Understanding the origin of guerrilla warfare in Colombia is a way to grasp the conflict in our current society. Including the FARC in this note complements such information. Hopefully, it proves useful.
Let’s try to elucidate the origin of guerrilla warfare in Colombia (issuing value judgments regarding the moral sense of its existence or not is another discourse I do not wish to engage in, merely clarifying where it originated and under what conditions), delving into Colombian history for the early guerrilla outbreaks and the conditions in which they occurred.
Firstly, the initial guerrillas in Colombia emerged during the war of independence.
Guerrilla, as an unconventional, irregular army, consisting of civilians in arms, as a class or social sector feeling oppressed (or in dire economic and well-being conditions) and aware of their numerical or military inferiority, resorts to surprise attacks and ambushes as a method of attrition or struggle; it would be crucial for achieving Colombian “Independence.”
But before we continue, it is prudent to consider some conditions preceding the emergence of guerrilla warfare in Colombia. As a general rule, there is usually a stage of official terror, where the current government oppresses and disturbs a segment of society (or it feels oppressed), causing discontent among that segment and throughout the social hierarchy.
Let’s continue. Interestingly, these early guerrillas in Colombia operated in areas where topographical conditions were favorable (read as forested or mountainous regions), difficult to access, with relative isolation from centers of power, and a level of tolerance among the civilian population. Something that still occurs to this day. Well, I believe this brief article illustrates the origin of guerrilla warfare in Colombia. Later, we will explore the origins of the FARC, M-19, EPL, and ELN in the 20th century.
Origin of the FARC
Scholars agree that the origin of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) is inexorably linked to the Bogotazo on April 9, 1948, and even to the precarious living conditions of people in rural areas.
After Gaitán’s death, the first guerrilla groups on the continent, the famous liberal guerrillas, were born in the Eastern Plains and Tolima. In such scenarios, Pedro Antonio Marín, Manuel Marulanda Vélez, alias Tirofijo, would make their first forays into armed struggle. For a brief period, they and other ex-combatants would return to civilian life.
Over the years, these experienced liberal guerrillas rebelled against the system to defend peasant lands from the greed of landowners. Peasants without political leaders of Gaitán’s stature were easy prey for communists and their manipulative speeches. Armed resistance nuclei were created with a peasant base. In a way, the discourse aimed to confer political legitimacy on old bandits.
In 1952, the Colombian Communist Party (PCC) held a national guerrilla council emphasizing the struggle for power and the formation of “people’s councils of government” in guerrilla-influenced areas. In Davis, conflicts arose between liberals and communists in armed factions.
By 1953, several guerrillas demobilized, but others, including Marulanda, Tarzán, Chispas, Sangrenegra, Mariachi, Desquite, and Isauro Yosa, did not lay down their arms. A year later, the Communist Party was banned during Rojas Pinilla’s government. After the War of Villarrica, the armed groups settled in Sumapaz and the jungles of Guayabero and El Pato.
In 1957, a military junta took over the transitional government in Colombia. The Communist Party returned to legality, now criticizing the National Front and democracy restrictions. During this period, several insurgent leaders returned to civilian life, such as Pedro Antonio Marín, who was appointed a road inspector in the southern Tolima department; Charro Negro set up a cinema in Gaitania, while other leaders of these movements opened farms in the Támaro region (named Marquetalia in 1955 by Charro Negro in honor of Manuel Marulanda Vélez, a union leader from the 1940s; in 1960, Pedro Antonio Marín took leadership of this group, changing its name to this alias).
The Cuban Revolution, led by Fidel Castro, began creating guerrillas in Latin American territory from 1960 onward.
In 1961, the Chicago Tribune warned of the existence of small republics within national territory (Republics), the same denunciation that El Siglo newspaper emphasized, citing 11 Independent Republics: Viotá or Tequendama, Sumapaz, Planadas (Marquetalia), Rionegro, Miraflores, Ariari, Vichada, Herrera, San Juan de la China, Cimitarra, and Urrao. Senator Álvaro Gómez Hurtado also made the same accusation at the time. Many leaders of these “liberated” territories are members of the Colombian Communist Party (PCC) and have traveled to Cuba to meet Fidel Castro and Ernesto Guevara, receiving promises of financial and arms assistance, as well as training.
In these territories (sparsely populated regions), the dominant bands administer justice and collect their own taxes. All of this occurred under the governments of Laureano Gómez, Roberto Urdaneta Arbeláez, Gustavo Rojas Pinilla, and Alberto Lleras Camargo.
In 1964, under the government of Guillermo León Valencia, 16,000 military personnel were mobilized to the Planadas area (surrounding regions), with some aerial support, to take over the Marquetalia region. About 250 men managed to take the site and hoist the Colombian tricolor.
It is said that there were 5,000 armed peasants there who eventually had to retreat and leave the area. The insurgents adopted the name “Bloque Sur” symbolically, claiming their birth as a guerrilla structure with the capture of Marquetalia on May 27, 1964, by the government.
On July 20, 1964, rebel leaders met and signed a document they baptized as the “Agrarian Program of the Guerrillas.” They presented themselves as victims of the oligarchs ruling the country.
During September 1964 in Ríochiquito, the Southern Block held a conference where the Communist Party (PCC) assumed military and political leadership of the armed rebels.
May 5, 1966, marked the formal birth of the FARC in the second conference of the Southern Block.