The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have released a public statement in reaction to the death of their top military commander, “Mono Jojoy,” who died early Tuesday morning after a military strike.
It touches all the usual bases for a FARC press release, including mentioning the “false positives” scandal, the elimination of the Patriotic Union party in the early 1990s, and their “prisoners of war,” the soldiers and police agents who remain in guerrilla hands (the full text can be accessed at El Espectador). “We will continue calling for an opportunity for peace, not for surrender, as this regime obstinately and stupidly thinks,” the statement reads. “What we want was already communicated clearly by our commander Alfonso Cano: there can only be a peaceful and political solution for the social and armed internal conflict, and in that we are and will continue to be the determining factor, other strategies only contribute to prolong the spiral of war.”
The FARC had previously released a statement Wednesday, which asserted their commitment to finding a “political solution” to the conflict, but accused President Juan Manuel Santos of assuming an “unacceptable, arrogant and triumphant ” position towards peace talks, “implying that he is only willing to sit down with a defeated guerrilla (group), not to listen, but to impose the will of the victor, which he assumes he will be.” FARC head Guillermo León Saénz, alias “Alfonso Cano,” asked Santos to “sit down and talk” in a video released in July. The government position is that there will be no negotiations until the FARC release all prisoners and cease all hostilities. After Briceño’s death, it is even more unlikely that Santos will back down.
It is up to the FARC to take the first steps and signal they are serious about dialogue, and the most effective way to do this is probably a prisoner release. There are still an estimated 18 policemen and soldiers held by the guerrillas (according to Fondelibertad the total number of hostages may be 55). But these hostages are among the most important bargaining chips still held by the FARC, and it will probably take another string of successful rescue operations, like April’s “Operation Chameleon,” to put the FARC in a more pragmatic state of mind. However none of these hostages have the high profile of an Ingrid Betancourt. And as Adam Isacson points out at Just the Facts, rather than moves towards peace talks, we may actually see an increase of attacks over the next few months, if the guerrillas seek to reaffirm their offensive capacity and avenge Briceño’s death. It is worth remembering that since Santos’ inauguration, the guerrillas have killed 90 members of the security forces in a series of attacks across the country. It may be in small groups of two of three combatants, but many FARC Fronts are still more than capable of harassing the security forces with sniper attacks and home-made explosives, especially in rural areas.
Meanwhile more details have emerged today about the military operation that killed Briceño and another estimated 20 guerrillas (only seven of these bodies have been transferred to Bogotá for identification, Colombian news media is reporting). All indications are that the military have greatly strengthened their intelligence-gathering capabilities and have come a long way from their days of embarrassing defeats, like the 1998 FARC takeover of the southwestern city Mitú. The vice admiral of the Navy confirmed the security forces found Briceño through “human intelligence,” possibly implying that the detention last August of five members of Briceño’s inner security detail may have yielded key information. According to the Defense Ministry, the army was able to pinpoint Briceño’s exact location, after planting him with a pair of boots rigged with a GPS device. Security forces picked up Briceño’s signal last Monday, leading Santos to approve the attack. According to Defense Minister Rodrigo Rivera, the air raid was timed to begin at 2 a.m., because intelligence indicated that Briceño awoke between 1 and 4 a.m. to do paperwork. The operation involved 38 fighter planes, 27 helicopters, and 400 members of Special Forces, who had to fight their way through minefields and three of Briceño’s strategically based security rings, authorities said.
According to the army, these 700 guerrillas who formed a protective ring around Briceño’s are now in retreat, so it is possible we may see even more combats the next few weeks. And with the seizure of a reported 20 laptop computers and 68 USB sticks, found in Briceño’s encampment, in the coming months we can probably expect more revelations about the guerrilla’s inner workings. As for politics, La Silla Vacia has a good round-up about what Briceño’s death means for the Santos administration. In a nutshell: it’s all good news.