A Christmas gift to disband Farc rebels in Colombia

22 Dec

Christmas lights like these in Bogotá were taken to the rebel-controlled jungle

It’s a rather roundabout way of demobilising rebels. The Colombian army has installed a giant Christmas tree in territory held by Farc rebels (Fuerzas armadas revolucionarias de Colombia) to encourage the guerrilla fighters to lay down their weapons. But it’s no carrot-stick approach. The 25m tall tree is clad with 2,000 fairy lights that are attached to movement sensors and will only light up when guerrillas approach. So it’s less of a gift, more a disguised intruder alarm which special forces smuggled into the Macarena mountain range last week.

The army plans to put trees in nine other rebel-occupied areas to spread the idea that Christmas is a good time to abandon armed struggle. And then probably that a ceasefire is not just for Christmas after all. The initiative, code named ‘Operation Christmas’, saw troops visit rebel territory in Blackhawk helicopters. As well as decorating the tree with lights it has been covered in slogans urging the rebels ‘demobilise, at Christmas everything is possible’ and ‘If Christmas can come to the jungle, you can come home.’

Colombian President Álvaro Uribe

The government claims to be winning in the ongoing battle against the rebels which has lasted four decades. Farc is the largest and oldest left-wing rebel group in Colombia and by some accounts in the whole of Latin America. It is one of the world’s richest guerrilla armies after funding itself through the drug trade in the 1990s and now supplies more than 50 per cent of the world’s cocaine and 60 per cent of cocaine entering the US according to the US Justice Department. President Álvaro Uribe came to power in 2002 on a promise that he would defeat the rebels and launched an offensive that has been backed by US military aid. This year 2,000 guerrillas disbanded as part of a scheme that reintroduces them to civilian life and gives them amnesty.

Deceased rebel leader Mono Jajoy

The first tree was installed in the area where Mono Jojoy, a Farc military leader, was killed in a large-scale military assault in September. If the government is to be believed, Jojoy’s death is representative of the decline of the Farc rebel group, having suffered setbacks and lost many of their top commanders since their founder died of a heart attack in 2008. According to some sources, thousands of guerrillas have been captured or killed and many have deserted the rebels. But the group still has thousands of members and has a powerful hold over some rural areas of the country especially after it joined forces with the smaller Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) a year ago. According to the International Crisis Group, Farc have shown that they are able to adapt and continue their activity under their new leader Alfonso Cano.

Some claim that the government has exaggerated the extent of its success in pacifying the rebels and suggest that those killed number a few hundred at most. There is a risk that these trees will be viewed as a meaningless publicity stunt and that the rebels will treat them with the same resentment with which they view the government. Given that these guerrillas are inspired by a Marxist ideology in which they see themselves as peasant leaders, a few Christmas trees will do little to quell their zeal. The difficulty facing Uribe is that by their very nature Farc are violent and adverse to diplomatic discussion. So in the absence of peace talks, give them a tree, and make it really bright.

Will Farc rebels be wooed by the Christmas message?

Image 1: Reuters

Image 2: Good Morning Colombia

Image 3: comunicas

Image 4: Front Page Mag

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One Response to “A Christmas gift to disband Farc rebels in Colombia”

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  1. Spanish government right to distrust Eta ceasefire « HispanicLondon - January 16, 2011

    […] There is no proof that Eta is widely supported in the Basque country, with most of the younger generation happy to be citizens of a tolerant, united Spain. The group has been without a leader since 2008 and its membership is split between young militants and old stalwart veterans. In military terms the group are weaker than ever before after a series of high-profile arrests brought about thanks to the cooperation of the Spanish and French governments. In police stations and airports across Spain mug shots of Eta militants are displayed and, in some cases, crossed out as each arrested, a sign the government are making progress against the terrorists. The latest of these, on 11th January, saw Iraitz Gesalaga, one of Eta’s top computer hackers, arrested along with his girlfriend. The government are now investigating whether Gesalaga has links with Colombia’s notorious Farc rebels. […]

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