dramatic rescue mission of 15 hostages by the Colombian Army last week, many
analysts are starting to talk about a possible crisis in one of the oldest
guerrilla groups in the world. Some
suggest this is the beginning of the end for a rebel group dating back more 40
years. Producer Zulima Palacio takes a look into it. Chris Simkins narrates the story.
rescue is widely described as an embarrassing setback for the Revolutionary
Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC.
Not one shot was fired when Colombian intelligence officials tricked the
rebels into handing over 15 hostages in the Colombian jungle last week.
analysts now say they see a crisis within the oldest guerrilla group in Latin
America. Patrick Esteruelas, of the Eurasia
Group, says the FARC could be coming apart. "It is the beginning of the
end of the Farc guerrilla movement as we know it," he said.
The FARC began in 1964 as a Marxist-oriented rural rebel
army. Its initial income came from
extortion of landowning elites and emerging drug lords. By the 1980's, the FARC began charging
farmers and drugs lords for protection, allowing the group to increase its
manpower and to purchase more weapons.
In a few years, the FARC activities evolved into an alliance with drug
lords. Today, experts estimate that
between 60 and 90 percent of the FARC's income comes from the illicit drug
Isacson, a political analyst with the non-profit Washington think-tank Center for International Policy, says
the FARC fronts operating closer to Venezuela are entirely dedicated to drugs.
says,"From taxing the growers, to buying the coca paste, to turning it
into cocaine and crystal cocaine and to get it through the corridors in
Colombia and in some cases getting it out of the country - that's where we do
not know how far it goes though. We
have heard that the FARC has contacts with Mexican cartels."
estimates that about 20 percent of the FARC income comes from kidnapping. The group's 70 fronts, or local cells, now
hold about 700 hostages and its total income, he estimates, is in the hundreds
of millions. "I
would say at least half a billion dollars a year," Isacson said.
estimates of FARC membership running up to 18,000, Isacson says that the
defection of hundreds of rebels this year indicates some fronts are facing
political and economic difficulties.
billion dollars in U.S. aid has helped the Colombian government infiltrate and
disrupt FARC operations. There have
been arrests and assassinations. In the
last few months, FARC's founder died and two senior leaders were killed. The government campaign interrupted
communications between many of the fronts.
Gamarra of the Latin American and Caribbean
Center at the Florida International University says the stated purpose
of the U.S. money was to eradicate coca production.
investment was originally to stop the flow of drugs into the United
States. If you gauged it from that
perspective then the plan has not worked.
If you gauge it from the perspective of dismantling a major, the major
guerrilla force, the most important drug trafficking organization then it is a
huge success,” Gamarra said.
to the U.N., Colombia's production of coca leaf, used to produce cocaine,
increased 27 percent last year. But the
FARC could be in crisis says Patrick Esteruelas.
FARC has not been left with too many options.
Right now they are too busy surviving and are not capable of staging
anything close to a military resurgence," Esteruelas said.
analysts and public opinion surveys give the FARC less than a one percent
approval rating in Colombia. But while
many agree that the FARC has lost members and faces one of its most difficult
moments, they also warn that it is probably far from being eliminated.