FARC chief, Manuel Marulanda Velez, in his year end message, called for a General Offensive in 2008. This seems as though it ought to be significant. FARC has formidable capabilities and international links through its criminal activities. And, it has a record of violence - having killed thousands in Colombia's ongoing civil war.
This should also raise questions about FARC's intentions in light of the sputtering hostage negotiations. Certainly, efforts should be made to free the long-suffering FARC hostages. But the FARC's insistence on a demilitarized zone is troubling. By many measures the FARC is in decline, with large numbers of defections, loss of ideological enthusiasm, and some serious command and control problems. These problems were exemplified by some of their mis-steps during the recent round of hostage releases - such as embarrassing their ally Hugo Chavez and not knowing the location of hostage Clare Rojas' child. (The full story of this tragic chapter has not come out, but while the FARC portrays itself as egalitarian organization the actual treatment of its female cadres rarely approaches their propaganda.)
The antidote to FARC's malaise is a large demilitarized zone where the officers can engage and train (this is how they used the large demilitarized zone they were granted during the peace process from 1998-2002. Colombia, is a massive country, 440,831 sq miles (more than 2.5 times as large as Iraq). Most of the population lives in the cities, affording the FARC plenty of places to hide in the rough terrain that characterizes the countryside. However this asset is also a curse - it can make bringing the cadres together for functions that must be done in person (such as training and indoctrination.)
Marulanda's statement follows:
24 December 2007
Comrades in the Secretariat, Members of the Main Staff, Staffs of Blocs and Fronts, Commanders, the Bolivarian Movement for the New Colombia, Urban Networks, the Clandestine Communist Party, Guerrillas, and the people organized for the defense of Colombia's interests:
I send you my cordial revolutionary and Christmas greetings and wish you much success in the struggle for power. I also want to tell you the following:
In taking stock of the political and military actions in 2007 and in early 2008, I hope that the results are gratifying to the FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] collective and to the masses on this historic date, when the Colombian family used to celebrate Christmas together by looking towards the future. Today that family is fractured, with some guerrillas in the jungle, others displaced, others exiled, and still others harassed by the violence of the State with the support of the Armed Forces led by the High Military Commands who are tied in to the paramilitary movement, sowing terror throughout the country and preventing opinions from being exchanged about the defense of their interests.
The wealthy are celebrating the successes of their rulers in defense of big domestic and foreign capital and are charting a new political and military strategy to remain in power and pitilessly exploit wage earners by utilizing the State's tools of terror and violence to prevent progressive, democratic changes towards the building of a New Government legally elected by the people without electoral fraud or paramilitarism.
Amid their anguish over economic hardship, unemployment, lack of housing and health care, and violence, the poor deplore their rulers' inability and lack of interest in meeting their chief needs and improving living conditions in the country today, where there is money only for war and Congress, linked to the paramilitaries-politicians, but not to meet the needs of the Colombian people. The people thus have no choice but to fight without distinction as to their politics alongside the grassroots mass organizations to achieve fundamental sociopolitical change, with the political and military support of the FARC, amid both favorable and unfavorable circumstances, against the class enemy, which is directed by the oligarchy in the person of President Uribe and some of the paramilitary generals, supported by the United States, an intervention that we must reject in all public and private forums.
I place special emphasis on the need to motivate the masses to fight for the Humanitarian Exchange so that guerrillas do not continue dying in jail, where there are being charged with trafficking and terrorism, and in the jungle. We must bear in mind that if President Uribe had demilitarized Florida and Pradera, the problem would have been solved years ago; nothing would have been lost, and we would have all gained.
Most of the mayors, council members, deputies, and governors who were elected on 12 October 2007 are tainted by electoral fraud, bribery, and paramilitary politics. It is thus clear how we must act in the face of the various political currents represented by the Uribe faction, the Liberal Party, Alternative Pole, and the independents, who all identify with each other, so that we do not go wrong in our political assessments and revolutionary action against the common enemy, as established in the conclusions of the Higher Organizations.
The FARC communiqué setting forth our position on the Government's offer of territory in the jungle for the Exchange ultimately became a time bomb that has succeeded in crossing borders. This has put Uribe in an uncomfortable position, because it has become impossible to prevent the FARC from playing a prominent role and even, very soon, from being recognized by a few Governments as a revolutionary movement that has taken up arms against the Uribe regime, which does not want peace for Colombia. At the same time, there are demonstrations almost all over the country, demanding that the authorities seek a political solution to the social and armed conflict with the FARC insurgency.
I think that it is essential to lay bare the lies that Uribe is telling over the print and electronic mass media, to the effect that his Government has achieved successes against the FARC, claiming that it has killed 8,000 guerrillas and dismantled 20 fronts. We have to ask where the Generals, the President, and the Commissioner have gotten such detailed statistics. The purpose of such news stories is to distract public opinion with falsified data to defend "democratic security" so that they can continue asking for economic and military support from the United States under the pretext of combating terrorism and narcotics trafficking. The purpose of the Government's touting of its military victories over the FARC in magazines, newspapers, and radio is to conceal the actual failure of the "Patriot Plan" and, in so doing, to deceive public opinion. In the same way, they have claimed that every mass rally has been in support of "democratic security" and of "no to the demilitarization" of Florida and Pradera for the Humanitarian Accord. They have not said, however, that the conflict has not had a high cost in terms of people wounded and killed, as the magazine Poder reported in its article entitled "Gerencia para la guerra" [Managing the War].
The best Christmas present for the FARC, as we take stock, would unquestionably be rapid growth in manpower and organization in the countryside and city. To accomplish this we must use various forms of action, rallies for very specific purposes, demands for peace from the State, the defense of human rights, civic work stoppages, denunciations of massacres and official abuses to the appropriate national and international organizations, etc. To this end, FARC cadres are obliged to guide the mass organizations under their leadership in the struggle for their real political, economic, and social grievances and for sovereignty, all of which are just as essential as armed FARC actions along roads and highways and in the jungle, urban centers, villages, and barracks, giving the enemy no respite, just as they have worked out their ongoing strategy against us in order to prolong the revolutionary process in Colombia, because like it or not, the political and armed triumph is part of the struggle that the people are waging in defense of their class interests.
The five years of battling the Patriot Plan have been like a school in which FARC commanders and guerrillas have learned how the enemy moves and operates day and night with its reconnaissance aircraft, bombers, helicopters, balloons, and satellites, as well as with its intelligence agents, infiltrators, collaborators, and economic blockades of the civilian population. As a result, we too are able to plan major actions for mobile troops in the jungle, along roads, or in villages without much immediate protection. We should take advantage of the general crisis through which the Government is going and the weariness that some military units have shown in order to begin laying the groundwork for organizing a general offensive.
We will see how the military commands are going to respond to President Uribe when he claims to have defeated guerrillas who are without resources, sick, and with only roots left to eat.
President Uribe's "nonnegotiable conditions" are just some of the many pretexts that certain generals have in their heads for preventing the Humanitarian Exchange and prosecuting the war against people who are discontent because of the appalling living conditions to which they have been subjected. We must bear in mind that all laws and constitutions in any country can be amended in accordance with the particular circumstances in which it finds itself and on the basis of political, economic, social, cultural, and sovereignty-related realities. The rulers are obliged to allow changes in favor of the ruled who have elected them. Otherwise, the people are the ones who must bring about the changes called for in the FARC platform and manifesto, along with other documents, regardless of the whims of Congress and the Administration. They are the ones who refuse to accept the present realities in Colombia, amid mass mobilizations and political currents with some degree of organization and awareness, with proposals for achieving peace, which are running up against the obstacle of the "nonnegotiable conditions" through which the Government is struggling against the tide, using the Public Force for that purpose, with no results for the public to see.
In conclusion, we cannot allow this Christmas Day to pass without remembering all of the comrades who have been killed by enemy action, Acacio, Martin Caballero, and so many others who have battled Uribe's oppressive system. In addition, I would like to send my most heartfelt condolences to their relatives and friends, as we pay homage to those who have given their lives for the revolutionary cause of the people.
Having said all this, I want to express my appreciation for your love of the cause. Onward to victory. A firm handshake.
On behalf of the Secretariat,
Manuel Marulanda Velez