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A Short History of the FARC
Over a period of many decades, the FARC has grown from a small peasant organization to its present unprecedented military strength. In part, this growth has been facilitated by profit from the FARC's taxation of illicit drug production. Support for the FARC, however, is also a product of the lack of government response to the severe hardships faced by peasant farmers in the region. The history of regional guerrilla movements in Colombia began with the peasant struggles of the 1920s and 1930s. Peasant and indigenous groups organized in response to harsh working conditions imposed on day-workers by coffee plantation owners and conflicts over land tenure. These groups coalesced in the rural area of southern Tolima - with its nucleus in Chaparral, Viotá - the hub of Cundinamarca's coffee zone, and in other parts of the department such as Tequendama and Sumapaz. The authorities' use of force in response to these conflicts set the stage for the peasant resistance of the mid-1930s to evolve into an armed self-defense movement by the close of the following decade. While escalating civil conflict in Colombia is attracting increasing international interest and concern, the complex relationships between drug trafficking, political violence, and the many actors involved in the social conflict in Colombia are often absent from the debate. While escalating civil conflict in Colombia is attracting increasing international interest and concern, the complex relationships between drug trafficking, political violence, and the many actors involved in the social conflict in Colombia are often absent from the debate. This background brief provides a general overview of the relationship between the largest guerrilla group in Colombia, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia ("Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia", FARC) and illicit drug production and trafficking. In policy debates in Washington, the "narcoguerrilla" theory has been employed to suggest that the guerrillas are major drug traffickers and that counterinsurgency and counternarcotics operations are one and the same. In fact, the role of the guerrillas in illicit drug production and drug trafficking has evolved over time and remains primarily focused on taxation of illicit crops. This brief begins with a history of the development of the FARC, starting with its origin in the partisan violence of the 1950s and tracing the trends within the rural sector which have led to continuing support of the FARC among the peasant population. The changing nature of the Colombian conflict in the 1990s, including the growing military strength of the FARC and its declining political clarity, are also addressed. The next section describes the relationship between the FARC and the drug trade: The growth in peasant participation in coca and poppy cultivation, and FARC taxation of such crops, has financed the increase in size and military capacity of the FARC. Next, the increasing role of the Colombian armed forces in counternarcotics operations is described, including the development of the "narcoguerrilla" theory to justify this role. Understanding the history of the FARC and the changing nature of illicit crop production is a vital element in understanding the evolution of the Colombian conflict and necessary for the development of policies addressing the roots of the conflict. An analysis of this relationship is also crucial for developing effective counternarcotics policies. Any such policy should include providing economic alternatives to coca and poppy production and must address the lack of economic and political options, which pushes peasants into involvement in the drug trade. The Colombian judicial system should distinguish between peasant farmers involved in illicit crop production and individuals involved in the transport and commercialization of illicit drugs. Non-combatant peasant farmers, including those involved in illicit crop production in areas...
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