages taken by FARC in 2011: “Compared to past statements made by the national government, it is important to reiterate that the presence of armed groups in our territories is a fact that has been imposed by force of arms, against which our communities and their leaders have remained in peaceful resistance.” The CRIC also indicated that neither the Colombian government nor the mediators and armed groups involved consulted with the indigenous people and their authorities about the hostage release, raising concerns about the application of national and international law guaranteeing their autonomy, self-determination and self-government. The indigenous organization also demanded the immediate end of all violence and conflict within indigenous territories and called for a negotiated solution to the war.
Official Colombian government statistics show that murders of indigenous people between January and May 2011 have increased 38% compared to the same timeframe in 2010. Colombia is home to nearly 1 million indigenous people, divided into around 100 different ethnicities. The Colombian Constitutional Court has warned that 35 of those groups are in danger of dying out. The Permanent Assembly for the Defense of Life and Territorial Control has stated that the armed conflict “is not only part of one or two areas, it is a problem of all the indigenous people.”
Sexual abuse and forced abortions
According to Amnesty International, both civilian women and female combatants have been sexually exploited or victimized by all of the different parties involved in the Colombian armed conflict. In the case of FARC, it has been reported that young female recruits have been sexually abused by veteran guerrilla soldiers and in several cases pregnancies were interrupted against their will by FARC doctors.