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Farewell to the Revolution?

“The FARC are finished, no matter how many men and weapons they may still have.” Former Salvadoran guerrilla leader Joaquín Villalobos’ lapidary conclusion about the Colombian narco-guerrilla movement is worthy of consideration, given his unmatched insight into Latin America’s armed, revolutionary left. So is the almost tearful acknowledgement by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s ideological guru, Heinz Dieterich, that “Chávez’s speech on the FARC (calling on it to abandon armed struggle and free its hostages) is the equivalent of unconditional surrender to Washington’s hemispheric ambition.”

However hasty these judgments may end up being, it certainly seems that the region’s oldest and last political-military organization is, at long last, on the brink of defeat. Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s strategy of “democratic security” appears to have paid off, supported by the United States-financed Plan Colombia, as well as by much plain good luck, such as finding thousands of incriminating computer files three months ago in an attack on a FARC camp in Ecuador.

If events in the next few months confirm the FARC’s demise, Latin America would finally be rid of one of its main scourges over the past half-century. At least since December 1956, when Fidel and Raúl Castro, together with a young Argentine doctor, later known as Che Guevara, sailed from Mexico’s port of Tuxpan to Cuba and into history, the region has seen innumerable attempts by small left-wing revolutionary groups to take power through armed uprisings. They have all invoked heroic precedents from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as well as the impossibility of proceeding otherwise under brutal right-wing dictatorships, such as Batista’s in Cuba, Somoza’s in Nicaragua, and military-oligarchic complexes in Guatemala, El Salvador, Bolivia, Argentina, Peru, Uruguay, and elsewhere – including Colombia.

In many of these cases, they were right: without recourse to guns and bullets, nothing in their countries would ever have changed. They achieved only three successes: Cuba, in 1959; Nicaragua, in 1979; and El Salvador, where, by 1992, they fought the US and the local army to a stalemate, bringing peace and growing prosperity to their country. Everywhere else, for whatever reason – misguided strategies, tactical mistakes, erroneous theories, US intervention, etc. – they faced only defeat, repression, and futility.