Thursday, May 22, 2014

Colombian guerrilla group FARC remains a force to reckon with

FARC's morphing rebels and the Colombian rap


Colombian guerrilla group FARC's latest release of a rap video goes to show how the group is changing tactics: they seem to be morphing from rebel rousers hell-bent on spreading havoc, to hip hoppers embracing social media to spread a message of national unity.

The video – released in celebration of the organization's 50th anniversary on May 27 and which comes in the context of peace talks with the government and just days before national elections – is called "Pueblo colombiano: Pa' la mesa", making a call for the Colombian people to come together to the negotiating table.

In the song, FARC also professes to have "no fear that they beat me" and calls for "the truth to be addressed," while labeling President Juan Manuel Santos' government a "circus." It follows a tune – in a very loose definition of the word – released in September 2012, called "We're going to Havana" which marked the beginning of peace negotiations, held in Cuba, with Colombia's government.

Comparing the latest video with that released in 2012, it is noteworthy how the rebel group has advanced when it comes to production skills - and melody, for that matter. What one must not forget, though, is that the FARC is still a guerrilla group responsible for the killing and/or kidnapping of hundreds, if not thousands of people, which employs drug and arms trafficking, distortion and illegal mining to fund its activities. Seeing the videos of young, idealistic commandos happily singing, chanting and prancing around, this is easy to forget.

"We've sworn to overcome, and we will overcome!" the group pronounces on the opening page of its website.

"The government and mainstream media like to trot out a storyline that the FARC is on its last legs. But I think underestimating their capacity has the potential to drag out the war while leaders look for a military solution instead of a negotiated peace," said BNamericas' Colombia reporter Arron Daugherty when consulted on the matter.

Santos comes up for reelection this weekend, and he has placed high political stakes on negotiating a peace accord with the FARC. Caught between a rock and a hard place, though, President Santos cannot be seen as being soft on the guerrillas.

Negotiations in Havana have recently brought the evasive peace accord one step further: with the latest agreement on how to curb the drug trade, participants have agreed on three of five points on the agenda. Agricultural reform and the rebels' participation in the political process were agreed upon last year, and the remaining two issues are transitional justice and reparations to war victims.

Reports are at odds over how many members the FARC now has. Regardless, they are now coming out of the remote jungle, entering cities to recruit sympathizers and employing new means such as social media to get their message across. They remain a force to reckon with, and failing to keep them engaged in negotiations would be a significant step back in the peace process.

May 20, 2014