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Plan Colombia and the revolution in military affairs: the demise of the FARC


This article examines the impact of the utilisation of the RMA on the part of the Colombian and US governments vis-à-vis the Farc. The central argument is that the RMA as applied in Colombia relies on newfangled and sometimes clever conceptions of force that have weakened the relative power of the Farc, but which fail to address the root causes of insurgency in the country that centre on profound economic inequity and violent political exclusion. Over 75 per cent of the $6 billion so far divulged through Plan Colombia has been devoted to military and police assistance, with the rest going to institutional programmes and to a lesser extent to social programmes. Although the insurgents are indeed weaker, as a result both of the RMA as well as misguided policies on the part of the guerrillas themselves, they are by no means ‘broken’. Violent conflict in the country will likely persist into the foreseeable future.

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1 Chávez made the comment on his weekly radio program, Aló Presidente (2 March 2008) .

2 In 2007–2008, for example, 76 per cent of Plan Colombia's budget was devoted to the military and police. See World Politics Review (15 Feb 2007) .

3 For an excellent discussion of Colombia's historical violence see, Deas, Malcolm and Daza, Fernando Gaitán, Dos ensayos especulativos sobre la violencia en Colombia (Bogotá: Tercer Mundo, 1985) , and Orquist, Paul, Violence, Conflict and Politics in Colombia (New York: Academic Press, 1980) . Even cannibalism was apparent in the region of present day Cali and northward. See Safford, Frank and Palacios, Marco, Colombia: Fragmented Land, Divided Society (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 21 .

4 See, John Coatsworth, , ‘Colombia: Roots of Violence in Colombia’, Revista: Harvard Report on the Americas, 2:3 (Spring 2003), p. 8 .

5 See Richani, Nazih, The Political Economy of War and Peace in Colombia (Albany: SUNY, 2002) , and Leóngomez, Eduardo Pizaro, Una democracia asediada – balance y perspectives del conflicto armado en Colombia (Bogotá: Norma, 2004) .

6 See also, Richani, Nazih, ‘Caudillos and the Crisis of the Colombian State: fragmented sovereignty, the war system and the privatization of counterinsurgency in Colombia’, Third World Quarterly, 28:2 (2007), pp. 403417 .

7 See, Safford, and Palacios, , Colombia: Fragmented Land, pp. 10, 161 , and Sowell, David, The Early Colombian Labor Movement (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992), pp. 2, 17 .

8 Márquez, Gabriel García, Living to Tell the Tale (New York: Alfred A. Knoph, 2003), p. 303 .

9 See Mora, Alberto Mayor, Etica, Trabajo y Productividad en Antioquia (Bogotá: Tercer Mundo, 1984), p. 447 .

10 See Herrera, Cecilia, ‘City as a Modernizing Paradigm’, Pedagogica Historia, 49:1 (2003), pp. 6569 .

11 See Pécault, Daniel, ‘From the banality of violence to real terror: the case of Colombia’, in Koonings, Kees and Kruijt, Kirk (eds), Societies of Fear (London: Zed, 1999) .

12 Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), ‘Nuestra Historia’ (2004), {} accessed on 2 May 2007.

13 FARC, ‘Las FARC-EP: 30 años de luchas por la paz, democracia y soberanía’ (May 1994), {} accessed on 7 May 2007.

14 FARC, ‘Historia de las Conferencias’ (May 2004), {http://farc-ep/org/aniversario/especial40/text04.html} accessed on 5 January 2007.

15 FARC, ‘40 años de la lucha por la paz’ (May 2004), {}, accessed on 10 January 2008.

16 Ibid.

17 For a broader discussion of the Farc's transformation from a traditional guerrilla group to involvement in crime. See Rochlin, James, Vanguard Revolutionaries in Latin America: Peru, Colombia and Mexico (New York: Lynne Rienner, 2003) , ch. 4.

18 FARC, ‘Historia de las Conferencias’.

19 FARC, ‘30 años de las FARC-EP, Texto Completo del Discurso Pronunciado por Comandante en Jefe de las FARC-EP Manuel Marulanda Vélez (27 May 1994), {}, accessed on 19 February 2007.

20 FARC, Manuel Marulanda Vélez, ‘Texto completo del discurso pronunciado’ (27 May 1994).

21 For an excellent discussion of internal developments within the Farc during the 1990s especially, see, Torres, Aurora Moreno, ‘Transformaciones Internas de las Farc a Partir de los Cambios Políticos por los que Atraviesa el Estado Colombiano’, Papel Político, 11:2 (July 2006) (Bogotá), pp. 595635 .

22 FARC, ‘Nuestra Historia; Alfredo Rangel, “El Repliegue de las FARC: Derrota o Estrategía?” Fundación Seguridad y Democracia’ (2004), p. 13, {}, accessed on 19 February 2007.

23 See Rochlin, James, Discovering the Americas: the Evolution of Canadian Foreign Policy Towards Latin America (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1993), pp. 211212 .

24 For a broader discussion of Colombian politics in the 1990s, see, Peceny, Mark and Durnan, Michael, ‘The Farc's Best Friend: US Antidrug Policies and the Depening of Colombia's Civil War in the 1990s’, Latin American Politics and Society, 48:2 (Summer 2006), pp. 95116 ; and Holmes, Jennifer, de Piñeres, Sheila Amin Gutiérrez and Curtin, Kevin, ‘A Subnational Study of Insurgency: FARC Violence in the 1990s’, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, 30 (2007), pp. 249265 .

25 For a broader discussion of this, see, Russell Crandall, ‘Explicit Narcotization: US Policy Toward Colombia During the Presidential Administration of Ernesto Samper’, paper presented to the Latin American Studies Association, Washington DC (6 September 2001).

26 For a good discussion of the strategic situation between the Farc and the Colombian government during the 1990s, see, Suarez, Alfredo Rangel, Colombia: Guerra en el Fin de Siglo (Bogotá; TM Editores, 1999) .

27 See, for example, Romero, Mauricio, ‘Élites regionales, identidades, y paramilitares en sel Sinú’, in Peñarada, Ricardo and Guerrero, Javier (eds), De las Armas a la Política (Bogotá: Tercer Mundo, 1999), pp. 175218 .

28 See Borch, Guri and Stuvoy, Kirsti, ‘Practices of Self-Legitimation in Armed Groups: Money and Mystique of the Farc in Colombia’, Distinktion, 17 (2008), pp 97120 .

29 For an excellent historical discussion of the RMA, see, Latham, Andrew, Understanding the RMA: Braudelian Insights into the Transformation of Warfare (Geneva: Programme for Strategic Studies and International Security Studies, 1999) ; Gat, Azar, The Origin of Military Thought from Enlightenment to Clausewitz (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989) ; Black, Jeremy, ‘War and Strategy in the 21st Century’, Orbis, 46:1 (Winter 2002), pp. 137144 ; Adams, Thomas, ‘The Real Military Revolution’, Parameters, 31:3 (Autumn 2000), pp. 5465 ; Demchak, Chris, ‘Technology's Knowledge Burden, the RMA and the IDF: Organizing the Hypertext Organization for Future “Wars of Disruption”’, Journal of Strategic Studies, 24:2 (2001), pp. 77147 ; and Quedensley, Thomas, ‘The Commercial Satellite Multispectral Imagery Threat’, American Intelligence Journal, 21:2 (Spring 2002), pp. 3336 .

30 For a broad conceptual discussion of the RMA, see Rochlin, James, Social Forces and the Revolution in Military Affairs, (New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2008) .

31 See Krepinevich, Andrew, ‘Calvary to Computer: the Patterns of Military Revolutions’, The National Interest, 37 (Autumn 1994), p. 33 .

32 See, for example, Dartness, Michael, ‘Insurgency Online’, Small Wars and Insurgencies, 10:3 (Winter 1999), p. 129 .

33 Foucault, Michel, The Order of Things (New York: Vintage, 1970), p. 387 .

34 See: Thucydides, , History of the Peloponnesian War, ed. Strassler, Robert (New York: Free Press, 1996) ; and Homer, , Iliad (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1995) .

35 See, for example, Lothar Ibugger, ‘The Revolution in Military Affairs’, NATO Parliamentary Assembly Paper (November 1998).

36 Dokubo, Charles, ‘An Army for Rent, Private Military Corporations’, Civil Wars, 3:2 (Summer 2000), p. 53 .

37 Adams, Thomas, ‘The New Mercenaries and the Privatization of Conflict’, Parameters, 29:2, p. 104 .

38 See MPRI's web page, available at: {}, under ‘capabilities’.

39 An example is the company AirScan.

40 The Center for Public Integrity, ‘Colombia’, {www.stratfor.coom/hotspot_Colombia/presence.htm}.

41 El Tiempo (9 December 2000) .

42 El Tiempo (18 June 2003) ; and New York Times (12 September 2003) .

43 US Department of State, ‘Report on Certain Counternarcotics Activities in Colombia’ (April 2003), {}.

44 McDermott, J., ‘Uribe Gains the Upper Hand in Colombia's Guerrilla Warfare’, Janes Intelligence Review (1 December 2003), {} .

45 Center for Public Integrity, ‘Colombia’, {}.

46 FARC, FARC-EP, ‘Empresas criminales avalades por Seguridad Democratica’ (11 November 2004), {}.

47 US Department of State, ‘Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations, Fiscal Year 2005’ (2004), {}, accessed on 27 December 2007.

48 El Tiempo (10 December 2006) .

49 US Department of State, ‘A Report to Congress on US Policy towards Colombia and Other Related Issues’ (3 February 2003), {}, accessed on 3 July 2008; and US Government Accountability Office (GAO), Drug Control: Aviation Program Safety Concerns in Colombia are Being Addressed, but State's Planning and Budgeting Process Can be Improved (Washington DC: GAO, July 2004), p. 17 .

50 See República de Colombia, Ministerio de Defensa Nacional, ‘Descripción del apoyo de Estados Unidos al Plan Colombia’, pamphlet (2001); and US Department of State, ‘Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations, Fiscal Year 2005’, op. cit.

51 El Tiempo (5 February 2006) .

52 For an excellent discussion of the paramilitaries, see Nazih Richani, ‘Caudillos’, op. cit.

53 See Los Angeles Times (25 March 2007) .

54 See National Security Archives, George Washington University, ‘Body Count Mentalities’ (7 January 2009), {}.

55 See Sun Tzu, The Art of War, ch. 13.

56 Bentham, Jeremy, The Panopticon Writings (London: Verso, 1995) .

57 This is according to Colombian army general Enrique Mora, as quoted in El Tiempo (6 November 2003) .

58 Center for International Policy, ‘US Support for Plan Colombia’ (2 September 2003), {www.ciponline.orgs/facts/coaid.htm}, accessed on 13 October 2003.

59 See AFP, ‘Top Woman Rebel Surrenders in Colombia’ (19 May 2008); see also El Espectador (18 May 2008) .

60 See, ‘Plan Colombia’ (8 November 2004), {}, accessed 2 January 2008.

61 US Department of State, ‘President Bush, President Pastrana Discuss Trade, Terrorism’, George Bush, President, ‘Remarks with President of Colombia at the White House’ (18 April 2002), {}, accessed on 18 March 2007.

62 See, ‘Colombia’, {}, accessed 16 August 2007.

63 For figures on raining, see US Department of State, ‘Foreign Military Training: Joint Report to Congress, Fiscal Year 2003–2004’ (June 2004), {www.state/govt/t/pm/rls/rrpt/fmtrpt/2004/34221.thm}, accessed 3 October 2007. The figure provided includes an estimate of 4,258 soldiers in 2004.

64 US Defense Institute of Security Assistance Management, ‘Counterterrorism Fellowship Program’ (2005), {}, accessed on 23 August 2006; and US Department of State, ‘Foreign Military Training: Joint Report to Congress, Fiscal Year 2003–2004’.

65 See El Tiempo (28–30 January, 2009) .

66 For a more general view of narcotrafficking with regard to insurgency, see, Cornel, Svante, ‘Narcotics and Armed Conflict,: Interaction and Implications’, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, 30 (2007), pp. 207227 .

67 Former paramilitary leader Carlos Castaño made this admission during a television interview in Colombia, which was also covered by the print media such as El Tiempo (2 March 2000) .

68 Janes Intelligence Review (1 July 2004) .

69 ‘The Guerrilla in Colombia: An interview with Rodrigo Granda, member of the Farc-EP International Commission’, Interview conducted by Batou, Jean, Monthly Review (March 2008), p. 20 .

70 Ibid., pp. 20 and 19 respectively.

71 Farc, ‘A la comunidad internacional’ (April 1998 – no specific date) and ‘Carta pública al pueblo’ (April 1998 – no specific date). See {}.

72 See Safford, Frank and Palacios, Marco, Colombia: Fragmented Land, Divided Society (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 362363 .

73 For a broader discussion of recruit characteristics among Colombian insurgent groups, see Florez-Morris, Mauricio, ‘Joining Guerrilla Groups in Colombia: Individual Motivations and Processes for Entering a Violent Organization’, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, 30 (2007), pp. 615634 .

74 El Tiempo (29 June 2008) .

75 As quoted in the Guardian (9 March 2009) .

76 ‘The Guerrilla in Colombia: An Interview with Rodrigo Granda’, op. cit.

77 For a broader discussion of the use of language in the Colombian conflict, see, Posada-Carbó, Eduardo, ‘Language and Politics: On the Colombian Establishment’, Latin American Research Review, 42:2 (June 2007), pp. 111135 ; and Hunt, Stacey, ‘Languages of Stateness’, Latin American Research Review, 42:2 (June 2007), pp. 88121 .

78 See, Rochlin, James, Vanguard Revolutionaries in Latin America: Peru, Colombia and Mexico (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2003) , ch. Four.

79 As quoted in National Hydrocarbon Agency, Government of Colombia, ‘Colombian Oil and Gas Investment Conference’ (May 2005), {}, accessed 12 September 2005.

80 Interview by author, José Rafael Unda, Director, Gestion Social, Ecopetrol, Bogotá (4 June 2008).

81 Interview by author, Jorge Vasquez, member of the Junta Directiva, Union Sindical Obera (USO), Cartagena (21 November 2007).

82 Ibid.

83 This view is a common one, and was expressed by Dr Marc Chernick, a Professor at the Centre for Latin American Studies, Georgetown University, during an interview with All Things Considered, National Public Radio (3 July 2008) .

84 Interview by author with Juan Patricio Navarro, Vice Ministro, Plan Ecuador, Government of Ecuador, Quito (6 March 2008).

85 See Telesur (4 July 2008) .

86 As quoted in Telesur (4 July 2008) .

87 As quoted in the Independent (10 June 2008) .

88 As reported in Telesur (13 June 2008) .

89 As quoted in Caracol (4 July 2008) .

90 Interview by author with José Rafael Unda, Director, Gestion Social, Ecopetrol, Bogotá (4 June 2008).

91 El Tiempo (21 July 2008) .

92 As quoted in El Spectador (27 September 2008) .

93 One manifestation of this are what some call the ‘magic laptops’ which the Colombian government claims to have captured after its bombing of Raul Reyes in Ecuador. See, for example, Denvir, Daniel, ‘Colombia's Magic Laptops’, Nacla Report on the Americas (November/December 2008), pp. 48 .

94 See Caracol news (6 March 2009) , and New York Times (30 October 2008) .

95 Beyond the abuses of the Farc and the state, the paramilitaries may have committed more human rights abuses than either. For a particular manifestation of this, see Oslender, Ulrich, ‘Violence in development: the logic of forced displacement on Colombia's Pacific coast’, Development in Practice, 17:6 (November 2007), pp. 752764 .

96 There are numerous places in Thucydides' text where this occurs. For example, early in Book One he observes ‘the exaggeration which a poet would feel himself licenses to employ […]’, A History of the Peloponnesian War, p 9.

97 See, for example, Tzu, Sun, The Art of War (Boston: Shambhala, 1991) , where he notes ‘The condition of military force is that its essential factor is speed’, p. 93. Chapter Ten is devoted to terrain.

98 See, Bentham, Jeremy, The Panopticon Writings (London: Verso, 1995) ; and von Clausewitz, CarlOn War (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989) , especially ch. 6.

99 See, Napoleon, , How to Make War (New York: Ediciones La Calevera, 1998), p. 1 .

100 See, Gramsci, , Selections from the Prison Notebooks (New York: International, 1971), pp. 275276 ; Thucydides, (ed.), History of the Peloponnesian War (New York: Free Press, 1996), pp. 163164 ; Sun Tzu, The Art of War and Sun Tzu II, The Lost Art of War.

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