January 11, 2011
Source: Latin American Herald Tribune
BOGOTA – Colombia’s largest guerrilla insurgency will step up its activities “in every sense” in 2011, according to the group’s top leader, who also called on lawmakers to give special attention to bills to return land and pay reparations to victims of the Andean nation’s decades-old internal conflict.
Alfonso Cano made the remarks in a New Year’s video uploaded to the Web site of Sweden-based news agency Anncol, which often relays Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, communiques.
“In 2011, we’ll redouble our activities in every sense, (drawing on) our convictions, the care that comes with experience and the valor of all our fallen fighters,” Cano said in the almost 13-minute video, in which he is seen reading from a late-model laptop computer.
The release of the video coincided with a FARC attack Friday in the southern town of San Vicente del Caguan, where five guerrillas, three soldiers and one civilian were killed during a rebel attempt to occupy a police station.
Neiva, the capital of the southwestern Colombian province of Huila, has been rocked by three attacks attributed to urban units of the FARC since the start of 2011.
Those bomb attacks have left at least one person wounded, caused significant damage to homes and disrupted electrical service.
Cano, who assumed leadership of the FARC in May 2008 after the group’s founder, Manuel “Sureshot” Marulanda, died of natural causes, said the rebels will be key players this year in all matters of importance to the country.
The guerrilla leader, who was dressed in camouflage and sitting inside a military-style tent, said the FARC will ceaselessly work “toward a political solution to the conflict,” adding that the rebels desire peace.
But he said they will continue to carry out their “guerrilla war” until such a solution is found.
Referring to rain-triggered flooding and mudslides in Colombia that have left 312 dead and more than 2 million affected since the start of 2010, according to the latest tally, he said that is the “consequence of a lack of planning” and mismanagement.
He also said the damage is the result of destructive and uncontrolled exploration of natural resources by foreign capitalists.
Cano also called for special attention to be paid to proposed legislation aimed at restoring land and paying reparation to victims that is now before the Colombian Congress, saying that if taken “seriously” it could “contribute to solving the conflict.”
The rebel leader said land must be returned to its real owners – meaning to peasant farmers and Afro-Colombian and Indian communities – without delay.
In any case, “the ‘latifundios’ (vast landholdings) that are growing like a cancer” must be eliminated before these legislative proposals can go forward, the guerilla chief said.
Colombia’s lower house in December passed the Victims’ Law, whose goal is to provide reparations to more than 4 million people affected by the armed conflict, no matter if they were victims of leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries or state security forces.
The initiative will next be debated in the Senate.
The Colombian government sent a separate bill to the lower house in early September that is aimed at returning an estimated 2 million hectares (7,720 sq. miles) of land to displaced peasant farmers.
The bill is hailed by land-reform proponents because, among other aspects, the burden of proof in demonstrating land ownership falls not on the displaced peasant farmers but on the current holders of the disputed properties.
Responding to the FARC’s latest message, President Juan Manuel Santos’ administration said Saturday it was nothing more than a show of bravado.
In an interview with Bogota’s RCN radio, Vice President Angelino Garzon said many of messages released by the guerrillas “are simply attempts to verbally intimidate the population.”
“That’s what they’ve been doing for more than 45 years, causing harm to the population,” Garzon added. He invited Colombians to join with the government in rejecting “all these criminal, violent, terrorist announcements.”
Defense Minister Rodrigo Rivera also commented on the FARC’s latest message, saying that “it’s nothing new.”
“They attack with acts of violence, with anti-personnel mines, with explosives. They attack security forces and the civilian population in a cowardly fashion but they also attack with their communiques,” Rivera told the same radio station.
“And we have to keep that in mind so we don’t fall into the terrorists’ game, which is to provoke terror,” Rivera said.
The minister said Cano’s message shows that the country “has made great progress” in the fight against the insurgent group.
“But we can’t let down our guard. We can’t prematurely claim victory,” Rivera said, adding that a determined, intense struggle with the people’s support is needed to ensure “that the nightmare of FARC ‘narco-terrorism’” is defeated.
The FARC, which has fought a succession of Colombian governments for decades, is on both the U.S. and EU lists of foreign terrorist organizations.
Drug trafficking, extortion and kidnapping-for-ransom are the FARC’s main means of financing its operations.
The FARC has been weakened and pushed into more remote jungle areas over the past eight years and lost several of its top commanders.
In addition to Marulanda’s death of a heart attack in March 2008, top commanders Raul Reyes and Jorge Briceño Suarez, or “Mono Jojoy,” were killed in airstrikes in March 2008 and September 2010, respectively.