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Colombia: The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > Internal Security Problems > Guerrilla and Terrorist Groups > The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia


In 1988 the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia -- FARC) remained the largest of Colombia's guerrilla groups. The FARC traced its informal origins to the late 1940s and early 1950s, when some of its founding members participated in the establishment of the independent republics. By the end of the first half of the 1960s, all of the small republics reportedly had been destroyed by the army.

The FARC was founded in 1966 by Manuel Marulanda Vélez -- known by the nickname Sure Shot (Tirofijo) -- and other members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Colombia (Partido Comunista de Colombia -- PCC). At that time, the FARC embraced the PCC's Soviet-style Marxist-Leninist ideological orientation. The PCC reportedly also supplied the arms and financial assistance that proved critical during the early years of the FARC's organization. The early membership of the FARC consisted of communist ideologues as well as noncommunist peasants, many of whom had been active during la violencia.

The height of the FARC's early phase of operations came shortly after its founding, between 1966 and 1968. During this period, as many as 500 armed militants and several thousand peasants were recruited. FARC operations included raids on military posts and facilities, which enabled the organization to accumulate weapons, ammunition, military uniforms, and even telecommunications equipment. Nonetheless, an effective military counterinsurgency campaign and the opening of diplomatic relations between Colombia and the Soviet Union in 1968 reportedly combined to weaken the organization. By the early 1970s, the FARC appeared incapable of mounting sustained operations.

Nevertheless, like the country's other guerrilla organizations, the FARC enjoyed a resurgence during the late 1970s and 1980s. The organization turned to kidnappings in order to finance its operations as well as gain publicity for its objectives. By 1978 the FARC maintained operations on five fronts. In September 1980, the organization was regarded as the strongest of the guerrilla groups. Although the FARC attempted to carry out joint military operations with at least one other guerrilla group, the effort failed, reportedly because of difficulties caused by ideological differences.

In 1987 the organization's membership was estimated at 6,000 militants, who were active on at least twenty-seven fronts. In early 1988, one report maintained that as many as forty FARC guerrilla fronts were active throughout the country. Areas of the country considered to be FARC strongholds included portions of the departments of Huila, Caquetá, Tolima, Cauca, Boyacá, Santander, Antioquia, Valle del Cauca, Meta, and Cundinamarca and the intendancy of Arauca.

The FARC's role in the peace process was spelled out in the accord signed between members of the group and the government's National Peace Commission at FARC headquarters in La Uribe in March 1984. Following the truce agreement, which became effective in May 1984, the main body of the FARC reportedly abandoned armed struggle; in 1985 the FARC organized the UP as the political party through which the group would peacefully seek political power. Yet despite the FARC's continued adherence to the peace process in the late 1980s, various FARC fronts violated the terms of the truce by engaging in such activities as kidnappings and blackmail. Some analysts contended that the Ricardo Franco Front (Frente Ricardo Franco) -- a hard-line splinter group that refused to participate in the 1984 truce -- was responsible for many of these activities.

Nevertheless, given the prevailing atmosphere of violence and uncertainty, some of the FARC's activities were likely to have been defensive operations. By mid-1988 the UP asserted that 550 of its members and supporters -- including Jaime Pardo Leal, the party's leader and its candidate in the 1986 presidential elections -- had been murdered by right-wing terrorist groups and death squads.

In mid-1987, following the FARC's ambushes of military convoys and attacks on small towns, the Barco administration announced that the truce had been broken in the departments of Caquetá and Huila. The Permanent Advisory Council on Political Rehabilitation, Reconciliation, and Normalization (established in October 1987 as a permanent government organization and assuming what were previously the responsibilities of the government's Special Adviser) continued efforts to achieve a lasting peace with the FARC as well as to build a dialogue between the government and the other guerrilla groups. At that time the FARC continued to refuse the government's call to disarm, an obligation that had not been incorporated in the terms of the truce reached with the Betancur administration. The FARC, in turn, called for a lifting of the state of siege, the elimination of the death squads, an end to alleged human rights violations by the armed forces, and the implementation of a number of political and economic reforms.

Data as of December 1988

Last Updated: December 1988

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Colombia was first published in 1988. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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