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Farc peace deal: End of Latin revolutionary era

  • Published at 11:12 pm September 30th, 2016
  • Last updated at 12:55 am October 1st, 2016
Farc peace deal: End of Latin revolutionary era
The Farc’s peace deal in Colombia marks the effective end of a wave of revolutionary movements inspired by the Cuban revolution, with just a few small groups left. After four years of peace talks in Cuba, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Marxist leader Rodrigo Londono warmly shook hands on Colombian soil for the first time and signed the historic peace accord with a pen made from a bullet casing to end a half-century civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands. [youtube id="90g8J7SFX5M"] Like many other Marxist and Maoist followers of the “armed struggle”, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia People's Army (in Spanish, Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, Farc) were inspired by the audacious exploits of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, who set out to Cuba on the rickety fishing vessel Granma with just 80 men in 1956, and went on to overthrow dictator Fulgencio Batista three years later. It was certainly not the first armed rebellion in Latin America, which had witnessed numerous bloody independence campaigns against Spain in the 19th century and a smattering of communist militias in the 1940s. But the Cuban rebels’ success ignited a fresh blaze of revolutionary fervour across the continent that was fuelled by cold war politics, military coups, US backing for rightwing dictators and the murderous suppression of more moderate leftwing activists. In the 1960s and 70s, guerilla groups sprang up in every country in the region except Costa Rica. The Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) in Nicaragua, the 8th October Revolutionary Movement (MR8) in Brazil, the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN) in Venezuela, the People’s Revolutionary Army (ERP) and Montoneros in Argentina, the Tupamaros in Uruguay, the Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR) in Chile. 001_GI1CI In Central America, they were among the factors that led to bloody civil wars in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua, where the Cuban-trained Sandinista guerrilla Daniel Ortega secured power through revolution in 1979 and was then elected president of Nicaragua. In South America, however, the communist militants made little headway. After Che Guevara was brutally murdered in Bolivia, the internationalism of socialism slowed down by the led of Cuba and the Soviet Union. Funding and weapons supplies were cut. Splintered, outgunned and rarely able to secure popular support outside of remote strongholds, the guerrillas never came close to seizing power through military force. Instead, many turned to the ballot box after the restoration of democracy in much of Latin America in the 1980s took away much of their raison d’etre. Dilma Rousseff, a member of a clandestine Marxist group became president of Brazil. José ‘Pepe’ Mujica, a Tupamaro who was shot and imprisoned in the 1970s, became president of Uruguay. Dozens of other former guerrillas became senators and congressmen. Elsewhere, armed groups were sporadically active in countries that were slow to move towards democracy – such as Mexico, which had to wait until 2000 for its first change of government in more than 70 years. The Zapatista Army of National Liberation staged high-profile military campaigns in 1994, but is now committed to peaceful means. Last month, the small Paraguayan People’s Army has lost several of its leaders in recent years and is thought to have only between 20 and 150 members, which makes it more of a local gang than a national threat. The same might be said for Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) in Peru. It has been weakened and is now believed to have fewer than 300 members. In Nicaragua, contra militia groups are also rumoured to be making a comeback, though they are thought to be very small and it is unclear whether their primary focus is opposing an increasingly authoritarian Ortega or drug running. The illegal narcotics trade also helps to explain the longevity of Colombia’s main revolutionary groups, the Farc and the National Liberation Army (ELN). The Farc is the oldest and most important guerilla group in the western hemisphere. Born in 1964 as a communist-inspired peasant army that took up the banners of social justice for Colombia’s poor rural communities, it was inspired by the Cuban revolution. But it was never reliant on Havana like other insurgencies in the region were. Former Venezuela president Hugo Chávez, before securing power in an election, declared armed guerilla movements to be “out of place”, a conclusion reached many years ago by his allies in Cuba, Fidel and Raúl Castro. They have been key backers of the Colombian peace process and fittingly hosted the negotiations that led to the end of an era that also began in Cuba.

National Liberation Army (ELN), Colombia Estimated strength: 2,000 combatants

Anywhere else in the world a rebel army of 2,000 fighters would be a big deal. But for most of its history the National Liberation Army (ELN) has played second fiddle to the country’s larger and more powerful Farc. Now that the Farc have committed to lay down their weapons and shift to party politics, the ELN, founded the same year as the Farc in 1964, becomes the oldest and largest insurgency in Latin America. [caption id="attachment_19116" align="aligncenter" width="600"]The National Liberation Army of ELN, Colombia The National Liberation Army of ELN, Colombia[/caption] From the beginning, the ELN combined Marxist-Leninist ideology with liberation theology; some of the group’s first recruits came from the church, including Camilo Torres, a popular Colombian priest who died in his first battle in 1966 and later became a cultural icon of the group. The group was nearly decimated in the 1970s as a result of a military offensive and internal fractures that led to bloody purges. The possibility of the ELN negotiating a peace deal with the government remains remote, despite an announcement in March that the two sides were ready to begin talks. Strong anecdotal evidence is emerging that as the Farc move out from areas historically under its control, ELN units are moving in, scooping up some dissident Farc fighters.

Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), Peru Estimated size: 300 combatants

Founded in the late 1960s by philosophy professor Abimael Guzmán, Sendero Luminoso expanded rapidly and initially peacefully in the 1970s by recruiting university students. But in 1980, it declared war on “bourgeois democracy”, burned ballot boxes and established military bases and training camps in the Andean highlands, where they won the support of poor local farmers. [caption id="attachment_19118" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]The Emergence of Sendero Luminoso The Emergence of Sendero Luminoso[/caption] In the years that followed, there were massacres on both sides. Shining Path guerrillas set off bombs in Lima and killed dozens of individuals, including rival Marxist leaders and union bosses. By its peak in 1991, the movement controlled much of south and central Peru but came under fierce assault from the armed forces during the presidency of Alberto Fujimori. Following the arrest of Guzmán in 1992, Shining Path has declined and the government declared it destroyed in 2012. But the group is rumoured to have made a comeback in recent years.

Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP), Paraguay Estimated size: 20-150 combatants

Formally established in 1998, but active before then in other guises, the EPP was an offshoot of the now defunct Free Fatherland Party. Over the years, they have carried out a series of kidnappings and killings, most notoriously of the president’s daughter in 2004. Its goals today are unclear. Some reports suggest the EPP has been recruited as muscle for drug traffickers.

Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR), Mexico Estimated size: 20 combatants

Mexico is said to be home to more than 40 armed groups, almost all of which were formed during the rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party from 1929 to 2000. Few have been active since then, but the EPR was blamed for a series of bombings and attacks on oil pipelines and foreign companies in 2007 after its alleged leader went missing and was presumed captured by the military. It has been quiet for many years, but broke its silence in 2014 to join other former guerilla groups in condemning the disappearance of 43 students from a rural teachers training school.