The armed forces of Colombia have scored a major battlefield victory. They finally hunted down, confronted, and killed the leader of the narco-terrorist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Guillermo Leon Saenz, widely known by his alias Alfonso Cano.
A guerrilla for decades, Cano assumed the top leadership of the FARC following the natural death of founder Manuel Marulanda (2008) and the elimination of senior figures Raul Reyes (2008) and Jorge Briceno (aka Mono Jojoy, 2010).
Seen by some as a modern-day version of the “good revolutionary,” Cano—a life-long advocate of armed violence and terrorism—fell in combat with the Colombian armed forces as they rappelled their way into his secret jungle hideout. Cano was also indicted in a U.S. court for drug trafficking along with dozens of other FARC leaders and had a $5 million price on his head.
Although FARC released a defiant statement claiming to speak for “the oppressed and exploited,” Cano’s death and the continued decimation of FARC’s senior ranks sends a clear signal that the only alternative to annihilation is a process of disarmament and demobilization. While far from perfect, Colombian democracy is more open and ideologically diverse than it has been in decades.
Succession attention in FARC has turned to Luciano Marin Arango, alias “Ivan Marquez,” who still reportedly uses Venezuela as a refuge, according to Colombian authorities including ex-President Alvaro Uribe, and despite promises by Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez to cooperate with Colombia to stop FARC use of Venezuelan territory.
In the wake of the Colombian success, the Obama White House should demonstrate strong public support for President Juan Manuel Santos and Colombia as it moves to implant the recently approved Free Trade Agreement. The Administration should also mobilize diplomatic efforts to signal clearly that the time has come for FARC to “cease and desist” all armed violence and attacks against the Colombian people and lay down their arms.
It is also time for Latin America’s leaders, especially Venezuela’s Chavez, to stop playing with revolutionary fire and clearly renounce armed violence and terror as political tactics. They must let the world know that there is no place for outlaws, murderers, and terrorists in 21st-century, democratic Latin America. South America’s ambition to achieve “a zone of peace” will not be realized until the region’s leaders speak out unanimously against such dangerous ideological relics as FARC.