FARC is pronounced like FARK, the irreverent news aggregator website I'm hoping will link to this article, driving tens of thousands of readers to this story, thus giving my employers the impression that my writing is more popular than it actually is.
Yet despite the homophony, FARC and FARK are not the same. FARK kills time, brain cells and bandwidth. FARC kills people.
Lots of people.
FARC stands for Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia. In English, that means Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
FARC is an armed rebel group. It is one of several armed groups in the country – leftist rebels, right-wing paramilitaries, the government, drug lords – that have turned Colombia into one of the world's most violent places.
FARC has been at war with Colombia's government, and its people, since 1965. The group was born of Colombia's historic economic disparity.
Like pretty much all of Latin America, Colombia's wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few super-rich. Wealthy Colombians tend to belong to the country's white, European-descended minority, while the poor are typically from Colombia's mixed European, Amerindian or African heritage.
FARC was founded by an alliance of Marxists and peasant militias. Their stated goal – to stick up for the political and economic rights of the rural poor by waging a guerilla and terrorist war against Colombia's government.
At its turn-of-the-century peak, FARC had some 16,000 members. It derives its income, some $200 million to $300 million annually, largely from cocaine trafficking. Just like driving supports oil-rich dictators and terrorists, and buying conflict diamonds bankrolls wars in Africa, doing coke funds violent rebels in Colombia.
It was so strong that, in 1999, Colombia's government ceded control of roughly one-third of Colombia (equal to an area the size of Ohio, only warmer and with better coffee).
The government hoped that giving up the land would foster negotiations that would stop, or at least slow, Colombia's staggering rate of violence. (In 2002, for example, about 32,000 Colombians were murdered – a murder rate 11 times higher than the United States', which if you haven't noticed can be rather murderous at times.)
Needless to say the government's appeasement plan didn't work out. In 2001, FARC kidnapped and assassinated a former Colombian government minister. In 2002, it kidnapped a presidential candidate and hijacked a plane to kidnap a Colombian senator who was on board.
In August 2002, Álvaro Uribe assumed Colombia's presidency, and reversed course with FARC. Instead of talking, he redoubled Colombia's effort to attack it.
With money and weapons supplied by the United States (which pours billions in military aid to Colombia in a futile attempt to stop Colombia's cocaine production), Uribe has hacked away at FARC's strength. It's reportedly only half the military force it was, and recent killings of some of its top leaders have left it flailing.
FARC was mentioned in the American press recently because it was at the center of what seemed an imminent war between Colombia and its neighbor, Venezuela, this month.
After Colombian forces killed a top commander, Raul Reyes in Ecuador, Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez went on TV and ordered Venezuela's military to reinforce Venezuela's border with Colombia.
"Minister of defense," he said, "Send me 10 battalions to the border, including tanks."
Why would Venezuela's president care what happens between Colombia and Ecuador?
Some say Chavez is beating his chest to bolster his sagging popularity within Venezuela. Others have suggested that Reyes' computer, recovered by Colombian forces, has revealed that Chavez and Ecuador's leftist president, Rafael Correa, have been strong secret supporters of FARC. Chavez's military move may have been an attempt to preempt a Colombian attack on FARC strongholds in Venezuela.
Emergency peace talks in the Dominican Republic appear to have averted war between the three countries, but the core issue – namely Venezuela's and Ecuador's support for FARC – remains a source of tension.
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