Victory soon in Colombia?
The rebel group FARC has suffered major setbacks.
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Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has set aside $100 million for rebels who leave FARC, and he's indicated they'd receive some sort of amnesty. FARC currently holds about 700 hostages, including three US military contractors, and Ingrid Betancourt, a Franco-Colombian kidnapped while campaigning for president.Skip to next paragraph
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A big question is what FARC's new leader, Guillermo Sáenz, aka Alfonso Cano, will decide to do next. Intelligence officials noted that the group was deciding between Mr. Cano, whom some see as an ideologue, and Mono Jojoy, who is considered a tough military strategist.
Cano's background is quite different from that of Sureshot, who was from poor, rural origins. The son of an engineer and a teacher, Cano studied anthropology, was a student activist, and started as a leader of the Communist Party. Considered a hard-liner, he was not very actively involved in the most recent negotiations that took place between 1998 and 2002. FARC has been accused of using those talks as a smokescreen to strengthen its forces.
But FARC is now in a weaker position: It has about 9,000 troops today, down from about 16,000 in 2002. Many have surrendered. In a carrot-and-stick strategy, the government has expressed interest in peace talks, but has threatened more military action, too. On Monday, President Uribe restated his belief that FARC is a terrorist group that's too reliant on drug money to negotiate in good faith.
As its strength wanes, FARC leaders might desperately try to organize attacks in order to show that they are still capable of doing so. For now, FARC remains a threat in rural areas, but it is far from assuming power through the use of arms. Disarming and becoming a political movement might be the most effective route for FARC to take. Some FARC leaders, though, are skeptical that they would even be allowed to participate politically. They remember all too well the extermination 20 years ago of 3,000 members of the Patriotic Union, a FARC-related political group. A government guarantee to protect future FARC politicians would help facilitate a peaceful transition.
In the meantime, Colombia should more effectively address one of the causes behind FARC's rise all these years: social and economic inequality. UNICEF calculates that 39 percent of Latin America's young people live in poverty. Colombia remains one of the most socially unequal countries on a continent where inequalities rank among the world's worst. FARC has recruited thousands of young people who live in regions marked by poverty.
That's a good reason for Colombia and other Latin American countries to significantly strengthen their social policies. Providing Latin American youths broader opportunities to succeed could weaken FARC propaganda that's based on class warfare and hatred toward the "privileged elites." More progressive social policies could not only control the social discontent, but fuel the stability that development policies need to succeed.
• Maria Cristina Caballero, a former fellow at Harvard Kennedy School's Center for Public Leadership, was the director of investigations at Semana, a Colombian news magazine. She's now a freelance writer.