Monday, February 27, 2012

Colombia: FARC to Give Up Ransom Kidnapping?

Attention was called yesterday (February 26) to the FARC's (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) announcement on its website whereby it said that it is abandoning the practice of ransom kidnapping and will soon free its last remaining captives.

First of all, why would the FARC, after some 40 years in its armed struggle, suddenly announce that it is giving up one its most lucrative profit centers, notwithstanding drug trafficking and extortion?

Admittedly, the 9,000-strong FARC has suffered some setbacks in the last few years, but that has always been the case. True, Colombia's largest armed rebel force sustained a major loss in November 2011 with the killing of its top commander, 63-year-old ideologue Alfonso Cano, when President Juan Manuel Santos ordered an attack on his camp in the southwestern department of Cauca.

Cano's death also followed the killing of another top FARC leader, Jorge Briceno, as well as the successful killings of other member of the FARC's leadership, such as Raul Reyes, the group's foreign minister, and co-founder, Manuel Marulanda, who died in a mountain camp of a heart attack.

COMMENT: Before any victory laps are scheduled, it would be appropriate for Colombian leaders to wait and watch to see whether the FARC means what it has said on its website and actually begins releasing kidnap victims. If not, then its website announcement has little substance.

Considering that the kidnapping or a foreigner in Colombia can easily bring US$1-5 million and after observing the FARC's tactics and operations over a 30-year period, I doubt very much they would give up this lucrative industry unless they are genuinely interested in peace talks with the Colombian government, which is yet to be seen.

Another consideration is that announcing that it is giving up ransom kidnapping could be a way of taking government pressure off of the FARC's operations, albeit short-lived.

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