With so much chatter on the international wires about the FARC hostages in Colombia, what will become of Ingred Bettencourt, and other issues revolving around the dance between Colombian president Alvaro Uribe, Hugo Chavez, and the FARC leadership, it is interesting to take a reading on the health of the FARC itself.
For many years, the FARC survived through kidnapping. As it has obviously become more involved in the drug trade, exporting cocaine from Colombia became a substantial portion of the insurgency’s revenue. Some argue that money earned from selling drugs indirectly to US consumers has by far surpassed revenue earned from collected kidnapping ransoms, to the point where kidnapping has become more of a political tool and less of a business. Given the current back and forth with Hugo Chavez, a geopolitical dance that has significantly raised awareness of the FARC on an international level, it seems this strategy, if indeed it is a strategy, may be working.
Yet within the FARC itself, a number of set backs from the death of key tactical leaders in 2007 to the loss of territory inside Colombia has hobbled the group. Despite the fact that the FARC’s founder has said that 2007 will be an offensive year for the FARC, it is hard to see just how the FARC can improve its position through the use of military force. Guns and ammunition aside, the FARC needs soldiers, yet according to the Colombian military, some six members of the FARC and the other insurgency, the ELN, abandon the rank and file every day. This is, admittedly, a biased source for information on the FARC, but it allows for an interesting numbers game.
If both the FARC and the ELN lose six soldiers a day, then it is possible that the FARC itself loses at least three a day, or 21 a week, 84 a month, and 1,008 a year. This number may seem small, but it gives an idea of how the ideology within the rank and file, the personal reasons to remain a member of the FARC, has perhaps faltered within the group itself. Do insurgent soldiers sign up because they believe in the same values shared by the FARC founders over forty years ago? Or maybe they sign up because it’s the best option in a world of limited opportunity. Either way, the rank and file of the FARC seems to be wavering. Do FARC footsoldiers have the heart to take an offensive stance that will likely lead to direct confrontation with a highly professional Colomban army?
Finally, a point of comparison: when FARC soldiers run away, where do they go? Likely not to the Colombian army, but when members of the Mexican army run away, it is possible, even likely in some cases, that they join the rank and file of Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs).
According to some sources, new recruits sign up for military training already knowing that after training and sometime in the field they will switch sides to join the DTOs. Between 2002 and 2006, some 150,333 Mexican soldiers decided to desert their post. There is little doubt many of them now fight for the Sinaloa Federation, the Gulf Cartel, or one of the many, smaller DTOs in Mexico.