Merchant of Death
Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible

Blood from Stones

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The Death of Manuel Marulanda and the Future of the FARC
The FARC's announcement this weekend that its top leader, Manuel Marulanda (AKA Tirofijo, or "Sureshot") had died of a heart attack means the end of an era for the Marxist-inspired group that is now more criminal enterprise than insurgency.

Marulanda, whose real name Pedro Marin, was the last of old guard that founded the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) in 1964, after spending more than a decade fighting in the wars between Conservative and Liberal party militias. His death comes as the FARC is suffering from severe internal strains and loss of leadership, leaving the future of the hemisphere's oldest insurgency murky.

In the past two months, the FARC's seven-member board of commanders has suffered three losses-Raul Reyes, Marulanda's chief deputy, whose captured computer has led to an unprecedented intelligence boon to government forces; Ivan Rios, whose own bodyguards executed him and cut off his hands and took his laptop computer; and Marulanda, who apparently died of old age. In addition, dozens of mid-level commanders have quit the movement.

This is a severe blow to a movement had had not lost even one of iits members of the high command (other than to natural causes) since its founding.

While living an extremely isolated life, in recent months, under the tutelage and direction of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, the FARC was making a concerted effort to expand both its international sphere of influence and it international contacts. My friend Jonathan Winer outlines the latest revelations here.

Marulanda, as the grand old man, held the FARC together despite the demise of Marxism and Marxist movements around the world. He did it by allowing the movement to become highly compartmentalized and self-financing.

This was accomplished by letting different fronts of the FARC to engage in different types of criminal activity, from the cocaine trade to kidnappings for ransom. While an avowed Marxist himself, the cadres entering his force were, over time, less ideological and more profit-oriented. The group, which continues to hold hundreds of hostages, was designated a terrorist entity by both the United States and the European Union.

The choice of Alfonso Cano as his successor is the most interesting bits of news of how the FARC will operate in the near future, and one that is not likely to be accepted by some elements of the movement.

Cano has long been regarded as the political, not military leader of the FARC. In contrast, Jorge Briceno (AKA Mono Jojoy) is the leading military commander, and one most responsible for moving the FARC toward kidnapping Americans (Three remain in custody, seven others, all missionaries, have been killed in FARC custoy in the past decade) and the cocaine business.

Given the already-strained and ruptured command-and-control structures of the FARC and the implosion brought on by the military offensive and loss of cadres in recent years, it is unlikely the FARC will be able to remain a cohesive unit.

As with the demise of the Cali and Medellin cartels, the result may be, in some ways, worse than the status quo. The FARC is likely to degenerate almost entirely into a drug trafficking and criminal enterprise, operating in smaller, semi-autonomous or completely autonomous groups.

My prediction is that the numbers will shrink and the FARC will lose its capacity to directly challenge the state for supremacy in much of the national territory.

But I predict also that we will see a sharp rise in the level of violence against civilians, and internal wars over cocaine trafficking routes, as the groups seek dominance in the drug trafficking field.

The end is not in sight, but there is little doubt the FARC, as it has existed for the past four decades, is no more.
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