Santos’ Uncertain Victory Over the FARC

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On 23 September, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced that the FARC militant, “El Mono Jojoy,” whom he called a “symbol of terror” in Colombia, had been killed in a military operation against the FARC (las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia). Jojoy, whose other alias was Jorge Briceño, was the military leader of the FARC, specifically the Eastern Bloc unit, and his death has serious implications for Colombia, Santos, and the FARC themselves.


Founded in 1964, the FARC are a rebel group whose goal is to overthrow the Colombian government and establish a Marxist one in its place. Historically, the FARC have used armed violence to advance their cause, and they continue to do so, but they have also become involved in Colombia’s drug trade as a means of financing their operations. According to the BBC, by 2006, the FARC supplied more than half of the world’s supply of cocaine.

The FARC’s continued violence has been an ongoing problem for recent Colombian presidents. Negotiation attempts by previous administrations were never taken very seriously by the FARC. Former President Andres Pastrana’s negotiation process screeched to a halt when the rebel group kidnapped a Colombian senator. Not long after, in 2002, Former President Alvaro Uribe’s inauguration was blemished when the group attacked with mortar. Due to the inauguration attack, and the previously unproductive negotiations, Uribe and the FARC independently decided to wage a “war” against one another. Uribe declared that he would be aggressive in his assault on the rebels, which resulted in a notable decrease in FARC operations and the loss of several key leaders and hostages, most famously the FARC leader Manuel Marulanda and hostage Ingrid Betancourt. Uribe maintained on numerous occasions that he would welcome peace negotiations if the group surrendered their arms, though nothing came of it.

The current political leader of the FARC, whose whereabouts continue to be unknown, is Alfonso Cano. Cano and Jojoy served together on the decision-making body of the FARC, and, as far as the United States and Interpol are concerned, they were the FARC’s two most wanted members.

The Post-Uribe FARC and “Operation Welcome”

While Uribe made important gains against the FARC, he was not able to stop their attacks completely before his final term was up in 2010. Santos’ election signaled a chance for the FARC to regroup and launch new attacks while the Colombian government was busy transitioning to a new administration. Jojoy, as the master of the group’s “military development” and evasive tactics, should have been able to find an opportunity to take advantage of the vulnerability of a transitioning government. The FARC attacked and killed 14 police officers and 5 soldiers on 1 September 2010, but had trouble launching other successful attacks against Bogotá. Instead, it seemed they might accept the Colombian government’s offers for another chance at peaceful dialogue.

Cutting off any thoughts of FARC-Bogotá discussions, the Colombian government declared it would increase its efforts to capture FARC leaders and eliminate the group. According to Colombian newspaper El Espectador, the Colombian military intercepted rebel orders for supplies. One item that stood out was a pair of custom boots, which the government assumed to be destined for Jojoy, who was known to have diabetes. The military interrupted the shipment and integrated a small GPS chip into the boots, allowing the Colombian government to effectively track the movements of Jojoy and the Eastern Bloc. Santos then gave the order to commence “Operation Welcome,” so named because it would “welcome” the FARC to their own collapse. Tracing Jojoy’s movements was simple enough, and on 22 September, the military bombarded his camp. Once the camp was raided, the military found several cadavers of FARC members, computers, flash drives, and one pair of GPS-fitted boots on a disfigured body.

The Results for the FARC and Santos

Now called “Operation Sodom,” the maneuver against the FARC has had positive results for the Colombian government. The first is a huge increase in the public perception of the competency of President Santos and the Colombian government. Even though Uribe completed significant operations against the FARC, including the death of their leader and founder, the death of the FARC’s chief military leader Jojoy is an even greater victory for the Colombian government and an even more serious blow to the rebel group. Marulanda’s death, though shocking to the rebels, was met with the quick succession of Cano and Jojoy as the two major leaders. Having eliminated the tactician and military specialist of the FARC, the Colombian government now has a very real chance to finally dispose of the majority of the group without the need of many more heavy military operations. As the number of rebels continues to steadily decrease without a respected military leader, it will become harder and harder for the FARC to organize and carry out successful assaults.

It is also deleterious to the FARC that the government is now in possession of the 20 laptops and over 90 flash drives discovered at Jojoy’s camp. The director of the National Police, Oscar Naranjo, believes it will take several months to extract all the information from the equipment recovered from Jojoy’s camp, but some initial records have been extracted by 48 computer experts. One of the documents found is an email in which Jojoy congratulates FARC members who carried out a car bombing at the Caracol Radio offices. While the Colombian government will be releasing some of the recovered information to the press, it will exercise caution in selecting the documents to be released. This careful scrutiny on behalf of the Colombian government is designed to avoid creating tension with its neighbors, as the release of Raul Reyes’ documents did in 2008. At this point, the military continues to speculate that crucial information stored on the computers may lead to more detailed reports on the FARC’s upcoming operations, internal communications, and hostages.

While it is clear that “Operation Sodom” weakened the FARC, it is unlikely that the guerrilla group will simply return to negotiations with the Colombian government. Because Santos affirmed in a live broadcast from New York two weeks ago that the military received collaboration from other guerrilla groups in their offensive against Jojoy, the FARC are much more likely to conduct a thorough restructuring of their system. They will almost certainly ensure that collaborators are completely expelled from the group, or at least are not able to pass along reliable information. In addition, the FARC will have to find a new military leader, or possibly multiple leaders, to make certain that the death of one person will not cause as many problems as the death of Jojoy seems to have done. It is probable that the FARC will go “underground” for some time to reorganize its forces and take stock of its remaining resources.

The success of this operation has increased Santos’ popularity immensely. He stated to EFE that he personally approved the operation against Jojoy, and therefore much of the credit for the operation’s success will go to him. When the time comes for Santos’ reelection, the death of Jojoy will certainly improve his odds of remaining the president of Colombia. Bolstered by his recent success against the FARC, Santos has made it clear that he wants to reform the justice system to ensure stricter and harsher punishments for individuals with previous associations with the FARC. Santos’ commitment to judicial reform in this case is evidenced by his severe criticism of a judge’s ruling of house arrest for an ex-arms provider.

Even with the 1 October arrest in Spain of 41 members of a money laundering ring that funded the FARC, it is unlikely that the group will simply disappear. Having been in operation for so long, it is improbable that the group will simply stop fighting and retreat. For the Colombian government to prevail against this rebel group, the social issues that led to the creation of the FARC in the first place need to be addressed. Santos will need to thoroughly reform Colombia from the top down in order to achieve a substantial victory that will last longer than the months it takes for the FARC to regroup.