FARC and FSP in Colombia

How the FARC has strayed from traditional Social Movements

According to the Council on Foreign Relations the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are a group that "…represent the rural poor against Colombia’s wealthy classes and oppose U.S. influence in Colombia, the privatization of natural resources, multinational corporations, and rightist violence." (CFR, FARC, ELN: Colombia's Left-Wing Guerrillas).

Based on this functional definition the FARC could be considered to be both a social movement and a traditional military resistance movement. In theory they could be classified as a social movement which has: class consciousness (due to the fact that they claim to represent the rural poor), with a moderate Marxist basis (although its Marxist in Latin American terms as being applied to farmers and peasants rather than industrial workers), that also responds to the Globalizing aspects of Colombia's economy (specifically in terms of rights to natural resources i.e. farmland and cash crops), the global influence of corporations, and (in some ways) most importantly U.S. influence and involvement within the region. The purpose of this discussion however, is to focus on why the FARC has distanced itself from traditional social movements and how it has entered the realm of New Social Movements within Latin America. In order to do this the origins and methodology of both the FARC and the Social and Political Front (FSP) must be analyzed. It is both the systematic decline in popular support for the FARC and the peoples reaction with the creation of the FSP that constitutes a New Social Movement.

The FARC was formed in 1965 in reaction to the centralization of political power in the Colombian government and, ostensibly, to consolidate the communist and left-wing political groups within Colombia. They took from the writings of Che Guevara and used the Cuban Revolution as a rallying point for their own, somewhat militaristic, struggle against what they saw as an oppressive Colombian government. Initially the FARC built its base of support from peasants and agricultural workers and via the advocation of significant land reform policies, democratic style political process and human rights (Petras, 134). The FARC has concentrated en masse on the negative impacts of U.S. involvement within Colombia and how that has affected the peasants, agricultural workers and general population of Colombia.

U.S. involvement in Colombia began with President Kennedy's Alliance for Progress program in the early 1960's. This program was designed to foster stronger economic and military ties between the U.S. and Latin America in response to the nature of Cold War politics and given the context of the 1959 Cuban Communist revolution. Colombia was the first nation in Latin America to draft an economic plan under the alliance, which attempted to balance economic, cultural, and social aid with continued military assistance (Randall, 232-33). The Alliance all but collapsed by the early 1970's with the continued escalation of U.S. involvement in Vietnam and the general stagnation of U.S. aid to Latin America. Throughout the 1970's and 80's the U.S. Military continued to train Colombian government paramilitary forces to fight both the FARC and, in theory, other narco-trafficking groups. The tactics that these paramilitary groups learned from U.S. agents included "guerrilla warfare, propaganda, subversion, intelligence and counterintelligence, terrorist activities, civic action, and conventional combat operations" (Stokes, 60). This training has been used to commit countless human rights abuses in Colombia and elsewhere in the region. U.S. involvement in Colombia continued with the implementation of Plan Colombia under President Clinton in 1999 with the cooperation of the Colombian President Andreas Pastrana. Plan Colombia is a broad based economic aid initiative which initially served the purpose of providing a legitimate, non-military, alternative to traditional means of combating narco-trade within Colombia and narco-exports to the rest of the world. In practice, however, Plan Colombia became almost an entirely military aid based program that has helped to fund significant paramilitary sectors of the Colombian government. Of the eventual $860 million allocated to Colombia under the plan approximately 75% was in the form of military aid (Stokes, 93).

Due to the rise in the profitability of the drug trade in Colombia the FARC began to stray from its original path of land reform and agricultural rights (with auspices of democratic process) towards that of an oppressive military organization that has forced the rural poor and farmers in regions that it controls to grow narco-crops such as coca for export.

“…when any of the insurgents carry out summary executions of paramilitary collaborators, public opinion sees no difference between this and that which the state carries out against the civilian population. Rarely is popular opinion sought or does the insurgency attempt to show the reasons why its military project is ethically superior.”
(Wilmot, “Guerrillas and Social Movements in Colombia”)

They now rarely take into account indigenous rights, peasant or agricultural workers concerns, land reform, and no longer make clear why their form of militarized resistance and actions is any different from that of the Colombian governments, the paramilitaries, or the U.S.

In response to the new and oppressive actions of the FARC, their former peasant base has chosen to form non-military resistance groups such as the Social and Political Front (FSP) to combat both the actions of the FARC and the Colombian government. Their ideology is similar to that of the original mission statement of the FARC in the sense that they oppose neo-liberal economic policies, U.S. involvement and promote sovereignty and self-determination (Gonzales, International Viewpoint). They claim to be both a national and international organization that promotes ties with other similar movements in Latin America. According to FSP memos they have attempted to campaign for legitimate political recognition by running candidates for the Colombian House of Representatives and the Senate, winning 3 seats (FSP Memo, 26th August 2003). The fact that they have opposed the tactics of the FARC and the paramilitaries and have demanded recognition in legitimate political processes shows a maturation within Colombian social movements and collective learning from other regional social movements. The FSP and their sub-group Presentes por el Socialismo (roughly Socialism Now) have promoted ties across social movement groups within Colombia. They have worked extensively with urban labor movements, women's groups, and Afro-Colombian identity groups in addition to their original base of peasant and agricultural workers. This combined with additional media coverage by magazines such as the Marxist International Viewpoint, has allowed them to disseminate their ideals, goals and strategies to a far wider audience than the traditional, often military enforced methodology of the FARC.

"In the case of the two main insurgent forces of the dozen or so that exist, the FARC and the ELN, their respective 40 and 30 years of struggle for the popular and socialist cause, their own birth (in the case of the FARC) as a popular campesino self-defence force, is starting to be clouded by an ongoing sequence of errors with respect to the social movements." (Presentes por el Socialismo)

Despite the fact that the FARC still has an estimated 20,000 active members in its military organization and controls significant areas of land in Colombia, they are beginning to be phased out of the acceptable consciousness of the people of Colombia. What makes this combined (FARC decline/rise of FSP) social movement unique in Colombia is exactly what makes it similar to other New Social Movements in Latin America: the creation of ties across various social groups that seek somewhat similar goals in terms of recognition, autonomy, and legitimate forums to protest and campaign for change, with the aid of technology, increased media coverage, and rising literacy rates throughout Latin America.

Crandall, Russell. "Explicit Narcotization: U.S. Policy toward Colombia during the Samper Administration". Latin American Politics and Society, Vol. 43, No. 3 (Autumn, 2001), pp. 95-120

Chernick, Marc W. "Negotiated Settlement to Armed Conflict: Lessons from the Colombian Peace Process", Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs, Vol. 30, No. 4 (Winter, 1988-1989), pp. 53-88

Gonzales, Fermin. "The perspectives of the Frente Social y Politico". International Viewpoint: The Fourth International. IV328- February 2001 (http://internationalviewpoint.org/article.php3?id_article=712)

Kirk, Robin. More Terrible Than Death: Massacres, Drugs, and America's War in Colombia. New York: PublicAffairs, 2003.

Petras, James and Michael M. Brescia. "The FARC Faces the Empire", Latin American Perspectives, Vol. 27, No. 5, Radical Left Response to Global Impoverishment (Sep., 2000), pp. 134-142

Randall, Stephen J. Colombia and the United States: Hegemony and Interdependence. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1992.

Richani, Nazih. "Politics of Negotiating Peace in Colombia". NACLA Report on the Americas, May/June 2005.

Ruhl, J. Mark. "Civil-Military Relations in Colombia: A Societal Explanation", Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs, Vol. 23, No. 2 (May, 1981), pp. 123-146

Stokes, Doug. America's Other War. London: Zed Books Ltd, 2005.

Wickham-Crowley, Timothy P. " The Rise (And Sometimes Fall) of Guerrilla Governments in Latin America", Sociological Forum, Vol. 2, No. 3 (Summer, 1987), pp. 473-499

Wilmot, Sheila “Guerillas and Social Movements in Colombia”
(Frontline, http://www.redflag.org.uk/frontline/five/05colombia.html )

Other Sources and Websites:

Council on Foreign Relations (http://www.cfr.org/publication/9272/)

FSP Memo, 26th August 2003 (http://www.labournet.net/world/0309/Colomb3.html)

Colombia Solidarity Campaign (http://www.colombiasolidarity.org.uk/content/view/223/54/)

Excerpt from PPS Document. "Autonomy of Social Organizations", International Viewpoint: The Fourth International. IV-336 December 2001 (http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article543)

Colombian Solidarity Blog (http://www.colombiasolidarity.blogspot.com/)

Colombia Journal (http://www.colombiajournal.org/index.htm)

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