Marulanda dead? Fallout from Marulanda’s demise
May 252008

Alfonso Cano, the new leader of the FARC.

The FARC have just confirmed that Manuel Marulanda, who had led the guerrilla group since 1964, died of a heart attack at the end of March.

What does this mean for the conflict in Colombia? Though the crystal ball is hazy, three scenarios appear to be most likely. I offer my best guess – a gut reaction, based on having followed Colombia’s conflict for more than ten years – about the probability of each scenario actually taking place.

1. Disintegration (25% probability). Call this the “Shining Path” scenario: after the group loses its founder, it disintegrates. Discipline, command and ideological direction largely disappear with the maximum leader.

This scenario is unlikely for several reasons. Marulanda is one of many FARC leaders whose involvement in the group goes back to the 1960s or 1970s. The FARC’s rigid hierarchical structure, with apparent lines of succession and highly visible second-tier leaders, is unlike that of the Shining Path under Abimael Guzmán. Meanwhile, it is far from clear whether Marulanda himself had been actively involved in running the FARC in recent years – he may have been convalescing for some time, leaving most command duties up to other leaders.

2. Greater cohesion and increased military action (35% probability). For the FARC, Marulanda’s latter years have resembled Cuba during Fidel Castro’s last years in office, or China awaiting Mao’s death in the mid-1970s. While a new generation awaited its turn to lead, the aging founder continued to hold ultimate decision-making power, refusing to change course – and perhaps losing touch with reality – while his creation stagnated.

If Marulanda’s chosen successor, Alfonso Cano, is actually able to command the remaining top FARC leaders – a big “if” – the FARC could become more dangerous. If the group’s decision-making process becomes less hidebound and sluggish, it may pose more of a threat on the battlefield. If, for instance, Cano urges the group to attack vulnerable military targets more aggressively, or (as the group’s chief idologist) puts more emphasis on radical indoctrination of FARC fighters, thus making them more willing to risk their lives in military actions, the conflict could intensify.

It will also be interesting to see whether Cano, who is thought to lead the more moderate, “political” faction of the FARC, takes steps to improve the guerrillas’ image among poor Colombians. For years, the FARC has appeared to believe that drug money and military capabilities could somehow substitute for hearts and minds. Will Cano seek to reverse this by reducing the guerrillas’ international humanitarian-law violations, releasing hostages and being more open to political negotiations with the government? We can hope so, but it’s possible even the FARC leadership itself doesn’t know the answer.

3. Partial fragmentation (40% probability). With Marulanda gone, a power struggle could begin within the next tier of the FARC’s leadership. There may be purges and schisms as moderates and hard-liners vie for control of the group.

In such an internal power struggle, the hard-liners – such as Eastern Bloc leader “Mono Jojoy,” the FARC’s de facto military leader – would likely emerge triumphant. They are the leaders whose units are wealthiest from the drug trade, and as a result larger and better-armed. The group’s smaller, less hard-line units might wither away, leaving behind a hard-line, drug-fueled military rump.

Like bandits and drug cartels that came before, this rump would be easier for Colombia’s military to defeat within the next five to ten years. While this would not mean the end of violence in Colombia’s poor, ungoverned rural areas, it would probably mean the end of the FARC as a generator of that violence.

34 Responses to “Post-Marulanda: 3 scenarios”

  1. Camilla Says:

    The 40% probability makes sense to me, too. It would explain why Defense Minister Santos just warned FARC that they had put three of their leaders into the ground and the rest of them would get same thing if they didn’t surrender. His fierce, warlike language suggests someone who is approaching victory but hasn’t reached it yet and wants it so bad. Colombia will pound the hell out of them because it knows a lot of them are holding out hope for Hugo Chavez and others still like their drug money and others are hardcore brutal stalinist marxists who’ve lost their souls and cannot live any other way than the violent way they live now.

  2. maremoto Says:

    pretty good analysis

  3. maremoto Says:

    damn Camilla you would be funny if you weren’t so bloodthirsty…jesus

  4. J O'Mara Says:

    4th scenario: All the leaders turn themselves in before they have their arms hacked off by their followers. Sorry the tide has gone out and it ain’t coming back in for FARC.

  5. J O'Mara Says:

    PS, Mark Twain said it best>

    I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying that I approved of it.

    Mark Twain
    US humorist, novelist, short story author, & wit (1835 – 1910)

  6. maremoto Says:

    yeah and Mark Twain also said

    By and by when each nation has 20,000 battleships and 5,000,000 soldiers we shall all be safe and the wisdom of statesmanship will stand confirmed.
    - Notebook, 1902

    …armaments were not created chiefly for the protection of the nations but for their enslavement.
    - Letter to Baroness von Suttner, 2/17/1898 (quoted in Carl Dolmetsch, Our Famous Guest)

    The government of my country snubs honest simplicity, but fondles artistic villainy, and I think I might have developed into a very capable pickpocket if I had remained in the public service a year or two.
    - Roughing It

    Please do not misuse one of the few American figures that do credit to all humanity for your narrow ends

  7. Jacob Says:

    I doubt that it will change much on the battlefield, the death of Trujillo in 68 didn’t affect them at all, it’s more a body blow than anything else, the best solution would be for Cano to ask for a new peace process with eventual official disarmament of the group and a possible exile for the other
    FARC leaders, Chavez would be a great mediator, IMHO it’s the only way forward for the country.

  8. Camilla Says:

    If Mono Jojoy doesn’t kill him first. Cano’s got that to worry about, too. But I like the specter of FARCs slaughtering each other instead of innocent Colombians. It could happen with this pair, each of whom thinks he’s smarter than the other

  9. Doppiafila Says:

    Hi Isaac, what I have found interesting is the way Marulanda’s death was announced: an informal Santos (Juan Manuel)-to-Santos (Semana) chat… I have no doubt that in this conditions (Uribe close ties to the Paras, a Democratic Congress and – probably – a Democratic President) “Semana” is the local Colombian “king maker”, as it has animage of “independence” and thecredibility which El Tiempo and theT channels are missing… So does it mean J.M. Santos is the next President of Colombia? What do you think?
    Regards, Doppiafila

  10. Alvaro Ramírez Says:

    I find your three scenarios very well reasoned and probable. The big question is how things will evolve in a country where “100 years of solitude” was written. Big surprises will not surprise me.

  11. Camilla Says:

    I’d love to see a pugnacious and grizzled President Santos succeed a cute and lethal President Uribe.

  12. Randy Paul Says:

    There is an interesting potential comparison here with ETA. In the 1980’s and 1990’s a number of ETA’s senior leadership was arrested and jailed. This was a bit of a good news and bad news scenario as it weakened the leadership, but provided a vacuum for a younger, more radical, violent component to fill and it made matters uglier, including the development of something called kale borroka, a form of street violence that involved vandalism, physical beatings and destruction of businesses.

    I wonder if there is anything in the way of a demographic analysis of the FARC that would include the age of their members. As much as I would like to see scenario one occur, I have little doubt that they were preparing for Marulanda’s eventual passing and, unfortunately, the status quo will probably remain the same.

  13. Randy Paul Says:


    There’s also The War Prayer by Mark Twain.

  14. boz Says:

    I wonder if there is anything in the way of a demographic analysis of the FARC that would include the age of their members.

    I disagree with your main point, but I’ll do the favor of answering the demographic question :)

    The FARC are getting younger as an organization, with a few older members of leadership remaining in their ranks. This is a consequence of huge numbers of combatants in their mid 20’s and older, including most of the FARC’s middle management, being killed, captured and deserting. The FARC have sadly replaced their lost combatants with younger and younger kids, many of whom have been forcibly recruited. Two reasons: 1. It’s easier to control a 14 or 16 year old than a 24 year old and 2. many of the older men have left the areas from where the FARC recruit (already in combat, displaced, migration). It’s a tragic consequence and will be a problem Colombia has to deal with for many years.

    The fear isn’t that a younger, more radical element fill the vaccuum. These new combatants have little in the way of “radical” ideology (as I said, most are forcibly recruited or join for economic benefits). But their combat experience is a real problem for reintegrating them with society whenever they do leave the organization.

  15. maremoto Says:

    Mr. Jones added that “a fundamental problem is that the FARC does not have, strategically, a spokesman that can communicate directly with persons of influence in my country like Mr. McGovern.” Semana reports that in the documents Mr. Jones “rules himself out as the spokesman but offers himself as a ‘bridge’ of communication between the FARC and the congressman.” Semana says when it spoke with Mr. Jones, he verified the letter and explained that “he made the offer because the guerrillas need interlocutors if they want to achieve peace and that it is a mistake to isolate them.”

    wow, finally a political leader who has Colombia’s best interests in mind… I don’t like the FARC either but I do want peace and accountability

    Camilla, I wonder why Uribe, as head of the military and paramilitary actors in Colombia, doesn’t attract your vehemence “in defense of innocent people” ? They have killed plenty of innocent people too.

    and by the way the day Juan Manuel Santos is a CIA mole …aren’t you for Colombian Democracy ?

    could you please explain what your interest in Colombia is ? why? how have you come into contact with Colombia? what part of the country are you from ? now and where were you raised ?

    hey Alvaro Ramirez, that is a good observation…the best laid plans lol

  16. maremoto Says:

    # Randy Paul Says:
    May 26th, 2008 at 5:36 pm


    There’s also The War Prayer by Mark Twain.

    dude, the context is England oppressing a the Colonies which IS NOT Colombia’s situation vis-a-vis the FARC but Colombia vis-a-vis the US…lol.. that War Prayer Mark Twain would have dedicated to the FARC who started out as fighters against injustice

    I know these politicians in Colombia intimately…a lot of them believe people who are not white but of mixed race or black are not human beings but peons (I’m white, blond and blue eyed)…some people here in the US still believe the same by calling them peasants…disrespectful…

  17. Randy Paul Says:

    Actually the inspiration and context was Twain’s disgust with the Spanish-American War and in particular, the Phillipine-American War, which was most assuredly race and class based.

  18. Randy Paul Says:


    Thanks. The issue with the ETA members probably isn’t a good comparison.

  19. Camilla Says:

    Maremoto: I see no substantive case for Uribe having significant controlling authority over the para thugs. Uribe disarmed the paras, which was their worst nightmare, because trashy dirtbags like that love their guns. He put many in jail, and made them pay restitution to victims. I think it was too soft for total justice but he was fighting multiple enemies at once and had to get rid of some of them. I’d be ok to see FARC barbarians get away with the same deal, even though I wouldn’t be completely happy. But it would be some justice, same as the para thugs.

    Nine million Colombians marched against FARC in February. 40,000 Colombians marched against the paras thugs in March. It just went to show who and where the greater threat was. Uribe got rid of the paras. Now, it’s time to get rid of the communist FARC.

    As for biographical data: After you.

    If you don’t want to do that, then describe who you think I am and I’ll outline who I think you are. It might even be a bit humorous.

  20. Randy Paul Says:


    Based on your description, perhaps a better comparison would be Liberia and Sierra Leone. Ideology wasn’t a factor for the child soldiers in those conflicts, but a sense of belonging – even to a horribly repellent organization like the FARC or Charles Taylor’s and Foday Sankoh’s armies. That’s not very encouraging.

  21. Camilla Says:

    Maremoto: How did you come to think Juan Manuel Santos is a CIA mole? I’ve never heard that before. Is it just because you don’t like that guy that you call him CIA or is it something more interesting?

  22. boz Says:

    Actually, Sierra Leone and Liberia are good comparisons for the challenges Colombia will face in demobilizing and reintegrating many of the young combatants from rural areas.

  23. Jacob Says:

    The FARC seen from the inside (very recent March 26-April 6)

  24. maremoto Says:

    look Camilla, in Colombia every body knows everybody else’s business…and I gotta tell you I am not conservative or liberal or communist and I think capitalism, WITHIN THE BOUNDS OF HUMAN DECENCY AND PLACING PEOPLE FIRST, is just peachy..actually I happen to believe it is the best system for mankind and his creativity

    I speak for the millions of people in Colombia and elsewhere who are sick and tired of corrupt politicians and their phony stories and how they rob the lifeblood of a nation with their corrupt practices..

    as to who I am and why I think this way go here

    we were in Washington April 9-10-11-12 when the Colombian FTA was halted

    and you know why I think the Colombian FTA was a bad idea? because these scumbags that signed this treaty are led by a president who is being blackmailed by the Bush gang (Uribe’s dad was a drug trafficker and that is also a well known story in Colombia) signing away all kinds of monopolies for American companies and I don’t want to see Colombia suffer the same plight of 48 million uninsured Americans that can’t afford medical treatment or make Colombia dependent (like Haiti) on the American hormone and steroid filled food supply when we have the most beautiful and natural fertile lands and food for free

    look let me tell you that before America’s huge black market in drugs was created by Congress with its typical for-profit legislating, I believe it was Mark Twain who said it best:

    The government of my country snubs honest simplicity, but fondles artistic villainy, and I think I might have developed into a very capable pickpocket if I had remained in the public service a year or two.

    before the War on Drugs Colombia did just fine except for corrupt politicians…that was and is our biggest problem…now with billions of dirty money going to the wrong sectors in society year after year Colombia resembles Sudan or Iraq… do you understand? it is America’s influence, intentional or unintentional, and the spurning of the most effective way to reduce drug consumption that has been the source of Colombia’s recent troubles…and the corrupt politicians in Colombia I despise so much…because they went along with it…they had something called the “ventanilla siniestra” the sinister window at the Central Bank (Banco de ls Republica) which would take any amount of dollars every now and then and not ask where they came from…these stupid cachacos…they swallowed the bait and then they had to deal with monsters like Escobar ( whose right hand man in my town tortured my Dad for throwing his drugs into the sea)

    for simplicity’s sake consider this statement:

    in Colombia there are 4 million internally displaced people due to acts of violence funded by Congress’ insistence on its failed War on Drugs (failed, if your goal is to reduce drug consumption and therefore drug trafficking)

    that means that the response to drug addiction in this country and in Europe, the source of all the weapons and disintegration of Colombian society’s national fabric, is in the national security interests of Colombia and Mexico and all these other countries who are affected by this illegal market created by American legislation

    so now you….where are you from, where do you live and, most importantly, what is your interest in Colombia…I don’t want or expect specifics..just like regions

  25. maremoto Says:

    # Randy Paul Says:
    May 26th, 2008 at 6:28 pm

    Actually the inspiration and context was Twain’s disgust with the Spanish-American War and in particular, the Phillipine-American War, which was most assuredly race and class based.

    so are you saying Mark Twain was a racist and a snob and you use his quotes ?? whats up with that ?

    besides the Spanish American war was not class based it was to rid Spain, a foreign power, of influence in posts close to or strategic to America’s wealthy elites’ interests… but you see this is the fallacy here…America has thousands of nuclear weapons… no country in their right mind would attack it…so why do you need an army? ah, oil..true but then lets find an alternative…I mean a massive and sincere effort

    hey is it true that John Foster Dulles was the attorney for United Fruit Company? wow I thought he was a statesman and then I find out he’s the lawyer for a corporation that had the Colombian army massacre thousands of workers rather than pay a living wage…incredible

  26. Randy Paul Says:


    Cool your jets and read a little more carefully. Here’s what I wrote:

    Actually the inspiration and context was Twain’s disgust with the Spanish-American War and in particular, the Philippine-American War, which was most assuredly race and class based.[emphasis added]

    The Philippine-American war was race and class-based. Indeed, it was that war in which Twain was a strong critic of US policy towards the Filipinos, and unlike your claim that The War Prayer was based on England and the US colonies, it was written during the Philippine-American War and was inspired by the brutality of that conflict. Read before you react next time.

  27. maremoto Says:

    lol sorry

  28. Paul Says:

    Did I miss it, or did Maremoto explain his “Santos is a CIA mole” conspiracy?

  29. maremoto Says:

    how about addressing the points I’ve raised about Colombia and the root of its troubles ?

    love to hear your logic on that

  30. Michael Baney Says:

    I think that the likelihood of the “Sendero Scenario” in which the insurgency completely falls apart overnight is considerably less likely in Colombia than even the 25% chance you gave it.

    This is perhaps demonstrated by comparing FARC-EP to PCP-SL and Manuel Marulanda to Abimael Guzmán. Guzmán was revered as a sort of secular god by Shining Path militants, who even went as far as to call him Puka Inti (Red Sun or Red God in Quechua). He was in complete control of the Shining Path, and gave himself all sorts of titles to demonstrate how much power he held within the group. However, he did a generally bad job running the organization and by the early 1990s the Shining Path had turned desperate. Right when things were getting really bad, Guzmán was captured without firing a shot, forced to take off his shirt in front of cameras to demonstrate his obesity and skin diseases, and was soon begging for peace from “Señor Presidente Ingeniero Alberto Fujimori Fujimori,” a total humiliation. All Shining Path commanders must have realized at that moment that game was up.

    Marulanda, however, was never deified by the FARC. He likely didn’t control much of anything by the time he died. While the FARC has taken some serious blows in the past few years, it’s not on the ropes the way that Shining Path was. Marulana wasn’t captured, and he perhaps wasn’t even killed. The official story is that he died of old age after successfully evading capture for nearly 50 years. This is important, as it means that Marulanda’s death ensures that he will never suffer the humiliation the Guzmán went through.

    Furthermore, while the FARC obviously isn’t going to capture power anytime soon, there are plenty of reasons for the high commanders to keep on fighting. Most important is the extraordinary amount of money that can be earned by controlling the narcotics trade. While the Shining Path was fueled in large part by pure ideological fanaticism, a fanaticism that was shattered by the capture of Guzmán, the FARC is run by something much more powerful – the almighty dollar.

    In short, the conditions that existed that allowed the Shining Path to collapse under its own weight simply don’t exist for the FARC.

  31. Jacob Says:

    I don’t believe the FARC commanders profit that much from the drugs trade otherwise they wouldn’t be hiding for years in the jungle, the people who really profit from the drugs trade are the drug cartels that buy coca base paste from peasants in FARC controlled zones, what keeps them fighting ? Ideology, probably not as rigid as with Guzman, but it has to be acknowledged ideology and probably poverty for the rank and file.

  32. colombiano Says:

    Camilla: how much do you get paid to post comments on here? From the tone and content of your posts it looks like you are in desperate need of a hug. Un abrazo grande!

  33. Paul Says:


    “how about addressing the points I’ve raised about Colombia and the root of its troubles ?

    love to hear your logic on that”

    I assume you directed that at me. You made the incendiary charge about Santos. Apparently you can’t back it up?

  34. maremoto Says:

    let’s humor you…these people you are so insistent on defending have mismanaged Colombia for centuries… they have no rights in my eyes… all they need to do is go crawl under some rock and let Colombian democracy flourish

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