While Colombia’s new president Manuel Santos was at the United Nations today, he received welcomed news: Colombia’s military had located and attacked a camp belonging to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Killed in the assault was Jorge Briceno (born Victor Julio Suarez, AKA El Mono Jojoy) second highest FARC commander, military mastermind, and emblematic hard-line leader. Santos called it a “historic moment.”
As chief of the Eastern Bloc, Briceno commanded the largest single body of FARC fighters. He was also an architect of the terrorist strategy of kidnapping and hostage-taking, a trainer of countless insurgents, and central figure in FARC’s cocaine business. After joining FARC in the 70s, Briceno pursued a career as a ruthless criminal masquerading behind the mask of political insurgency. In 2002 he was indicted in the U.S.
Once again Colombia’s Armed Forces demonstrated a capacity to utilize integrated human and signals intelligence and aggressively target FARC leadership. Air mobility, smart weapons, and professional skills are turning the decades-old conflict against FARC in the government’s favor. Briceno’s removal will further consolidate public support behind Santos as he charts a new course for Colombia and weakens FARC.
FARC will either attempt to weather this serious blow and fight on or perhaps consider real negotiations. Santos opened the door to serious talks that begin with an end to FARC violence and drug trafficking and a release of hostages. Yet, experienced Colombian observers discount the prospects of genuine negotiations with a badly wounded FARC in the short term.
FARC is tipping toward oblivion. The Obama Administration can still apply diplomatic pressure to prevent outside support for FARC. As it courts President Rafael Correa in Ecuador, the White House needs to press for sealing the border with Colombia, dismantling FARC camps, and restoring full diplomatic relations.
After being burned by recent evidence of his support for FARC, Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez promised to keep FARC out of his country. The Obama Administration has intelligence tools that can verify if Chávez is actually upholding his promise.
Organization of American States’ Secretary General Miguel Insulza applauded the Colombians. He urged FARC to abandon its armed campaign. The U.S. must press for more pressure from the OAS which so far refuses to recognize FARC as a terrorist entity.
Before the U.N. on September 23, President Obama acknowledged the democratic vocation of the Colombian people. Yet, when he met with Santos on September 24, he could not bring himself to demand the end of FARC terror or mention a stalled trade deal.
It was Santos who spoke most honestly in a Washington Post interview: “We [Colombia] now call ourselves strategic allies [with the U.S.], which sounds very pretty, but we don’t find any meat.” The meat includes the overdue passage of the pending free trade agreement.