Friday, August 08, 2008

The FARC: fish with plenty of fresh water

The Continuity of FARC-EP Resistance in Colombia by James J. Brittain

This article puts recent media reports about the diminished strength and flagging spirits of Colombia's FARC rebels in perspective: reminding the reader first of all that many of these reports are issued by the Colombian government, and secondly that the FARC have faced far worse situations in the past. For instance, "[i]n 1973, the Colombian state, with the assistance of the United States, launched 'Operation Anori', which resulted in the destruction of much of the FARC-EP’s military supplies and sections of its leadership ... After this and other counterinsurgency campaigns took place during the early-mid 1970s, it was documented that the FARC-EP had lost seventy percent of its ammunitions with as little as one-hundred-fifty armed and trained combatants remaining." Yet the FARC re-grouped and gained strength.

In contrast to the conventional wisdom of an immanent FARC collapse, the article documents a number of impressive military actions occurring this very year. "Between the 29th of April and the 6th of May the FARC-EP carried out a coordinated series of attacks which isolated sectors of Colombia’s largest oil pipeline and subsequently halted the production of an estimated eight-hundred thousand to three-million barrels of oil. In addition, the guerrilla strategically destroyed important transportation routes needed to control the flow of oil and military supplies throughout various departments in the north of the country. Destroying an essential bridge near Catatumbo in the department of César, the FARC-EP was able to severe [sic] the movement of state and private security forces thereby keeping existing military units preoccupied (Weinberg, 2008). Following the offence, another Front in Norte de Santander pursued an aggressive attack against security forces guarding the 770 kilometre Colombian-based Ecopetrol and US-based Occidental Petroleum owned Caño-Limón pipeline near Tibu – the true target of the attack. Ironically, all this took place just a few short hours after William Brownfield, the United States’ Ambassador to Colombia, visited the area and applauded the growth in security and economic progress as a result of the FARC-EP’s so-called decline (Reuters, 2008a). In response to the FARC-EP’s strike, Colombian General Paulino Coronado coordinated a mounted offensive on 3rd of May to eliminate the FARC-EP attack and resume the flow of oil production. The guerrilla quickly eliminated the deployed battalion and continued their assault on the pipeline facilities for an additional forty-eight hours (Associated Press, 2008). Showing that their campaign targeting the Caño-Limón pipeline was not simply a one-time tactical success, the FARC-EP carried out an additional attack on Colombia’s largest coal mine – the Cerrejón – on the forty-fourth anniversary of insurgency’s inception."

The reason for the disparity between the FARC's continued military successes and the media-propagated conventional wisdom of FARC disintegration? It's structural: the Colombian state, along with its powerful U.S. ally, is dominating the public relations battle; how else do you think the ideas you have about Colombia originate? That there are lots of dispassionate reporters in Colombia monitoring the situation and sending accurate ideas about Colombian reality to the United States for dissemination? Not with the predominant trend in newspapers being widespread fat-trimming in the form of eliminating foreign bureaus. No, if the Colombian government is not populated entirely by idiots - and I don't think so, I'm a Unitedstatesian exceptionalist in this regard - then they've learned to deal with the media.

And that means basically driving to press offices, bringing food and visiting the landlord to pay the rent. Then the state PR flacks spoon-feed the one emaciated "reporter" who has to man the entire foreign bureau a salable story for the paper's consumers to consume. No, wait, wrong business model. It's to attract human eyeballs with brains attached to the paper so that they can be sold to the actual consumer, advertisers and their industrial and financial clients, to consume. In a gesture to credibility, the state PR goon perhaps flashes a government ID - aha, an official source! Then the ideas embodied in the story get shipped off to the U.S., where people infect themselves and others with them. This is how your ideas of Colombia - and so many other things - are made. Makes you wish you'd instead been on a tour of a health code nightmare sausage factory after weeks of continuous feasting on its products.

So while many of the ideas in your head that form your picture of Colombia are the product of government public relations flackery - and as such, by definition, have at best a troublesome correlation with reality - in Colombia the actual country the ever-present and, if anything, only intensifying disparity between rich and poor guarantees a solid base for FARC recruitment. As in Mao's analogy, the people are the water in which fish - the guerillas - swim. The Colombian and Unitedstatesian governments have unwittingly ensured that the rural poor are kept in a state where they will provide a solid base for the FARC for years to come.

"While it cannot be dismissed that in the past few months the FARC-EP has experienced unprecedented difficulties it must be realized that as long as inequitable sociocultural and political-economic conditions pervade Colombian society so too will a base from which the FARC-EP can recruit. The FARC-EP remain the longest running and most powerful political-military movement in contemporary Latin America with numbers still ranging in the thousands, arguably tens of thousands. Therefore, to buy into any suggestion that Colombia finds itself in a period of increased stability or that the FARC-EP have past [sic] into the annals of history is to adopt a false consciousness of the realities that exist within this Andean country....

'The internal struggle within Colombia is far from over. It will continue to be waged through radical and antagonistic forms. As the United States and the Uribe administration continue to engage a war against the poor so too will they exacerbate and intensify 'Colombia’s internal conflict by robbing families of their livelihoods and leaving them with little option but to join the left-wing guerrillas, particularly the FARC.'"

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