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FARC and AUC: Colombia’s Two Top Narcoterrorists Groups

Thesis: FARC is Colombia’s foremost left-wing guerilla group founded in 1966 and which had remained active for the last four decades in fighting for its cause which was to overthrow the Colombian government and replace it with an agrarian state. Just like any other terrorists groups it committed many crimes like murders and massacres not only against Colombia’s military forces but also of innocent civilians. The government had been trying to settle the issue with the FARC but so far peace negotiations were fruitless and unsuccessful.

To finance its operations FARC resorted to kidnapping, extortion and hijacking among many others. But the major bulk of financial support was provided by their involvement in narco-trafficking of cocaine and heroine. At present, FARC operations had slowed down due to combined aggressive offensive attacks by Colombia’s government forces and the US. The AUC, on the other hand, is a left-wing paramilitary group formed in 1997 with the aim to protect the rich landowners against the harassment of FARC. To cripple FARC operations, the AUC had targeted and terrorized its suspected civilian supporters through massacres and assassinations.

The AUC was a brutal group that kills without mercy using violent methods so that they were accused to be the worst human rights offender in Colombia. Like FARC, the group was funded by narco-trafficking. At present, AUC had been demobilized by the government through an offering of amnesty and integration. The demobilization, however, was tainted with controversy because of AUC’s “clouded” political and military connections and there was a widespread suspicion that the demobilization was designed to protect AUC leader’s lands and wealth while at the same time ensuring their freedom from facing criminal justice.

A present, there are signs that the group’s comrades at large are still active in protecting and leading drug cartels. I. Introduction A. Role in Colombia today. 111111FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) is Colombia’s largest, best-equipped and organized left-wing rebel group and is reputed to be one of the world’s richest and most powerful guerrilla armies (Garcia 2002). Active for four decades the group controlled almost half of the country of Colombia with strongholds mostly found in the jungles of the southeast and plains at the base of the Andes Mountains.

FARC was responsible for many terrorist activities throughout Colombia, terrorizing both its local citizens and foreigners. Aside from that they were directly involved in drug trafficking to finance their guerilla operations. The Colombian government had been trying to end FARC insurgency through agrressive offensive attacks and making peaceful negotiations (which had failed again and again)(Harper 2003).

1111111The AUC (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia” or United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia), on the other hand, is a right- wing paramilitary group that aided the government in fighting against left-wing insurgents, particularly FARC. The group had been freely committing atrocities in all parts of Colombia so that they were labeled as the worst human rights abusers of the said country. Because of the nature of their activities, in 2001 the US State Department declared AUC as “one of the terrorists group operating in Colombia” (Dudley 205).

Like the FARC, the group was also funded by drug trafficking. It was reported that AUC had formed a network of loyal alliances with the political and military leaders in Colombia so that they were relaively invincible carry out their drug trafficking activities and avoid arrests or trials (Ambrus 2007). 1111111B. The Founding of FARC and AUC 1111111The historical event that led to the creation of FARC was the ten year civil war of 1948-1958 between the Liberal and Conservative parties of Colombia.

This period was known as “La Violencia” (“The Violence”) because of the violence that had occurred at that time and claimed 200,000 lives. The Liberals support the peasants and farmer’s cry for their right to own lands while the Conservatives protect the lands of the rich landowners and miners. Eventually, clashes of opinions led to the assassination of the then Liberal Presidential candidate Jorge Eliecer Gaitan by an alleged Conservative (Garcia 2002). The incident angered peasant liberals and triggered the formation of separate guerrilla groups known as “independent republics”.

When “La Violencia” ended in 1958 the rebel groups retreated to the mountain regions of the south where they were pursued by the government troops with the intent of ending their insurgency. In Marquetalia in 1964, around 16,000 soldiers were sent to attack them. The guerillas defended themselves and eventually the separate “independent republic” groups banded together to form the Southern Bloc. Two years later (1966) the Southern Bloc leaders decided to expand their military campaign in a nation wide scale and formally established FARC.

The group’s current membership was reported to have reached 18,000 members (Harper 2003). 111111Long before the creation of AUC, paramilitary groups (called autodefensas) had independently existed in Colombia as private military protectors of the landowners against the kidnapping and extortion of the guerillas that began in the 1980’s. Finally in 1997, after many years of independent operations, paramilitaries’ grouped together to form the AUC. Since the Colombian government was not able to overcome or defeat FARC by themselves they collaborated with AUC to eliminate FARC.

This confirmed “military and political connection” had been the cause of controversy in the present AUC demobilization process. At the end of 2006, AUC’s had estimated members of 32,000 (“Colombia” 2005). 11 111C. Key leaders 1111111One of the key leaders of the early “independent republics” was Manuel Marulanda, former member of the Liberal and Communist parties.

With the largest group of 1,000 members at that time , Marulanda established his own “independent republic” group in the Andean plains called Marquetalia. Marulanda eventually became the founder of FARC in 1966. The organization was governed by seven-member secretariat in which Manuel Marulanda acted as chairman. Helping him in the leadership were Jorge Briceno , serving as FARC’s military commander and Marulanda’s long-time friend, Jacobo Arenas, was second in command but he died in 1990(Harper 2003).

1 1111111The AUC was formed in 1997 from a network of several paramilitary groups by Carlos Castano with original 4,000 members. The AUC was an umbrella group that was never been unified, with some AUC groups engaging in armed confrontation with each other. In 2002, AUC dissolved momentarily when Carlos Castano briefly resigned from leadership complaining that “everyone does as he wishes. ” In 2002, the group, consisting of many “blocs” had experienced more divisive battles with regards to its drug operations and US extradition of its key leaders.

By 2004 amidst the in-fighting and the rise of new leaders from the drug underworld, Carlos Castano was murdered by fellow paramilitaries. Upon the death of Castano, Salvatore Mancuso, a former Cordoba rancher, became the most publicly recognized AUC leader acting as “Maximum Commandante” (“Colombia” 2005). 111111D. Past and Current Relationship 1111111FARC and AUC operates in opposition to each other. In other words, one group was interested in obliterating the other group and its civilian supporters.

In this mortal combat, the FARC was considered as the left-wing guerilla group while the AUC was the right-wing paramilitary group. One of the main objectives of FARC was to harass the rich landowners while the mission of AUC was to prevent them from doing so (Ambrus 2007). What had made AUC especially brutal was that they rarely confronted the guerrillas directly but instead they terrorize rural communities through massacres and assassinations of civilian population who were suspected to support FARC.

In this way, they cripple the FARC by denying them access and help from rural civilians from which they heavily depended upon for financial support (through coca growing farmers) and membership (Livingstone 7). 1111111As the years passed however, when drug cartels became popular and bring in so many cash and while wealthy landowners shifted from agricultural legal farming to becoming drug lords, the AUC had increasingly discarded its counter-guerilla activities and instead concentrated their time and energy in the illegal drug trade (“United” 2007). II.

Effects on society E. In Colombia 111111As a terrorist group engaging in terrorist activities, it goes without saying that FARC spread fear and terror among the Colombians and foreigners. They committed occasional massacres of innocent civilians, extortion, hijacking and military confrontation with Colombian armed forces (Garcia 2002).

Aside from that FARC was responsible for the majority of kidnappings committed in Colombia with captives consisting of Colombian lawmakers, political figures and foreigners of which some they held hostages for years. Kidnapping was FARC’s second source of income (Garcia 2002, Livingstone 25). 111111Aside from kidnapping for ransom, hijacking and extortion, FARC was directly involved in the drug trade to finance its operations. In fact, much of Colombia’s coca is grown in FARC-controlled areas.

It is believed that aside from “taxing” coca and poppy plant producers in the areas it controlled, FARC sought to gain complete control of the drug trade by protecting and involving in all of the cocaine and heroine production including close monitoring of the drug manufacturing laboratories and looking after its finished product distribution (Garcia 2002). In spite of all the suspicions and allegations regarding FARC’s narco-trafficking connection, it took many years later, however, before any FARC’s were convicted of involvement to the drug trade.

On March 7, 2002, seven FARC defendants were charged with drug trafficking by the Drug Enforcement Administration and U. S. Attorney General John Ashcroft. This was a big victory for the anti-drug enforcers since in the past it was difficult for them to put any FARC behind bars due to lack of evidence. It is estimated that FARC collects $250-$300 million dollars (some even say it could reach to $1 billion dollars) a year through its drug related activities.

Because of that FARC was considered to be one of the richest, if not the richest, insurgent groups in the world. Aside from collecting cash FARC had been exchanging cocaine for weapons and other military equipment (Garcia 2002). The large income brought about by the drug trade had attracted many new recruits as well as enabling the FARC to modernize its weapons which eventually resulted in gaining several victories over the Colombian military in 1996-1998.

However, due to the aggressive war campaigns by the Colombian military and paramilitaries, FARC lose some territories in the battle , its operations weakened and now the group had somewhat slowed down( “Colombia” 2005). 1111111However, in spite of being a leftist group, FARC had gained the sympathy and support of rural folks. The peasant had felt that FARC was fighting for their rights considering the fact that they were neglected by the government.

Instead of the government, it was the FARC that built schools, provided health care and built infrastructure in rural-controlled communities (Harper 2003). Because of this, FARC roamed freely in the rural countryside and conduct inspections in both primary and secondary roads and exercise judicial powers within their controlled community. For the most part, rural loyalty had been consistent for years and it had been a general practice and knowledge that “to enter most sections of rural Colombia is to enter guerilla-extended territory”.

With such a background, it was not surprising then that most of FARC’s members were humble rural folks discontented with the government. In other words, it was rare that membership includes people from the academe or professional world (Brittain 2004). But it might be of interest to note that their membership also included minors (sometimes recruited by force) and females who were mostly less than 19 years of age and constitutes 30 percent of the total membership (Harper 2003).

111111FARC controlled areas were departments of Huila, Caqueta, Tolima, Cauca, Boyaca, Santander, Antioquia, Valle del Cauca, Meta, and Cundinamarca and Arauca (Coutsoukis 2004). 111111On the other hand, according to the Colombian Commission of Jurists, AUC was considered to be the worst human rights abusers with 45% of the killings attributed to them while FARC and the rest of other guerilla groups has only 15% share (Livingstone 10). The methods of their supposed ‘self defense’ against leftist groups were more violent and disgusting as compared to those used by the FARC.

In fact, Castano had proudly announced in AUC’s early inception that they would not hesitate to conduct more massacres and assassinations of leftist guerrillas, politicians, activists and numerous Colombian civilians suspected of supporting the left-wing groups( Livingstone 7-10). Their brutal methods include maiming (particularly with chainsaw), throwing of acid in the face and feeding to alligators. In fact as long as time and place allowed, it was customary for this group to torture before killing their victims and witnesses within its earshot cannot do anything to help(Ambrus 2007, Livingstone 10).

It can be said then that despite their claims to be advocates of political reforms and fighters of social justice, this group only aggravated the already violent and troubled social and political condition of Colombia. 111111AUC forces controlled many areas like Antioquia, Cordoba, Sucre, Atlantico, Magdelena, Cesar, La Guajira, and Bolivar Departments, the coffee region in Valle del Cauca, and Meta Department (“United” 2007). The AUC’s aggressiveness and stability were also derived from their being financially well provided for through involvement in narcotrafficking.

It was estimated that AUC operations was 70% funded from drug earnings and the rest comes from “donations” from sponsors (some donations may have come from US counterterrorist funding) (“United” 2007). At the height of its operations, AUC had exported 40 percent of Colombian cocaine (Ambrus 2007). 111111With FARC and AUC controlling many regions outside of Colombia’s major cities, Colombian government was not able to stop their expansion in terms of membership and prosperity. The victims for the most part in the conflict were innocent rural civilians, with estimated annual death of around 4,500 and annual displacement of over 3.

2 million (“Overview” 2006). 1111111F. In the United States 1111111 1. Crime Increases 1111111With the increasing availability and popularity of powder cocaine and crack cocaine in the 1980s in the US, the nature of the drug-crime relationship changed. It was observed that by then rates of violent crimes related to drug distribution and marketing had increased markedly (White 25-41). 11111111111112.

Drug Abuse Increases 111111Drug abuse resulting to all sorts of crimes is nothing new to the US ever since drugs proliferated illegally in its streets in the 1980’s. At first drug use was regarded to be cool, but as time wore on it was proven that cocaine and heroine use can ruin the normal functioning of life and may also be fatal. And since drug use is addictive and costly, it drove some people to commit crimes just to obtain it.

What concerned the US most is that in spite of the widespread knowledge of the negative effects of cocaine and heroine there is still a continuing demand of these drugs, mostly by the youth groups who are the number one consumer of the said drugs in the world (Livingstone 144). That is why upon locating its chief supplier, Colombia, the US had made efforts to help the Colombian government stop its production there (White 25). 1111113. 3333333. Billions Spent on Counter Narco-terrorism 111111Colombia had received more financial aid from the US than any other Latin American countries.

The United States financial assistance to Colombia in its anti-narcotics and counter-insurgency efforts reaches to more than $700 million annually. Aside from direct finances the US provides some training and military equipment, like helicopters, to aid in the combat against drug cartels and operators (Livingstone 123, Ambrus 2007). 111 1111G. In the world Since the drug trade attracts an endless flow of cash, opportunistic illegal businessmen in foreign countries were alleged to have formed an underground connection with FARC.

The suspected men came from Iran, Argentina, Germany, Venezuela and possibly Iraq and Cuba. They were alleged to have been involved in the military training of FARC members (Garcia 2002). Aside from that, it is also believed that FARC and AUC may have formed network connection with Italy’s Sicilian and Neapolitan Mafias to ship and distribute cocaine and heroine in Europe (Bergquist 3). III. Solution 111111H.

Drugs being trafficked into the United States 1111111Colombia supplies 90% of cocaine and 45% of heroine in the US from its three major Colombian drug cartels, the Cali, Medellin and Atlantico(White 25). Just recently it was discovered that in the US the price of cocaine had lowered to 11 percent with high levels of purity, an indication that there was an abundant supply of the cocaine coming from Colombia (Gomez 2007).

1 1111111Since the 1970’s US policemen and Customs’ officials were kept busy catching or intercepting drug smugglers in various shifting smuggling routes,often via southern Florida, in the US. The drugs were either smuggled by air cargoes, commercial or fishing boats and land vehicles. Police agents and US Customs used hi-technology and greater coordination among agencies to arrests and intercept smugglers but to run after the smugglers had proven to be difficult and often futile because of the later’s modernized weapons and equipments.

The drug smugglers were very brazen and would not hesitate to make many legal risks for larger delivery fees and kill when hindered. They used all sorts of individuals from all walks of life to smuggle drugs including a priest (White 25-29). Drug smuggling operation of course was aided with bribery, reaching up to millions of dollars for some owner pilots, public officials any other concerned persons along the way (White 41). 1111 1111I.

Elimination of the terrorist groups (Counterterrorism) 111111In fighting terrorism, Colombia had relied with the US in a joint counterterrorism campaign known as Plan Colombia. Plan Colombia was first introduced in 2000 under the Clinton administration in collaboration with then Colombian President Andres Pastrana. The aim of Plan Colombia was supposedly to deal with proper monitoring of the coca production and guerilla activities all over Colombia (Brittain 2004, Livingstone 123-146).

The program’s cost was estimated at $7. 5 billion of which Colombia has pledged to contribute $4 billion. The plan included the aerial fumigation of coca and poppy plantation (sources of cocaine and heroine). However, the farmer’s protested against aerial fumigation arguing that it also destroyed other non-coca crops. The government learned later that actually the farmers deliberately intermingled coca and poppy plantation with maize and other legal crops as a tactic to stop fumigation and so that they can continuously plant coca and poppy (Livingstone 136-138).

Upon evaluation, it can be said that Plan Colombia had failed to eliminate the terrorists or reduce the production or consumption of cocaine and heroine. After the failure of Plan Colombia to suppress the FARC, the Bush administration had come up with a “war on terror” known as Plan Patriota which aimed to finally subjugate the FARC through offensive military attacks. The US is interested in wiping FARC insurgency because aside from the threat of drugs, the group obviously hindered US economic and political interests in Colombia.

By late 2003 and early 2004, the US Department of Defense increased the number of U. S. -based counterinsurgents in Colombia for the inevitable military combat. US troops consisted of state/private combatants while their Colombia counterparts had over 20,000 participating soldiers. The combined offensive troops targeted FARC “support networks” (political parties, students, food-crops, academics, unionists, etc. ) in order to cripple FARC. Targeted locations were the departments of Putumayo, Caqueta, Narino, and Meta.

It can be said that more or less Plan Patriota was successful owing to the fact that by 2004, FARC’s visible presence seemed to diminish in the regions of Cundimanamarca, Huila, Toilima and Cauca. Nevertheless, at the same time offensive attacks had resulted to numerous civilian deaths and massive displacements (Brittain 2004). It may be too early to celebrate the subjugation of FARC. In retalliation to Colombian government’s Plan Patriota in 2004, FARC had announced their own counter-offensive tactic known as Plan Resistencia’ in 2005 (“Overview” 2006).

Obviously, with such a response it seems that FARC is peraparing for a violent military confrontation with the Colombian armed forces in the near future unless of course the Colombian government will come up with a new effective way to finally settle the issues with the group. 111111On On the other hand, in an effort to fight terrorism and to curb the drug trade among AUC, in December 2005, Colombia’s Congress passed the “Justice and Peace” law governing the demobilization, trial and reintegration of 31,000 AUC combatants and key leaders.

The law earned so much criticism from human rights groups and the United Nations because among others, it primarily allowed paramilitary leaders to serve reduced sentences of eight years on special farms, thereby securing the key leaders and commanders’ claims to millions of hectares of stolen land. Aside from that the law secures their pardon for many violent criminal acts. Yet amidst all these controversies, the High Commissioner for Peace declared demobilization of the AUC complete in April of 2006.

As a result, for the time being (as it is still too early to judge the outcome of demobilization), President Uribe has been able to slightly counter, if not weaken, the terrorist acts of AUC. 111111J. Colombian Government’s Role in Counter-Terrorism, Amidst Controversy of being considered Narco-terrorists themselves 11111Colombia’s political and military leaders’ link to the drug trade and paramilitary groups had arisen a lot of suspicion from the public and International community amidst efforts made in counterinsurgency and counter drug trafficking.

111111In March 2006, the demobilization faced controversy and criticism when upon police seizure of the computer of Rodrigo Tovar, a former AUC commander who availed of the amnesty offered by the Colombian government through demobilization, it was confirmed that many political leaders of the country had formed strong paramilitary alliances with AUC, the former receiving bribes from the drug trade. Furthermore, aside from bribes (and occasional threats for the stubborn) AUC had in fact controlled political leaders by supporting their election campaigns and organizing an electoral fraud.

The extent of their influence may be illustrated by their access into public contracts in social security, health and agriculture. What was more disturbing was the fact that even key leaders of DAS , Colombia’s equivalent of the FBI, was involved in erasing paramilitaries’ files and conspiring with them to commit electoral fraud in the 2002 presidential elections. In an effort to save face and to restore faith in the government, these named leaders and DAS officials are now put under trial (Ambrus 2007).

111111President Uribe on the other hand, did not escape suspicion that he is linked to the paramilitaries. He was known to be a fierce anti-FARC since the group killed his father and motivated with revenged he allied with the paramilitaries against FARC while he was yet a governor of the state of Antioquia in the mid-1990s. He was accused to have turned a blind eye against the AUC human rights abuses and there was a comment that his paramilitary demobilization pact was merely “an agreement among friends”, with obvious peace terms favoring the AUC (Ambrus 2007).

In spite of these rumors, the US enthusiastically cooperated with President Uribe in counterterrorism owing to the fact that he showed eagerness to collaborate against the drug trade, was open to private investment, and was greatly opposed to left-wing movements in his country. However, the US did not disregard President Uribe’s tainted reputation and U. S. officials were encouraging the prosecutor’s office to investigate paramilitary activities especially with connection to Colombia’s political figures, including Uribe (Ambrus 2007).

On the other hand, the FARC mocked the government’s peace process with the AUC arguing that such a process should not exist for the government and AUC had always worked alongside each other (“Overview” 2006). For their part, FARC had made many peace negotiations with the Colombian government but it had always been unsuccessful (“Colombia “2005). 1111111K. What the rest of the world is doing to help out 1111111In Plan Colombia, the US, Latin America and Europe worked hand in hand in solving the problem of terrorism and drug trafficking in Colombia..

It was estimated that Europe consumed 16 % cocaine and 20% heroine of the world total (Livingstone 212). Examples of European countries active in supporting Plan Colombia by giving financial aid were Spain, Germany, Austria, Belgium and Britain. However, compared to the US the amount contributed by each were way below, amounting only for a total of $366 million dollars against Colombia’s hope of $ 1 billion dollars (Livingstone 128-129).

The reason why their support were not as enthusiastic as the US was because they were skeptical of Plan Colombia owing to the fact that many of its political leaders were secretly involved in the drug trade. The Brazilian military, on the other hand, had decided not to get too involved with the US sponsored war on drugs in Colombia although in some occasions they did not hesitate to help out in its counterinsurgency operations (Livingstone 141). 1111111The skepticism of the international community can best be described with how they view or supported the current peace process in Colombia especially its AUC demobilization.

They specifically questioned the sincerity of the leaders, as many well known drug traffickers were also paramilitary leaders who surrendered in the peace process in the wake of reports that they were still running their drug-related activities from their cell. Because of this, the international community was hesitant to provide funding for what they perceived as unreformed cartel leaders. Aside from that they were also skeptical of the political climate of Colombia as many of its leaders were reported to be involved in the drug trade in one way or another.

Their skepticism further increased when the Organization of American States (OAS) appointed Argentine delegate Sergio Caramagna to lead their newly created Mission to Support the Peace Process (MSPP) in Colombia. They suspected that the appointment was a political maneuver designed only to increase financial support from the international community yet at the same endorsing a process that will grant immunity to well-known narco-terrorists and human rights abusers.

Besides, they do not think Caramagna was the right man to lead the mission as he was very passive and just accept the Colombian government’s version. The International court now has higher expectations for justice and human rights and they were particularly concerned with the human rights’ abuses in Colombia. In other words, the international community demands a more stringent legal framework that would punish the abusers (Logan 2005). IV. Discuss what the future holds for these cartels

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