In the aftermath of the revelation that maximum FARC leader Manuel Marulanda died in late March, several questions arise.
- How badly does Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos want to be Colombia’s next president? Colombia learned of Manuel Marulanda’s death not from an official government or guerrilla announcement, but from a few answers that Santos tossed off in an interview with Semana magazine reporter MarÃa Isabel Rueda.
This earned Santos a rare rebuke from President Ãlvaro Uribe: “I don’t agree with these kinds of things being revealed only to one communication medium.” Uribe was “the first one surprised Saturday morning with the announcement” by Santos, reported the Colombian daily El Espectador.
It is no secret that Santos, a veteran politician from Colombia’s most prominent newspaper-publishing family, hopes to run for president in 2010 – at least if President Uribe chooses not to seek a third term. Santos’s unorthodox announcement of Marulanda’s death must be viewed in this context.
- On a related note, we can only imagine: what is the impact on the morale of the majority of FARC fighters who learned of their leader’s death not from their own organization, but from Juan Manuel Santos?
- Did FARC leaders really approach the Colombian government with offers of surrender and freed hostages? That is what President Uribe said on Saturday. But there has been no news since. After the president’s public announcement, it is reasonable to fear that the FARC is taking extreme steps to root out any would-be deserters with responsibility for guarding hostages.
- Is the FARC’s “political” faction ascendant? Many observers of the FARC argue that the group’s alleged internal divisions are overstated. Nonetheless, it is common to hear that the FARC has a “political” wing that is presumably more interested in ideology, concerned with public opinion, and open to peace talks, and a “military” wing that is more occupied with guns, money and territory at all costs.
For more than ten years – including the failed 1998-2002 peace process with the Colombian government – it appeared that the FARC’s hard-line “military” wing was dominant. The guerrillas’ military capabilities increased while their public support plummeted. Then, as the Colombian military’s own capabilities increased, the FARC have suffered more than five years of military reversals.
The “military” faction appears to be losing ground internally, if the new appointments to the guerrilla Secretariat are any indication. The FARC’s new maximum leader is Alfonso Cano, the group’s chief ideologue, long regarded as the head of the “political” faction. The new spot on the seven-person Secretariat has been taken by Pablo Catatumbo, another representative of the political line.
Is this an indication that the FARC is swinging in the moderates’ direction? Vice-Minister of Defense Sergio Jaramillo speculates in the Miami Herald that a greater presence of soft-liners may alienate the hard-liners and hasten the FARC’s fragmentation.
“Normally, they should have had a meeting of the central command to choose Marulanda’s successor,” Jaramillo said.
“That didn’t happen. There is no representation of the Southern and Eastern blocs — which are the hard core of the FARC and do most of the fighting — on the ruling secretariat. His own authority will be questioned. The election of Cano will widen the cracks in the FARC. We could see the fragmentation of the FARC.”
Nonetheless, it is noteworthy that the FARC video confirming Marulanda’s death and announcing Cano’s succession was recorded by guerrilla secretariat member TimoleÃ³n JimÃ©nez, who is regarded as a representative of the FARC’s hard line.
- Where was JimÃ©nez’s announcement video recorded? The BBC, among others, notes that while JimÃ©nez “signs off from ‘the mountains of Colombia,’ the vegetation observed indicates that the video seems to have been made in a warm climate zone.”
- What does it say about Colombia’s conflict that so many of the guerrilla leaders die of old age? Marulanda joins FARC leaders Jacobo Arenas and EfraÃn GuzmÃ¡n, as well as ELN leader Manuel PÃ©rez, among those who lived lives of violence, only to meet non-violent deaths.