Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Colombian rebel's death ends a brutal yet futile struggle

Manuel Marulanda, the founder and leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, died in March.

Associated Press

Manuel Marulanda, the founder and leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, died in March.

He was a legendary recluse. Some say he never set foot in the capital of the country with which he waged war for 44 years.

The death of Manuel Marulanda (his real name was Pedro Marin), 78, was confirmed last weekend by Colombia's main rebel army, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

His passing is a huge blow to the FARC, which has been reeling from a series of strategic setbacks in recent months at the hands of Colombia's heavily U.S.-backed armed forces. He is one of three high-ranking FARC leaders to die in the past three months.

Marulanda's death also marks the end of an era of armed struggle in Latin America. Marulanda, known as "Sureshot," was a one-of-a-kind revolutionary leader who picked up a gun as a young man and never put it down.

As a peasant leader in the late 1940s, and founder of the FARC, he waged war uninterruptedly for the next six decades, the longest and deadliest guerrilla struggle in Latin American history. He built his peasant army from a few dozen men in 1964 to a heavily armed force of about 20,000 fighters. He lived the last years of his life with a $5-million bounty on his head.

Impressive perhaps. Yet, seen another way, never in modern revolutionary conflict did anyone fight with such brutal futility. Unlike some of his fellow left-wing icons — Fidel Castro, Ernesto "Che" Guevara and Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega — Marulanda never tasted the victory of taking power. Instead, he died in the arms of his comrades in a jungle hideout, no closer to the halls of government than the day he started.

The capital certainly felt his presence at times, whether it was attacks on President Alvaro Uribe's inauguration in 2002, blowing up the city's top social club or the infiltration of the slums with murderous militias.

In the early years, Colombia's downtrodden peasantry needed a champion. It's hard to say, though, exactly when that cause ceased to be noble. Injustices continue in rural Colombia, but any justification for armed struggle disappeared long ago.

Instead of seeking a political accommodation, Marulanda stuck to his guns, funding his war effort with cocaine, kidnapping and extortion. He knew how to hide, always slipping back with his hostages to the protective canopy of Colombia's vast jungle.

The future of the FARC remains hard to predict. Marulanda's successor, Alfonso Cano, is an equally shadowy figure. Considered less of a warrior and more of an ideologue, he may be more open to negotiation.

What does seem certain is that after rampaging for most of the last decade, the FARC has seen its power greatly reduced, to 9,000 men and women — and, sadly, children.

The days of the FARC may be waning. Twenty-first century warfare, with satellite and infrared technology, no longer makes it so easy to hide. Thanks in part to U.S. training and billions in U.S. funding, Colombia's armed forces are also far more effective than 10 years ago.

Most likely, the FARC will go back to what revolutionaries like to call la guerra de pulgas, or war of fleas, no more than a bloody nuisance.

David Adams can be reached

at [email protected]

Colombian rebel's death ends a brutal yet futile struggle 05/26/08 [Last modified: Monday, May 26, 2008 10:56pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. 'Empire' star Grace Byers keynotes USF Women in Leadership & Philanthropy luncheon

    Human Interest


    TAMPA — The first University of South Florida graduate to address the USF's Women in Leadership & Philanthropy supporters, Grace Gealey Byers, class of 2006, centered her speech on her first name, turning it into a verb to share life lessons.

    Grace Byers, University of South Florida Class of 2006, stars on the Fox television show Empire. She delivered the keynote at the USF Women in Leadership and Philanthropy luncheon Friday. Photo by Amy Scherzer
  2. Southeast Seminole Heights holds candlelight vigil for victims' families and each other


    TAMPA — They came together in solidarity in Southeast Seminole Heights, to sustain three families in their grief and to confront fear, at a candlelight vigil held Sunday night in the central Tampa neighborhood.

    A peaceful march that began on east New Orleans Avenue was held during the candlelight vigil for the three victims who were killed in the recent shootings in the Seminole Heights neighborhood in Tampa on Sunday, October 22, 2017.
  3. It's not just Puerto Rico: FEMA bogs down in Florida, Texas too

    HOUSTON — Outside Rachel Roberts' house, a skeleton sits on a chair next to the driveway, a skeleton child on its lap, an empty cup in its hand and a sign at its feet that reads "Waiting on FEMA."

    Ernestino Leon sits among the debris removed from his family’s flood-damaged Bonita Springs home on Oct. 11. He has waited five weeks for FEMA to provide $10,000 to repair the home.
  4. McConnell says he's awaiting Trump guidance on health care

    STERLING, Va. — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday he's willing to bring bipartisan health care legislation to the floor if President Donald Trump makes clear he supports it.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he’s “not certain yet” on what Trump wants.
  5. Tampa's Lance McCullers shows killer instinct in pitching Astros to World Series


    HOUSTON — It felt like the beginning on Saturday night at Minute Maid Park, the arrival of a new force on the World Series stage. The Astros are back, for the first time in a dozen years, and they want to stay a while.

    Houston Astros starting pitcher Lance McCullers (43) throwing in the fifth inning of the game between the Houston Astros and the Tampa Bay Rays in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, July 12, 2015.