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Colombia: Was the United States involved in the murder of FARC-EP leaders?
By James J. Brittain[i]
While virtually every country in
Central and South America, including the Caribbean, has waded in on the debate
of the Colombian state conducting an illegal military campaign within
Ecuadorian sovereign territory, resulting in the deaths of various high-ranking
officials in the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de
Colombia-Ejército del Pueblo, FARC-EP), the United States have remained virtually
silent. Such surprising silence from the
case of Comandante Raúl Reyes (murdered
It has become general knowledge that shortly after midnight on March 1, 2008, the President of Colombia Álvaro Uribe Vélez, Vice-President Francisco Santos Calderón and Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos sanctioned an illegal air and ground assault against the 48th Front of the FARC-EP, which resulted in the death of Comandante Raúl Reyes, one of the members of the insurgency’s Secretariat of the Central High Command, Julian Conrado, a member of the Central High Command (and the insurgency’s most recognised cultural icon through his work as a revolutionary folk musician),and twenty other members of the FARC-EP.
Hours after the assault had taken place,
Defence Minister Santos reiterated that Colombian forces began the operation
with an air assault followed by an elite group of Colombian soldiers engaging
in a ground combat against members of the FARC-EP Front.
During meetings of the Organization
of American States (OAS), state officials and representatives from
When asked if the Uribe and Santos administration had informed Washington preceding the transgression on Ecuadorian soil, Tom Casey, a spokesperson for the US State Department, hesitantly stated, ``No, I’m not aware that we found out about this other than after the fact’’. Less than assuring complete impartiality, Colombia’s chief of police General Oscar Naranjo declared that ``I can say for sure that the operation was autonomous’’. As General Naranjo continued his press conference he did however reveal that the US had, in fact, been involved in operations connected to the Colombian military assault in Ecuador, albeit indirectly.
General Naranjo asserted that no
external forces were involved in the FARC-EP-targeted attack but he did offer
that ``it is no secret that … a very strong alliance with federal agencies of
On March 7, Ecuador’s defence minister Wellington Sandoval announced that after further investigation of the area targeted during the March 1 attack it was revealed that the site had been bombarded with at least five bombs, with incredible precision (``smart bombs’’). All five detonations were within a 50-metre diameter during a night-time attack, a virtually impossible achievement considering the military capabilities and resources of the Colombian air and armed forces. Sandoval claimed that the arms used during the incursion can only be deployed through the use of aircraft that have the capacity to fly at a considerable height and velocity, weaponry that is again not found within the Colombian Air Force. It was then alluded that not one Latin American nation possesses such military machinery or intelligence equipment and that the only air force with such an arsenal is that of the United States.
The case of Comandante Iván Ríos (murdered
March 4 or
On the afternoon of March 7,
The defence minister proceeded to tell the press that after those deemed responsible had killed Comandante Ríos they severed his right hand in order to prove to Colombian officials that the youngest member of the Secretariat was dead.[iii]
It was then stated that the three
insurgents took the severed limb, along with Comandante Ríos’ laptop and
identification, and handed them to members of the Colombian army and the Colombian
attorney general office’s Technical Investigation Body (Cuerpo Técnico de Investigación, CTI). During a brief press
Confusion immediately began to
circulate around the events presented by
An anonymous official had
prematurely contacted the press and reported that Comandante Ríos had been
Another strange complexity related to Comandante Ríos’ death is simply, where is Rojas? One would think that the state would put forward details concerning who Comandante Ríos’ murderer was, what his social background or personal details were, how the murder occurred, and what has happened to Rojas. Interestingly, however, nothing related to the above queries concerning Rojas were released.
If Comandante Ríos was, in fact, murdered by Rojas, such events surrounding the death are quite puzzling due to the structure and practice of the FARC-EP. It is difficult to understand how one FARC-EP combatant -- let alone three -- were capable of breaking rank and violently reacting against not only a highly ranked officer but a leader within the FARC-EP’s Secretariat. Each comandante associated with the Secretariat has a cadre of more than a dozen immediate personnel who are not only responsible for the comandante’s protection but oversee the goings on of the guerrilla camp in which the leader is stationed. From first-hand experience, all meetings and interactions with the comandante are coordinated each day and formally scheduled. Prior to each meeting, the party invited must wait and ask for approval to enter the comandante’s barracks. Once approval has been arranged it is only then that a member is escorted into the comandante’s quarters by at least one other armed guard.
How is it then that three armed FARC-EP combatants were able to violently enter into Comandante’s Ríos’ barracks directly in front of an entire FARC-EP front, which includes two FARC-EP companies and two FARC-EP guerrilla squads which contain, on average, at least twelve combatants per squad?
For any researcher, academic, environmentalist or journalist who has spent any significant amount of time within FARC-EP-controlled territory since 2002, the defence minister’s ``official’’ account of ``Rojas’’ and two other so-called FARC-EP combatants being solely responsible for the murder of Ríos is highly problematic let alone incredibly simplistic. Comandante Ríos’ limb being removed by a FARC-EP member is too out of character to any informed analyst of the Colombian civil war. There has not been one confirmed case of any FARC-EP combatant in its forty-four years of existence of employing such tactics; however, such a tactic has been systemically employed by government paramilitaries, privately funded ``security forces’’ and right-wing civilian vigilante groups dating back to the 1940s and increasingly carried out over the past decade.
The plausible paramilitary role in the deaths of both Comandante Reyes and Comandante Ríos
Over the past two years the Uribe
Comandante Ríos’ murder are symbolic
of those carried out by
The Colombian state cannot afford to have a paramilitary group claim responsibility for the murder of Comandante Ríos for this would, once again, demonstrate that the state has either failed in its political capacity to demobilise the paramilitary forces, or more accurately, that the state has been complicit in covering up the actions of Colombian paramilitarism, which is rampant throughout the Colombian countryside (seeking to sustain political, economic and social control through aggressive coercion).
Rather than supporting the claim that ``FARC-EP combatants’’ committed the assault and subsequent amputation of Comandante Ríos’ hand, it is more likely that what transpired was a tactic which has been widely utilised by the paramilitaries over the past several years. Countless researchers and journalists have exposed how reactionary forces dress up in fatigues making themselves appear to be FARC-EP combatants. Paramilitaries have regularly presented themselves as members of the FARC-EP so as to commit atrocities against civilians in the hope of creating false condemnation of the insurgency.
The Bush administration has had great
difficulty trying to have a new free-trade agreement (FTA) with
There is a very real possibility
The media’s role
There is a very real two-fold psychological affect from the propaganda related to the deaths of Comandante Reyes and Comandante Ríos, which is being disseminated through the centralised media, primarily El Tiempo.[iv]
1) Systemically exposing
2) Telling the world that Comandante Ríos’ was murdered by his own comrades is a tactic employed to decrease international solidarity. People abroad may now falsely believe the argument that the FAERC-EP is losing ground, power and influence in the Colombian countryside. At the same time, such accusations are disseminated in the hope of destabilising the FARC-EP itself. Propagating that the rank and file have abandoned the leadership and that the movement is collapsing is a strategy to destabilise the insurgency forces.
[i] James J. Brittain is an assistant
professor of sociology at
[iii] In November 2003, Iván
Ríos replaced Comandante Efraín Guzmán as a member of the Secretariat, who died