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

Blood from Stones

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The FARC A Year After the Reyes Killing: Lesson Learned
Although a few days late, it is worth looking back at the year since Raul Reyes, the second in command of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) was killed in a permanent camp he had set up a few kilometers across the Ecuadorian border.

Not only was Reyes the first member of the FARC secretariat killed in more than 40 years of war, but he was well established enough to have 600 gigabytes of information on the hard drives and computers that were also captured. For an interesting look in Spanish at the international structure of the FARC see this interactive map in Semana magazine.

The result has been a severe weakening of the FARC, once the hemisphere's most feared guerrilla army that had, in recent years, drifted into terrorism, drug trafficking and kidnappings as its chief way of sustaining itself.

The documents provide an unprecedented look into the correspondence and inner workings of the FARC, its relationships with governments (Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Libya etc.), its business development and aspirations, its ties to specific drug trafficking organizations, such as that of the Norther Valley, its political strategy and the creation of its front groups, and much more.

The first lesson is that the FARC, as a prototype of self-financing, non-state actors, had used the drug money to greatly expand its influence across Latin America and into Europe. These groups almost always find ways to link up with other groups, both religious and secular, because they need the same "shadow facilitators" to operate.

The spread of FARC operatives in recent years across Europe, Australia, Latin America and Canada is quite remarkable given that Marxism was generally believed to be dead. The financing of front groups, web sites, solidarity gatherings and "ambassadors" abroad could not have happened without the influx of drug money.

A second is that patient human intelligence, combined but not subservient to high-tech intelligence, generates successful operations. For decades the army killed or jailed captured FARC combatants, with no systematic debriefings or attempt to understand the movement. When that stopped, a much clearer picture of the organization began to emerge.

Systematic debriefings and profilings were combined with satellite phone intercepts and other high tech tools to gradually unravel the FARC's operational structure. Currently Jorge Briceño (AKA Mono Jojoy), the most effective combat commander, is reportedly ill, on the run and virtually incommunicado.

A third lesson is that humanitarian treatment of prisoners, at least those worn out by years of failed ideology and living in the jungle, pays dividends. Once it became clear to the FARC in the field that those captured were not killed or tortured, the stream of desertions grew to a flood, setting off a cycle of giving the army and police better intelligence, leading to more desertions.

And finally, it is clear that today's modern terrorist/criminal groups are far more effective when they have some state protection and/or sponsorship. The Taliban has Pakistan, the FARC has Venezuela and Ecuador as hospitable environments to resupply, move product, acquire weapons, meet safely etc.

The success against the FARC shows that coordinated efforts, good intelligence and timely outside aid (Plan Colombia, which, for all its multiple problems, delivered what the Colombian military needed) can reverse cycles that seem irreversible.

This should offer some lessons and some hope for Mexico, as well as lessons against terrorist/criminal groups operating elsewhere n the world.

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