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FARC Has Ability To Keep Fighting, Expert Says


For more now on the FARC, I'm joined by Marc Chernick, who's a professor at Georgetown University who studied the Colombian rebel group. Welcome to the program.

Professor MARC CHERNICK (Center for Latin Studies, Georgetown University): Thank you, Robert.


SIEGEL: First, some basics about the FARC. Remind us again what the acronym FARC stands for.

Prof. CHERNICK: The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

SIEGEL: And how old a group is this? It seems they've been there forever in Colombia.

Prof. CHERNICK: Well, they were founded in 1964. Their leaders first took up arms in the late 1940s.

SIEGEL: You mean before the group itself was formed?


Prof. CHERNICK: Before the group existed, they were rebels in the mountains, part of a broader struggle. And in the '60s, they transformed themselves into the FARC.

SIEGEL: What were they struggling for?

Prof. CHERNICK: Well, they came out of an intense period of (unintelligible) and civil war in Colombia called the violence, '40s and '50s, one of the bloodiest periods in Latin American history. But the main groups there made peace. But a small group of guerillas, liberal guerillas they were at the time, stayed out of the conflict, and it's that group that formed the FARC.

SIEGEL: Then, during the period of the Soviet Union, during the later years of the Soviet Union, we associated the FARC with being a Marxist group. Fair?

Prof. CHERNICK: No, absolutely. The key moment is actually not the Soviet Union, but the Cuban Revolution, the Cuban Revolution in 1959. When the FARC was formed, there was an era of revolutionary groups being founded all over the continent. The FARC became decidedly Marxist, aligned themselves in the communist party, and were pro-Soviet.

SIEGEL: Give us some sense of how the battle between the FARC and the Colombian government or the Colombian army, what that has to do with the drug traffickers and the drug-growing areas of Colombia?

Prof. CHERNICK: Well, what happened is as you went through the '60s and '70s, this was a conventional conflict, left wing guerillas against the state supported by the United States, left wing guerillas with ties to the Soviet Union in Cuba. When the Cold War collapsed, the FARC and groups around the world were suddenly left to drift.

And in Colombia and all over the world, groups started looking to criminal activities to raise funds to keep the insurgency. The FARC, as it so happened, found their period to look for funds coincide with the rise of the drug trade. And in their areas coca, the main agriculture part used to make cocaine, was booming. And they took control, they taxed the coca and they took control of the trade, and that's how they funded their insurgency after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

SIEGEL: Yesterday, when I was reading about Ingrid Betancourt's being taken captive when she had gone actually to talk with the FARC, I read that actually many politicians in those days - which is not that long ago - would go and meet with leaders of the FARC. And, at one point, they would not be taken captive.

Prof. CHERNICK: Well, that's correct. Ingrid Betancourt went to a meeting that the FARC called for presidential candidates. All the presidential candidates, the liberal candidate, Ingrid Betancourt, others, except for Alvaro Uribe, the…

SIEGEL: The man who became president.

Prof. CHERNICK: …man who became president, but all the others went to this forum held by the FARC. Ingrid Betancourt stayed a day or two extra, and that's precisely the moment when the peace process collapsed. The Army moved in, retook the zone, and she was kidnapped by the FARC.

SIEGEL: So President Uribe, after a period during which his predecessors were negotiating with the FARC, has decided, time for a military solution to this problem. From what you see and what you've seen in the story of this particular rescue, did it seem impossible, did it seem that they could defeat the FARC if they press on with current tactics?

Prof. CHERNICK: I think it's going to be difficult. They're going to continue to aim at the top leadership, there's no question about that. But guerilla groups can suffer blows and continue for a long time - especially in countries as difficult as Colombia with terrain as vast and extensive.

So I think they can be weakened - they have been weakened. But defeat, they can stay out a long time, which is why many, including former presidents -including Ingrid Betancourt - are saying now is the time to look for a political solution. Now, the dynamic on the battlefield has changed. Let's hope for a political settlement.

SIEGEL: Well, Professor Marc Chernick, thank you very much for talking with us.

Prof. CHERNICK: You're very welcome, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's Marc Chernick, professor of government at Georgetown University, talking with us about the Colombian rebel group, the FARC. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.