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If a Rebel Falls in the Forest: The Steady Evisceration of the FARC Leadership in Colombia

Publisher Jamestown Foundation
Publication Date 30 September 2010
Citation / Document Symbol Publication: Volume: 1 Issue: 9
Cite as Jamestown Foundation, If a Rebel Falls in the Forest: The Steady Evisceration of the FARC Leadership in Colombia, 30 September 2010, Publication: Volume: 1 Issue: 9, available at: [accessed 25 May 2016]
Comments Derek Henry Flood
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

New Developments on the Colombian Battlefield

The elimination of senior FARC leadership continues to intensify under the new Colombian presidency of Jose Manuel Santos. Aggressive tactics against the senior command structure of Colombia's Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) rebels have not let up since the inauguration of Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia's former defense minister, in August. President Santos, while proclaiming a regional reset in Colombia's foreign relations, has vowed to take on the FARC with the same vigor as his predecessor, former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe Vélez (Reuters, September 20). On September 19, on a combined police and air force raid deep in southwestern Colombia near the town of San Miguel, Colombian security forces killed Sixto Antonio Cabaña Guillén (a.k.a. Domingo Bioho), a senior rebel commander from the Southwestern Bloc's 48th Front. The 48th Front operates primarily in Putamayo Department straddling the Ecuadorian and Peruvian borders. The U.S. State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs has long accused Cabaña Guillén of "directing and controlling the production, manufacture, and distribution of hundreds of tons of cocaine to the United States and the world; the ‘taxation' of the drug trade in Colombia to raise funds for the FARC; and, the murder of hundreds of people who violated or interfered with the FARC's cocaine policies." [1] Cabaña Guillén was born in 1955 and had been with the FARC for the past 25 years. Ten years ago, during the presidency of Andrés Pastrana Arrango, he was part of a FARC peace negotiation team which came to naught (Caracol Radio, September 20). The Colombian daily El Tiempo asserted that Cabaña Guillén, along with Jorge Torres Victoria (a.k.a. Pablo Catatumbo), Milton de Jesús Toncel Redondo (a.k.a. Joaquín Gómez) and Angel Gabriel Losada Garcia of the 48th Front (a.k.a. Edgar Tovar-killed January 20), were spotted in Ecuador last year (Hoy [Quito], May 27, 2009).

The Elimination of Mono Jojoy

While in New York for the annual UN General Assembly, President Santos declared another major victory for Bogotá. Santos told the press that on September 22, Víctor Julio Suárez Rojas (a.k.a. Jorge Briceno, a.k.a. Mono Jojoy), the FARC's field marshal and number two commander, was killed in Operation Sodom in central Colombia's Meta Department (AP, September 23). Santos stated that the death of Mono Jojoy was nothing short of "historic" and that "the symbol of terror in Colombia has been brought down." [2] With the immense amount of tension the Uribe government had with the its neighbors over the alleged presence of FARC, as well as Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN-National Liberation Army) commanders on their territories, the death of Mono Jojoy in the heart of central Colombia has the added effect of lowering the political temperature in the region, which fits neatly into Santos' strategy of destroying the FARC's upper echelon while dually restoring severely strained ties with Ecuador and Venzuela. Pro-government Colombian commentators were elated at the death of Jojoy, positing that he was the FARC's true leader while the organization's chief, Alfonso Cano, is more of a symbolic Marxist ideologue (El Pais [Cali], September 27).

Along with Mono Jojoy, the Colombian daily El Tiempo reported that the body of Henry Castellanos Garzón (a.k.a. Romaña), a major Eastern Bloc commander, was discovered in the aftermath of Operation Sodom in Meta Department (El Tiempo, September 23; El Espectador, September 24).

The Hunt for Alfonso Cano

A brash top Colombian Army official, General Guillermo Suarez, is on the hunt for the overall leader of the FARC guerrillas, Guillermo Leon Saenz Vargas, (a.k.a. Alfonso Cano). General Suarez unapologetically stated that Cano "will be caught one way or another….the game is only just beginning" (El Espectador, September 20). General Suarez is leading a task force in the country's central-western Tolima Department and will not yield until the FARC chief is captured or killed. He prudently stopped short of being arrogant with regard to his assessment of enemy forces, noting the ruggedness of the landscape and the durability of his opponent in such a hostile environment. "The FARC were born here, they know the area very well, the topography, and how to make the best of these climatic conditions. These are advantages they have over us," stated Suarez (ibid.). Colombia's newly appointed defense minister, Rodrigo Rivera, subsequently warned the public of the dangers of the new government's potential overconfidence. Rivera cautioned that the issue of military triumphalism constituted a "major political risk" for Bogotá (El Espectador, August 17).

President Santos, an alumnus of the University of Kansas, [3] served as the defense minister in his predecessor's administration and took steps toward emboldening the Colombian military's counterinsurgency tactics, of which one of the major aims was decapitating the rebel leadership, a policy he is continuing in his capacity as president. President Santos is attempting to walk a political tight rope in South America's volatile Caribbean and Andean realms. American-educated and outwardly pro-American, he also seeks a nuanced normalization of relations with the strident Hugo Chávez regime in Venezuela and that of the now wobbly Rafael Correa presidency in Ecuador. One of President Santos' first acts in office was the restoration of diplomatic relations with Caracas, which had been cut off after the former president Uribe made accusations at a meeting of the Organization of American States during his final days in office that Venezuela was knowingly harboring FARC camps and several prominent FARC leaders, a charge that infuriated Chávez (El Universal [Caracas], August 20). Tensions with President Correa spiraled out of control with the Colombian raid into Ecuadorian territory to kill the FARC's spokesman and Southern Bloc leader Luis Edgar Devia Silva (a.k.a. Raúl Reyes) on March 1, 2008. The death of Reyes was a major blow to the FARC's commanding secretariat and was seemingly the spark that gave government forces the psychological and policy-driven momentum to keep liquidating more FARC higher ups. The obverse side of that victory was the rapid deterioration of Colombian-Ecuadorian relations, President Correa's embrace of Mahmud Ahmadinejad's Iran, and the further solidification of ALBA (Alianza Bolivariana de los Pueblos de América-The Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of America). Colombia's 46-year struggle against its Marxist insurgency has had obvious geopolitical ripples far beyond the borders of the Colombian republic. President Santos quickly dispatched Colombian foreign minister Maria Angela Holguin to meet with her Ecuadorian counterpart to discuss the restoration of bilateral relations after the raid that killed the FARC's Reyes and set the stage for what became known as the 2008 Andean Diplomatic Crisis, a rift that the new Colombian administration seeks to mend (Radio Havana Cuba, August 26).

In his inaugural address, Santos hinted at the possibility of a rapprochement between non-state groups and the government, with the proviso that they renounce violence as a precondition to dialogue. When Defense Minister Rivera was asked whether the Santos administration would engage in direct talks specifically with Alfonso Cano, should he ever come to the negotiating table, Rivera coolly replied, "There will be no dialogue with anyone engaging in terrorist activities."


At the time of this writing, the government of Juan Manuel Santos is brimming with confidence in its counterinsurgency war, at least according to the public pronouncements of the president. After Santos' travel to New York for the General Assembly, upon returning to Colombia he boldly remarked, "This operation against Mono Jojoy, this successful operation, it is a turning point where I think, with a good degree of confidence, we can say that is the beginning of the end of the FARC." [4] And although the rebels have recently suffered a concussive series of major blows, Alfonso Cano and several other members of the secretariat are still at large. While gestures of reconciliation have taken place with Venezuela in recent weeks, nothing concrete in terms of policy and counterinsurgency strategy has been resolved in terms of the FARC leadership's (and ELN's) alleged presence in the western extremities of Venezuela or the eastern reaches of Ecuador. A high degree of uncertainty remains as to how the remaining leaders of the FARC will react to the deaths of Mono Jojoy and other various Bloc commanders. Many in Colombia's cities fear a coming blowback in the form of urban terrorism aimed at destabilizing the new government. Although Defense Minister Rivera issued a pragmatic public call to Alfonso Cano to surrender himself, a highly unlikely proposition given the FARC's history of intransigence, the realists in the Colombian military are intensifying their hunt for him (Caracol Television, September 23). The battle for Colombia remains far from over at present.


1. To view the U.S. Department of State's notice on Sixto Antonio Cabaña Guillén, see
2. For President Santos' statement, see the official in presidential site (in Spanish)
3. Notable Alumni-The University of Kansas:
4. For President Santos' statement, see the official in presidential site (in Spanish):

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