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Colombia - Page 3
sooner had Gaitan been declared dead than blocks of downtown Bogota
were gutted and hundreds killed. In the countryside, one recorded
incident would become iconographic of Colombian barbarity: incensed
Gaitan supporters decapitated some prominent members of the rival
Conservative Party and played soccer with the men's heads in a town
following year, a man born Pedro Antonio Marin took up arms in self-defense
against the wholesale slaughter by Conservative henchmen of supporters
of the rival peasant-backed Liberals who dominated his coffee-growing
would later take the name of a labor leader whom government agents
beat to death Manuel Marulanda and build the FARC,
which he cofounded in 1964, from a scraggly hit-and-run communist
band into a potent force that by the mid-1990s was overrunning government
farmer's son with a sixth-grade education, Marulanda was a self-taught
master military strategist. Cloistered in the jungle for a half
century, he had missed the technological revolution but earned the
nickname "Tirofijo," or Sureshot, for his skills with
Latin America's other major rebel movements made peace or met with
defeat, Marulanda managed to triple the FARC's size to at least
15,000 fighters and school a new generation of commanders.
were good students. The FARC now controls perhaps 40 percent of
the Colombian countryside. It is a peasant army, its rank-and-file
coming almost exclusively from dirt-poor campesino families.
met a number of FARC leaders after Andres Pastrana, elected president
in 1998 on a peace platform, ceded a Switzerland-sized swath of
southern Colombia as a free zone, to the insurgency as a condition
for beginning talks to end a conflict that over the years has alternately
simmered and flared.
72-year-old Marulanda refused to grant interviews to mainstream
international journalists. He considered us imperialist agents or
worse. But we did get to know his senior commanders.
Ivan Marquez joined the FARC in the 1980s because leftist students
in Medellin like himself were being hunted down by death squads.
He talked a conciliatory line. Nothing wrong with a market economy
as long as the oligarchs allowed some redistribution of wealth in
the countryside. There'd been talk of agrarian reform in Colombia
for decades but never any action.
senior cadre emblematic of the FARC's grievances was Jairo Martinez,
who said his father and three brothers were all killed the same
day during La Violencia by a Conservative gang. Rendered a refugee,
he didn't learn to read until he was 16.
Jairo would convene townspeople in San Vicente del Caguan, the biggest
municipality in the rebel free zone, for bland, doctrinaire lectures.
The townspeople dutifully attended, out of fear. The FARC was taxing
these people, pressing many into road improvement projects, forcibly
recruiting their children. It even ran their priest out of town.
The FARC heralded its mini-state as a "laboratory for peace."
But instead of building health clinics and schools and helping farmers,
the rebels exploited the free zone for training, for R&R for
troops who kept up attacks outside the enclave and for cocaine
were no Sandinistas. And they were nothing like the quixotic idealists
of Colombia’s M-19 rebel movement, whose pyrrhic 1985 takeover
of Bogota's Palace of Justice sealed their fate.
decades ago, the FARC might have mustered the intellect to create
rather than simply destroy. Thousands of fighters demobilized and
created a political party, La Union Patriotica. But the party was
decimated, some 3,000 members assassinated.
Every rebel leader I spoke with would look at me as if at an ignorant
lunatic when I asked if they would lay down their arms as part of
a peace agreement.
FARC will never give up their weapons. That will take a generation,"
Álvaro Leyva told me. A Bogotano of aristocratic lineage,
Leyva had been the key facilitator in government-rebel peace contacts.
goodwill existed in its leadership, the FARC is no centrally directed
monolith, and its ranks are peppered with resentment, bellicosity,
and materialistic opportunists.
In March 1999, a regional front killed three American activists
who had been helping indigenous people organize against oil drilling
by Occidental Petroleum. Even during peace talks, the FARC refused
to halt kidnappings. And while some fronts eschewed direct involvement
in the drug trade, others were deep into cocaine production and
distribution in Colombia if not also abroad.
Pastrana had lost patience and dissolved the free zone. The genial,
patrician former TV anchorman had lacked the guile and maybe the
guts to deliver on his single-issue platform, and Colombia had only
become more lawless.
When my family and I left in July 2000 we could no longer trust
the roads. Rather than ship our household goods by land to a Caribbean
port we flew them out of Bogota.
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