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World - Americas

FARC rebels wage expensive campaign against Colombian government

August 1, 1999
Web posted at: 11:13 a.m. EDT (1513 GMT)

In this story:

Kidnapping and protection money

Political aspirations backed by force


CAQUETA, Colombia (CNN) -- Security forces on Sunday sifted through the rubble from a car bomb they suspect was planted by Colombia's largest guerrilla organization, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Ten people were killed and 38 were injured in the explosion in the northwest city of Medellin, while the south, a government envoy was meeting with rebel representatives in an unsuccessful mission to relaunch peace negotiations.

The attack was the latest sign that FARC was fulfilling its pledge to bring its 35-year long war from the countryside to Colombia's cities.

FARC wages a guerrilla campaign against the government of Colombia, but is no rag-tag army of leftists.

FARC soldiers wear crisp, new uniforms and carry modern automatic weapons with plenty of ammunition. Their top military commander, known as "El Mono" Jojoy, rides in a new Toyota four-wheel drive vehicle driven by a woman chauffeur.

FARC is the largest guerrilla organization in Colombia  

They even display professionally made signs reading "Welcome. You are approaching a FARC roadblock."

Kidnapping and protection money

Ten years ago the Colombian guerrillas numbered just a few thousand and spent most of their time hiding in the mountains or the jungles. Today they number at least 15,000. In southeast Caqueta region, they control an area the size of Switzerland.

Intelligence sources say they get their money -- and lots of it -- by demanding protection money from drug traffickers in the coca and poppy production areas they control.

Another popular revenue producer is kidnapping for ransom, which FARC Commander Raul Reyes calls a "peace tax."

"The government of Colombia and even the United States do the same thing," Reyes said. "If you don't pay your taxes, you go to jail. Here we don't have jails, so we detain people."

FARC isn't the only guerrilla group to use kidnapping to raise funds. The smaller National Liberation Army (ELN) is holding at least 50 hostages, including 36 people seized while they were attending mass in an affluent suburb of Cali.

The original church kidnapping involved 143 hostages, but the ELN released all but 36. Monsignor Isaias Duarte, archbishop of Cali, excommunicated the guerrillas from the Roman Catholic Church on Saturday because of the kidnapping.

Colombian authorities also believe the ELN is responsible for a Venezuelan commercial airliner that disappeared Saturday with 16 people aboard.

Political aspirations backed by force

FARC's wealth as well as decades of government neglect in the countryside have swelled the guerrilla group's numbers, turning it into a formidable military force with political aspirations.

"The guerrillas are bandits in the way they obtain their financing, but their aims continue to be political," said political analyst Alvaro Rangel. "They aspire to obtain social, political and economic changes through the armed struggle."

FARC hopes to double its membership to 30,000 in five years  

Rangel said the FARC hopes to double its numbers to 30,000 in the next five years, and go from a guerrilla army to a conventional force capable of openly taking on a Colombian military which has already suffered severe losses in the last year.

Escalating the bloodshed are increasingly powerful right-wing paramilitary groups who assassinate people suspected of cooperating with the rebels.

The longest-running guerrilla war in the world has taken 35,000 lives in the last decade.

As for long-awaited but stalled peace talks, the rebels say they've waited 40 years already and are in no hurry.

Correspondent Lucia Newman contributed to this report.

Colombia peace talks resume next week despite rebel attacks
July 15, 1999
Colombia declares victory over rebel offensive
July 13, 1999
Government declares victory in Colombia fighting lull
July 12, 1999

COLOMBIA: Political Parties / Partidos Polticos
Presidency of Colombia
Colombia General Information
National Liberation Army (ELN)--Colombia
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (In Spanish)
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