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Colombia: FARC Leader “Sureshot” is Confirmed Dead

Colombians woke up last Saturday morning with news of a big story. In an interview with Semana‘s María Isabel Rueda, Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos stated (or rather, told Rueda as if it was a “gossip”) that Pedro Antonio Marín, aka Manuel Marulanda Vélez or “Tirofijo” (Sureshot, as dubbed by most English-language media), “must be in hell”. The interview was posted on Semana's website, a day before the print magazine hit the stores. Nevertheless, there was some initial skepticism, because Sureshot's death had been anounced several times since the 1960s.

On Sunday morning, teleSUR broadcast a video [es] sent by FARC where Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, aka “Timoleón Jiménez” or “Timochenko”, in a 12-minute speech, celebrated FARC's 44th anniversary and confirmed Sureshot's death on March 26 “of a heart attack, in the arms of his companion.” There are several doubts about where this video, using 3 cameras and editing facilities, was recorded. Some claim, because of the vegetation [es] and the uniform Londoño was wearing [es], it was shot in Venezuela.

Boz provides some context by telling us who's who in FARC's Secretariat, Adam Isacson from Plan Colombia and Beyond sees 3 likely post-Marulanda “scenarios”:

1. Disintegration (25% probability). Call this the “Shining Path” scenario: after the group loses its founder, it disintegrates. Discipline, command and ideological direction largely disappear with the maximum leader.
2. Greater cohesion and increased military action (35% probability). For the FARC, Marulanda’s latter years have resembled Cuba during Fidel Castro’s last years in office, or China awaiting Mao’s death in the mid-1970s. While a new generation awaited its turn to lead, the aging founder continued to hold ultimate decision-making power, refusing to change course – and perhaps losing touch with reality – while his creation stagnated. If Marulanda’s chosen successor, Alfonso Cano, is actually able to command the remaining top FARC leaders – a big “if” – the FARC could become more dangerous.
3. Partial fragmentation (40% probability). With Marulanda gone, a power struggle could begin within the next tier of the FARC’s leadership. There may be purges and schisms as moderates and hard-liners vie for control of the group. (…) Like bandits and drug cartels that came before, this rump would be easier for Colombia’s military to defeat within the next five to ten years.

Isacson later published a post on the questions arising from news of Marulanda's death, regarding Minister Juan Manuel Santos’ presidential aspirations, FARC troop morale, and the supposed “ascension” of FARC's “political” faction.

Ricardo Buitrago Consuegra [es] seems to agree with Isacson in the third “scenario”:

[El] haber mantenido en secreto la muerte de su máximo comandante, confirma el temor, sobre las reacciones de militantes rasos y mandos medios al conocer la noticia. El anciano militante, era el factor de cohesión y aglutinamiento en las filas subversivas, por lo que se prevén deserciones, pugnas y divisiones al interior del organismo delictivo. Las FARC, están en su peor momento y virtualmente derrotadas. Muy seguramente, como en el paramilitarismo, quedaran reductos de narcotraficantes disfrazados de militantes subversivos.

The fact they kept the death of their top commander a secret confirms the fear of the reactions of low-ranking fighters and middle-ranks after learning the news. The militant old man was the cohesion and gathering factor in the subversive ranks, therefore desertions, internal struggles, and divisions in the criminal organization are expected. The FARC is going through their worst moments and is virtually defeated. Surely, as it happened with the paramilitaries, some drug-traffickers strongholds disguised as subversive guerrillas will remain.

Italian blogger Doppiafila [it] thinks that Minister Santos has “launched” his presidential campaign for 2010:

L'annuncio (e le modalitá con cui viene dato) segna il lancio “ufficioso” della candidatura di Juan Manuel Santos alla presidenza nel 2010. Resta da vedere se il tutto avviene d'accordo o alle spalle di Uribe. Di certo, il Ministro della Difesa va bene agli USA: antichavista, politico ed oligarca tradizionale, il fatto che venga ora associato alla “sconfittta delle FARC” non puó che far comodo.

The announcement (and the way it was announced) marks the “off-the-record” launch of Juan Manuel Santos's candidacy for the presidency in 2010. We'll have to see if everything that happened with Uribe's agreement is on his back. If true, the Defense Minister is a good fit for the USA: an anti-Chávez, traditional politician and oligarch, the fact he's now associated to the “FARC's defeat” can't be a comfortable one.

According to some media outlets [es], President Álvaro Uribe was somewhat upset because he likely was going to announce Sureshot's death himself later the same day to “all the media, not just one”.

Journalist Jaime Restrepo [es], from Atrabilioso, criticizes presidential adviser José Obdulio Gaviria's statements on the death of the FARC leader, who claimed “they no longer exist”:

Que ‘Tirofijo’ esté muerto no significa que las FARC hayan descendido con él al sepulcro, pues las estructuras terroristas, aunque deterioradas, siguen vivas y con capacidad de cometer crímenes contra los colombianos: además de las estructuras en el exterior (sorprendente la parafernalia que armó Telesur en menos de 24 horas para difundir la noticia del mediocre terrorista muerto) las milicias urbanas continúan activas y dos o tres terroristas pueden detonar carros-bomba, comprar secuestrados o seguir practicando el plan pistola (sicarios que disparan contra miembros de las fuerzas de seguridad).

The fact that Tirofijo is dead does not mean that FARC have descended with him to the sepulchre, because the terrorist structures, though deteriorated, are still alive and hold the capacity to perpetuate crimes against Colombians: besides their structures abroad (it's surprising all the show teleSUR put together in less than 24 hours to spread the news of the the mediocre dead terrorist), the urban militias are still active, and two or three terrorists can detonate car bombs, buy hostages or continue to practice the “pistol plan” (hit men who shoot members of the security forces).

equinoXio‘s Marsares comments on the “last death of Tirofijo” [es]:

Gracias a Marulanda y su degradada organización, la mayoría del pueblo colombiano cerró filas en torno a uno de los gobiernos más corruptos de la historia, comprador de conciencias, protector de paramilitares, cuidandero de las grandes fortunas. Gracias a las FARC la izquierda democrática es satanizada y nos preparamos para la segunda reelección de un régimen excluyente que a cada paso destruye la legitimidad del Estado. Dicen que Marulanda murió de un infarto. También debió ayudar la soledad y la derrota. Su castillo de 44 años derrumbado, su enemigo más fuerte que nunca, con millones en las calles gritando “no más FARC”, con sus hombres robándose la plata, matándose para cobrar recompensas, entregándose o simplemente soñando con dinosaurios. ¿Estará en el infierno, como lo desea el ministro Santos? No lo creo. El infierno lo dejó aquí. Y como siempre, Marulanda volvió a escaparse.

Thanks to Marulanda and his degraded organization, the majority of the Colombian people rallied around one of the most corrupt administrations in history, buyer of consciences, protector of paramilitaries, protector of the big fortunes. Thanks to the FARC the democratic left is demonized and we're preparing for the second re-election of an exclusionary regime which with every step destroys the legitimacy of the State. They say Marulanda died by a stroke. Loneliness and defeat must also have helped. His 44-year castle collapsed, his enemy stronger than ever, with millions on the streets shouting “no more FARC”, with his men stealing their money, killing each other to claim rewards, surrendering or simply dreaming about dinosaurs Will he be in hell, as Minister Santos wishes? I don't think so. Hell left him here. And, as usual, Marulanda escaped again.

The blog Colombia Hoy [es] analyzes the implications of Marulanda's death on the guerrilla command succession and a political negotiation with the government:

Sin la muerte de Reyes, la transición del mando se hubiera producido de una manera natural, pero en las actuales circunstancias no parece muy viable que Cano consiga mantener la unidad de unos frentes cada vez más debilitados, aislados y asediados.
Aprovechará el gobierno la coyuntura para ofrecerle a las FARC una salida política que no puedan rechazar? Entenderá el gobierno que es preferible ofrecer una salida negociada a unas FARC débiles y ad portas de una posible implosión, que buscar su destrucción definitiva al costo de su atomización en grupos aislados y la prolongación indefinida del conflicto armado? Es posible que el triunfalismo dentro del gobierno y el odio contra las FARC sea un obstáculo para encontrar salidas que sean menos costosas en términos de vidas humanas e inclusive económicos.

Without [Raúl] Reyes's death, the command transition would have taken place naturally, but with the current circumstances it is not quite feasible that [Alfonso] Cano [new FARC top commander] manages to maintain the unity of fronts that have been increasingly weakened, isolated, and besieged.
Will the government take advantage of the current situation to offer the FARC a political solution they can't reject? Will the government understand that it is better to offer a negotiated solution to a weakened and soon-to-be imploded FARC guerrilla group than seeking their definitive destruction at the price of its atomization in isolated groups and the indefinite continuation of the armed conflict? It is possible that the triumph inside the government and hatred towards the FARC had become an obstacle to find less expensive solutions in terms of human lives and even economic costs.

Álvaro Ramírez Ospina, besides being distrustful on FARC's confirmation of Sureshot's death, remembers how the way one referred to the guerrilla leader had changed with the times [es]:

Tirofijo es tan viejo como la guerra de guerrillas en Colombia. Fue campesino, y por efecto de su incorporación a la política y las armas, pasó a ser bandolero (en la época de la llamada “Violencia”, años 50 y 60); luego se convirtió en guerrillero, bandido, criminal y recientemente alcanzó la “diploma” de terrorista, por obra y gracia de la clasificación establecida por el gobierno de Bush.

Tirofijo is as old as the guerrilla war in Colombia. He was a peasant and, because of his incorporation to politics and arms, he went on to become a gangster (at the time of La Violencia, 1950s and 1960s); then he became a guerrilla, a bandit, a criminal, and recently achieved the terrorist “diploma” by the power of the classification established by Bush government.

Utopian chronicler Daniel Ramos refers to the passionate speech by Timochenko [es]:

[C]uando escuchaba a Timochenko diciendo que la humanidad no conocía a otro líder de la magnitud de Tirofijo, primero pensé en los grandes líderes (Jesucristo, Buda, Gandhi, Lincoln, Bolívar, etc.) y luego en que Timo estaba hablando evidentemente en otro contexto, estaba lanzando un nuevo tag a la nube de las FARC. La crónica utópica de las FARC es triste, dolorosa, de reseñar. Creo que la declaración de Timo es una clave para comprender por qué salió tan mal: la pérdida total de las proporciones. Imaginémonos una guerrilla de 10.000 hombres que se quiere tomar el poder en un país donde 12 millones de habitantes salen a manifestarse para decirles “No más”. Ningún presidente colombiano ha obtenido tal cantidad de votos. La maquinaria del Estado, los medios de comunicación, la publicidad desbordada de las campañas electorales nunca han sido capaces de convocar a tantos colombianos alrededor de un mismo propósito. Un genio político como Marulanda –al decir de Timo— jamás debió desestimar este indicador de legitimidad.

When I was listening to Timochenko say that humanity had not known a leader of the magnitude of Tirofijo, I first thought about the great leaders (Jesus Christ, Buddha, Gandhi, Lincoln, Bolívar, etc.) and then on the fact that Timo was evidently speaking in another context, he was releasing a new tag to the FARC's tag cloud. FARC's utopian chronicle is sad and painful to review. I think Timo's statement is a key to understanding why it went wrong: the total loss of proportions. Let's imagine a 10,000 men guerrilla army, who wants to seize power in a country where 12 million people go out into the streets to demonstrate to say to them “No more.” No Colombian president has obtained such amount of votes. The State machinery, the mass media, the burst of the electoral campaigns advertising have never been able to gather so many Colombians around a common purpose. A political genius such as Marulanda -as Timo claims- should have never dismissed such an indicator of legitimacy.

Thumbnail photo by Bastian and used under a CC license.


  • […] FARC Leader Sureshot is Confirmed Dead (Global Voices) […]

  • Daniel Gomez

    One comment that stuck with me from this article was by Jaime Restrepo. Its true even if you cut the head off a snake the body will still move for a period of time. If “Sureshot” is dead FARC will still move and try to make up for what has been lost. By how things appear to be going in recent news. I do not see FARC lasting within the next 5 years.

  • no hay legitimidad en tal personae,
    siniestro, asesino, tacaño, ignorante, como
    lo es Uribe, la gente no sabe, no tiene criterios
    ni madurez plitica, solo sabe insultar, por eso ignora la vida de un camesino en armas como lo fue don Manuel, la tv y la radio son su escuela, que se puede esperar, apoyar la llegada de bases militares, es ya el colmo, pero dicen que cada pueblo tiene al gobernante que se merece y eso nos pasa, por tercermundistas por no estudiar.

  • …porque la guerra es un acto de humaniad,
    cuando no hay esperanza mâs que en ella….

    no todas las raleas tienen la grandeza en la sangre como para entender tal sentencia de Maquiavello,
    ni el valor troyano de enfrentar a 500000 ignorantes hambrentos y bien armados + paracos + sapos +
    + tv + radio….. pero los guerreros son para las grandes batallas en la selva, como la guerrilla, no en bogota ante las camaras, cobardes, entregando el producto de la tierra oro, petroleo, a los campesinos, si no a los extrangeros, que pena! que pena ser un militar colombiano sbordinado a un gringo, que pena, gayrdia? valor? profesionalismo?

    nada en absoluto, salvo una gran ambicion.

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