Who are the Farc? -Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia

FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia):

The Farc is the oldest and largest group among Colombia’s left-wing rebels and is one of the world’s richest guerrilla armies. The group’s roots can be traced back to the Liberal guerrilla bands of La Violencia – the civil war between the Liberal and Conservative parties that raged from 1948 until 1958. Farc became disillusioned with the leadership of the Liberal Party and turned to communism. One of the guerrilla bands was led by Manuel “Sureshot” Marulanda (his real name is Pedro Antonio Marin), who in 1966 baptised his group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).


Experts estimate that FARC takes in between $500 million and $600 million annually from the illegal drug trade. The FARC also profits from kidnappings, extortion schemes, and an unofficial “tax” it levies in the countryside for “protection” and social services. About sixty-five of the FARC’s 110 operational units are involved in some aspect of the drug trade, according to a 2005 International Crisis Group report, but evidence from that period indicates they primarily managed local production. A 2008 International Crisis Group reportnotes that the nature of the FARC’s drug involvement varies from region to region, and that the group’s control of population and territory in rural areas “has allowed it to dictate terms for coca growth, harvest, and processing

Undated picture of two armed Farc rebels monitoring the Berlin passImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionThe Farc have been fighting one of the longest-running insurgencies in the world

With the signing of a final peace agreement between Colombia’s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), and the Colombian government just hours away, BBC News takes a closer look at the guerrilla group which has been fighting the longest-running armed insurgency in the Western Hemisphere.

Who are the Farc?

Manuel Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionManuel “Sureshot” Marulanda (centre) was the main leader of the Farc until his death in 2008

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc, after the initials in Spanish) are Colombia’s largest rebel group.

They were founded in 1964 as the armed wing of the Communist Party and follow a Marxist-Leninist ideology.

Their main founders were small farmers and land workers who had banded together to fight against the staggering levels of inequality in Colombia at the time.

While the Farc have some urban groups, they have always been an overwhelmingly rural guerrilla organisation.

How many Farc fighters are there?

Leftist rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) patrol by a roadway near to San Vicente de Caguan, Caqueta province, Colombia, January 9. 1999Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionAt their height, the Farc was estimated to have some 20,000 active fighters

The security forces estimate that there are between 6,000 and 7,000 active fighters within the ranks of the Farc.

They think there are another 8,500 civilians who make up the Farc’s support network.

This is down considerably from the estimated 20,000 active fighters they are believed to have had around 2002.

How are they organised?

Picture taken in the 1980s of Farc fighters during training at a camp somewhere in the Colombian mountainous regionImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionMost of the members of the Farc come from rural areas of Colombia

The rebels are organised in small tactical groups that in turn make up larger fighting units which are organised in regional “blocs”.

They are controlled by the Secretariat, a group of less than a dozen top commanders who devise the overarching strategy of the Farc.

The Farc’s top leader is Rodrigo Londono Echeverri, better know by his alias Timochenko.

Why did they take up arms?

Farc guerrilla fighters pose with their weapons after a patrol in the jungle near the town of Miraflores, Colombia, August 7, 1998Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionWhile it was not very well armed when it was first founded, the Farc has acquired some heavy weapons over the decades

The Farc were founded at a time of brutal repression against any form of action considered subversive.

Colombia has historically been a country which suffers from huge levels of inequality, where vast swathes of land are owned by a very small elite.

This is partly due to the fact that the Colombian state sold off large tracts of land to private owners in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries to pay for its debts.

Some of the founders of the Farc had established an agricultural commune in the region of Marquetalia, in central Tolima province.

Inspired by the Cuban revolution in the 1950s, they demanded more rights and control over the land.

But their communist ideals were seen as a threat by big landowners and the state, which sent in the army to disband the commune, or Marquetalia Republic as it had come to be known.

The Farc says that it was after the clashes with the army in Marquetalia that they decided to make their struggle an armed one.

Was Colombia peaceful before the Farc?

A wreath placed before the statue of one of the founding fathers of Colombia's independence, Joaquin de Cayzedo y Cuero at the main square in Cali, Colombia with a ribbon with an inscription that reads 'Farewell to War', on June 23, 2016Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionColombia had suffered from decades of violence even before the Farc were founded

No, Colombia went through a 10-year civil war before the Farc were even founded.

During the period known simply as La Violencia (The Violence), between 200,000 and 300,000 people are estimated to have been killed.

La Violencia was triggered by the assassination in 1948 of Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, a popular presidential candidate for the Liberal Party.

His shooting in Bogota caused riots in the capital, which were followed by 10 years of conflict pitting the followers of the Liberal Party against those of the Conservative Party.

The man who would later become the top leader of the Farc, Manuel “Sureshot” Marulanda, had fought in La Violencia.

Who joined the Farc?

Guerrillas of the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) march in a military parade 07 February 2001 in San Vicente.Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionThe Farc recruits women as well as men and has fighters of all ages, including children

Human rights groups have often accused the Farc of forcibly recruiting poor farmers and children. The Farc say that everyone who joined them did so voluntarily.

According to their own figures, there were 21 children under the age of 15 in their ranks in May 2016.

Most of their fighters are from poor, rural communities and include both men and women of all ages.

Some of those who have left the Farc speak of being lured by the promise of adventure and the kudos of carrying a gun.

Who do they fight?

Former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) hostage Gen Luis Herlindo Mendieta (2nd R) walks with his family upon arrival in Bogota on June 14, 2010.Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionGeneral Luis Mendieta (in uniform) was held captive by the Farc for 14 years

The main enemy of the Farc have been the Colombian security forces. Farc fighters have attacked police stations and military posts, and ambushed patrols.

But they have also blown up oil pipelines, electricity pylons and bridges and bombed social clubs.

Many of their victims have been civilians. They have included children who died when home-made Farc explosives fell short of a rural police station and hit a school, and thousands of people maimed by landmines laid by the Farc.

Thousands of people were kidnapped by the Farc for ransom.

One police officer, Luis Mendieta, was seized in an attack on a police station in 1998 and held for 14 years before being freed by the army in a rescue operation dubbed Chameleon.

How do they finance themselves?

A Colombian soldier stands guard inside a cocaine laboratory in the forest area of Buenaventura, Valle del Cauca department, Colombia, on March 17 2010.Image copyrightAFP
Image captionThe Farc run their own cocaine labs, such as this one which was raided by the army

Analysts think the Farc are among the richest rebel movements in the world.

Guerrilla commanders have denied the group has stashed away large sums of money

Colombia is one of the main producers of cocaine and the rebels get a large part of their income from drug trafficking or levying “taxes” on those who do.

They have also resorted to extortion and kidnapping for ransom to fill their coffers.

Why did they join the peace process?

A graffiti with a sentence that reads 'Peace for the people' in Cali, Colombia, on June 22, 2016.Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionPrevious attempts at reaching a peace deal failed but there is hope this latest deal will be signed soon

The Farc have been hit hard by the Colombian security forces over the past years.

The Colombian army and police received millions of dollars in funding and training from the US government, much of which they invested in fighting the rebels.

Many of the top leaders of the Farc were killed or died within the past decade.

In 2008, senior rebel leader Raul Reyes was killed in a bombing raid and Farc founder Manuel Marulanda died of natural causes.

In 2011, Alfonso Cano, who took over from Manuel Marulanda, was also killed in a bombing raid.

Alfonso Cano, a Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) commander attends a practice ceremony for the political party opening outside of San Vicente del Caguan in the FARC controlled zone of Colombia on Friday, April 28, 2000Image copyrightAP
Image captionFarc leader Alfonso Cano was killed in a bombing raid in 2011

The number of active fighters also diminished from its estimated high of 20,000 to around 7,000 after thousands of guerrilla fighters were demobilised or killed.

The Farc themselves insist that they wanted peace all along but that the conditions were not right before.

After almost four years of formal talks and another two of secret negotiations which preceded them, the rebels are about to sign the final peace agreement and lay down their arms.

According to a US justice department indictment in 2006, the Farc supplies more than 50% of the world’s cocaine and more than 60% of the cocaine entering the US.

Recently, the Farc, which is on US and European lists of terrorist organisations, has suffered a series of blows, including the deaths of several top commanders.

On 23 September 2010, the group’s top military leader, Jorge Briceno, also known as Mono Jojoy, was killed in a raid on his jungle camp in the eastern region of Macarena.The group’s founder and long-time leader, Manuel “Sureshot” Marulanda, died in 2008 of a heart attack.

The most dramatic setback was the rescue by the military of 15 high-profile hostages, including the former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt in 2008. The hostages had long been seen as a key element in the rebels’ attempts to exchange their captives for jailed guerrillas.President Alvaro Uribe, who swept to power in 2002 vowing to defeat the rebels and was re-elected in 2006, launched an unprecedented offensive against the Farc, backed by US military aid.

Desertions from the rebel ranks suggest morale has been hit. The group had about 16,000 fighters in 2001, according to the Colombian government, but this is believed to have dropped to about 8,000.

However, the rebels still control rural areas, particularly in the south and east, where the presence of the state is weak, and in 2009 they stepped up their attacks and ambushes.

FormedMay 27, 1964
DisbandedGroup is active.
First AttackMay 27, 1964: The Colombian military attacked the FARC in Marquetalia, in which 48 FARC rebels fought back. This was their first confrontation with the Colombian government and considered the FARC’s founding date. (unknown killed, unknown wounded). [1]
Last AttackJune 22, 2015: June 22, 2015: The FARC bombed the Tansandio pipeline, an oil pipeline in Nariño, causing 10,000 barrels of oil to contaminate waterways. The water contamination resulted in 150,000 people losing access to water and the Colombian government speculates that the environmental damage resulting from this attack is the worst environmental disaster in Colombia’s history. (0 killed, 0 wounded). [2]
UpdatedAugust 15, 2015


In 1964, Colombian Communist Party (PCC) member Manuel Marulanda worked with Jacobo Arenas to form the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (or, in Spanish, Las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarios de Colombia; the FARC). Following the decade of civil war from 1948 to 1958, known as La Violencia, PCC members led groups of individuals, who felt neglected by the Colombian government, to settle throughout the countryside and create their own communities. Marulanda led a group to settle in Marquetalia, Tolima with the goal of creating a society in which the needs and concerns of the rural population would be addressed.[3] [4] Marulanda’s group later became the FARC.

On May 27, 1964 the Colombian military attacked Marquetalia and other surrounding communities. [5]Marulanda’s forty-eight guerrilla fighters fought back. Following the attack, on July 20th 1964, the guerrillas from Marquetalia met with other communities, organized, and unified in what they called the First Guerrilla Conference. During this conference, in which some 350 guerrillas participated, they formally declared themselves a guerrilla group, taking on the name the Southern Bloc. The Southern Bloc called for land reform, better conditions for those in the countryside, and vowed to defend the communities of followers in the countryside from the Colombian government. Primarily a defense group, the Southern Bloc met again in May 1966 for its Second Guerrilla Conference and renamed itself the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the FARC. [6] In addition to the FARC’s name change, the second conference also marked a shift in strategy for the group; instead of just defending the rural population from government attacks, the FARC started providing educational and medical services to loyal communities, training militants for combat, and carrying out attacks. In 1972, Marulanda established training camps for the guerrillas. In the FARC’s early years, to pay for the camps and social service provision, the FARC kidnapped for ransom, primarily targeting politicians, and elites. [7] [8]

In addition to kidnapping, in the late 1970s, the FARC began trafficking cocaine to fund its activities, a practice that facilitated its rapid growth throughout the 1980s. The FARC’s newfound wealth, from kidnappings and the drug trade, and its provision of social services attracted a large number of new members who sought to escape the increasing poverty levels in Colombia. [9] [10] Together, the increase in profit and new members marked the beginning of the FARC’s exponential growth and rise in power. [11] [12]  However, the FARC’s reliance on the drug trade also harmed its reputation; reports on the FARC by the United States government, the Colombian government, and news sources quickly started referring to the group as a drug cartel and its leaders as drug traffickers. [13]

In 1982, the FARC held its Seventh Guerrilla Conference in which it changed its name to the FARC-EP for Ejército del Pueblo, meaning “People’s Army;” however, the Colombian government, the United States government, and the media still refer to the group as ‘the FARC.’ [14] Additionally in 1982, the FARC and the Colombian government, led by President Belisario Betancur, started peace talks for the first time. In May of 1984, an agreement, the Uribe Accords, was successfully reached and called for a bilateral ceasefire, which lasted from 1984-1987. [15] Colombian politician Ivan Cepeda said the Uribe Accords would allow FARC members to slowly begin to live legally.

As part of the agreement, the FARC co-founded the Patriotic Union (UP), a political party, with the Colombian Communist Party (PCC) in 1985. The UP achieved unprecedented leftist success in the 1986 elections, securing 350 local council seats, 9 House seats, and 6 Senate seats. However, this rapid success was quickly undermined by forced disappearances and systematic assassinations of UP leaders by the army, right-wing paramilitaries, and drug gangs. Reports show that, by 1988, between 200 and 500 UP leaders, including UP Presidential candidate Jaime Pardo, were assassinated. From 1988 to 1992, between 4,000 and 6,000 UP members, including another presidential candidate, Bernardo Jaramillo, were murdered. These murders and disappearances thwarted UP growth and many remaining members fled the country. [16][17] [18]

Despite the peace accords in the 1980s, the FARC’s violent tactics and kidnappings continued because the group believed that political reforms made by the government were inadequate. In retaliation for the FARC’s continued violence, wealthy landowners, the primary targets of the FARC’s kidnappings, formed militant groups, such as Death to Kidnappers (MAS) and the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). These groups aligned with the Colombian military in the 1980s to rid the country of guerrilla presence. Paramilitary groups killed innocent civilians but reported them to be FARC guerrillas or FARC supporters in order to appear as if they were effectively mitigating FARC influence in the country. Paramilitaries used these tactics from the 1980s through the 2000s. [19]

In 1999, the FARC’s membership and kidnapping peaked at 18,000 and 3,000 respectively. The FARC’s heightened influence in the country, extreme kidnapping records and involvement in the drug trade elicited both domestic and international response. In 1999, a quarter of the Colombian population protested in cities throughout the country, in the “No Más” protests, against the FARC and violence in the country. [20] [21]Around this time, the FARC began peace negotiations with the Colombian government. Regardless, in 2000, the United States and Colombia initiated Plan Colombia, a $9 billion U.S. military aid program meant to help the Colombian government combat the drug trade and reassert authority and increase its capacity throughout the country. [22] [23] The success of Plan Colombia is debated as it did not eliminate guerrilla drug activities or violence; however, some attribute the Colombian state and military’s increased strength, and the start of FARC’s decline to Plan Colombia. [24] [25] In 2002, President Pastrana ended the 1999 peace talks with the FARC before the end of his term. [26]

In 2002, Álvaro Uribe ran for presidency, and won, on the promise that he would aggressively combat guerrilla presence and activity in the country. During the 2002 election season, the FARC kidnapped presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, increasing political motivation to combat the FARC. Uribe’s anti-guerrilla program, once elected, was to professionalize the army, take advantage of paramilitary assistance and embrace support from the United States government’s Plan Colombia during his presidency, which lasted until 2010. [27] Uribe’s crackdown on the FARC was well received by the Colombian public and it led to a decrease in violence within the country and a dramatic decrease in the number of FARC members. Not only did the FARC become weaker in 2002, but, also, the FARC-founded Patriotic Union (UP) lost its legal status and could no longer participate politically for lack of members and support. [28]

Following Uribe’s tenure, President Santos, elected in 2012, restarted the peace process with the FARC. [29][30] The talks have been disrupted many times due to the FARC’s violation of cease-fire agreements. For example, as part of the 2012 peace talks, the FARC publicly renounced kidnapping but, nonetheless, continued to kidnap for ransom. The FARC’s decision to continue kidnapping led the Colombian government to suspend the cease-fire in November of 2014. [31] [32] In July 2015, the FARC once again declared a unilateral ceasefire, and, in response, the Colombian government then agreed to cease air strikes on FARC encampments. [33]  [34] Whether or not peace talks will continue hinges on both sides cooperating. In November 2015, President Santos will evaluate the progress made in the peace negotiations and decide whether or not to continue. [35]


  1. Iván Ríos, legal name José Juvenal Velandia (Unknown to Present): Iván Ríos joined the FARC in the 1980s and was a member of the Secretariat until his death. His bodyguard, Pedro Pablo Montoya, killed him in exchange for a $2.5 million reward from the Colombian government.[36]
  2. Raul Reyes, legal name Luis Edgar Devia Silva (Unknown to 2008): Reyes, a member of the Secretariat until his death, joined the FARC after his time as a Marxist union leader. He was considered a top commander and represented the moderate wing of the FARC. In 2008, the Colombian army killed him and his death was reported as a devastating blow to the group.[37]
  3. Jaime Guaracas (1964 to Unknown): Guaracas was third in command for the FARC until the 1980s when he retired from combat due to health issues. Guaracas now lives in Cuba and is one of the few original founders of the FARC still living.[38]
  4. Jacobo Arenas, legal name Luis Alberto Morantes Jaime (1964 to 1990): In 1964, Arenas moved to Marquetalia and became a founding leader of the group. Arenas died in 1990 of natural causes.[39]
  5. Manuel Marulanda Vélez, also known as “Tirofijo,” legal name Pedro Antonio Marín Marín (1964 to 2008): Marulanda, a member of the Colombian Communist Party (PCC), was the founding leader of a community in Marquetalia that was attacked by the government in 1964. Following the attack, Marulanda’s guerrillas and others founded the Southern Bloc, which would later become the FARC. Marulanda died of a heart attack in 2008.[40]
  6. Jorge Briceño Suarez, also known as “Mono Jojoy”, legal name Victor Julio Suarez Rojas (1965 to 2010): Mono Jojoy joined the FARC when he was only 12 years old and moved steadily up the ranks. He was deeply embedded in the FARC’s drug activities, and involved in kidnappings and extortion. He was the leading military commander for the FARC until Colombian government forces killed him in 2010.[41]
  7. Efrain Guzman, also known as Nariño (1978 to 2002): Guzman joined the FARC in 1978 and was appointed commander of the FARC’s 5th Front at the 1978 Sixth National Guerrilla Conference. At the 1993 Eighth National Guerrilla Conference, he was invited to the Secretariat and assigned to the FARC’s Caribbean Bloc.[42]
  8. Alfonso Cano, legal name Guillermo León Sáenz Vargas (1982 to 2011): Cano joined the FARC in the mid 1970s. In 1981, Cano was arrested in a raid on his family home and remained imprisoned until 1982 when President Betancur granted him amnesty. After his release, he became commander of the FARC’s Western Bloc. Following the death of Jacobo Arenas in 1992, Cano became a member of the Secretariat. Following the death of leader Manuel Marulanda in March of 2008, Cano became the FARC’s commander. Cano was killed on November 4, 2011, in a military raid.[43]
  9. Iván Marquéz, legal name Luciano Marin Arango (1985 to Present): Ivan Marquéz is currently a member of the Secretariat. After joining the FARC in 1985, he became extremely active in the FARC’s political party, Union Patriotica. Due to his alleged involvement in the FARC’s drug trade, the U.S. State Department has indicted Marquéz on drug charges.[44]
  10. Mauricio Jaramillo, also known as “El Médico”, legal name Jaime Alberto Parra (1990 to Present): El Médico joined the FARC in the late 1980s as the physician for former commander in chief, Manuel Marulanda, earning him the alias “El Médico.” He is the commander of the FARC’s Eastern Bloc and a member of the current Secretariat. Jaramillo inherited both of these positions from Mono Jojoy, for whom Jaramillo was a close confidant.[45]
  11. Pablo Catatumbo, legal name Jorge Torres Victoria (1990 to Present): Catatumbo is a member of the current Secretariat, a negotiator and commander of the Western Bloc – the FARC’s strongest bloc. During the 1980s, Catatumbo was a member of the April 19 Movement (M-19), held hostage by MAS, then joined the FARC after M-19 demobilized. He is considered a hardliner, strongly in favor of the FARC’s kidnapping practices and disagreed with the 2012 decision to stop kidnapping.[46]
  12. Pastor Alape, legal name Felix Antonio Muñoz (1993 to Present): Pastor Alape joined the FARC in 1983 and, in 1993, became the leader of the FARC’s 4th Front. He is a member of the current secretariat.[47]
  13. Timoleón Jiménez, also known as “Timochenko”, legal name Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri (1993 to Present): Timochenko became the Commander for the FARC in November 2011. Since joining the FARC he has steadily climbed the ranks, beginning in 1993 when he was leader of the FARC’s Magdalena Medio Bloc, then a member of the seven-person Secretariat, and finally, in 2011, he became the FARC commander following Alfonso Cano’s death.[48]
  14. Juaquin Gomez (1999 to Present): Gomez joined the FARC in 1981 and was the point person in the 1999 peace talks. Gomez is currently a member of the Secretariat and leader of the FARC’s Southern Bloc.[49]


  • Marxist-Leninist

The FARC is a Marxist-Leninst guerrilla group founded in the 1960s to overthrow the Colombian government and seize control of the country. Today, the FARC’s goal is territorial gain and control within Colombia. [50][51] Additionally, the FARC opposes American imperialism and financial capital monopolies. [52] Therefore, the FARC opposes U.S. activity and influence in Colombia. [53]

Many FARC leaders sought inspiration from leftist social movements around the world. In a 2008 interview, Jaime Guaracas, a former FARC leader, said that, during the FARC’s formative years, leader Manuel Marulanda read and was influenced heavily by the work of Lenin, Marx, Bolívar, and Mao. [54]


  • 1964: The Southern Bloc. In 1964, guerrillas, who fought in the resistance against the Colombian government, both in Marquetalia and in other settlements, came together to create the First Guerrilla Conference. In this conference, they established themselves as the Southern Bloc and created an Agrarian Reform Plan demanding change and better conditions, such as irrigation, sanitation, and education for peasants and workers. [55]
  • 1966: The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). At the Second Guerrilla Conference in 1966, the Southern Bloc renamed itself the FARC. The name change came with a group constitution and a shift to more offensive tactics. [56]
  • 1982: The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (FARC-EP). During the Seventh Guerrilla Conference in 1982, the FARC adopted the suffix “EP” for “Ejército del Pueblo” (in English, “People’s Army”). [57] The 7th Conference resulted in new plans to urbanize the conflict, plans for territorial expansion and heavier recruitment for fighters. [58] Despite the name change, to the FARC-EP, the Colombian government, the United States government, and popular news outlets still refer to the group as the FARC.


  • 1964: ~50 (InSight Crime)[59]
  • 1964: 48 (Democracy In Colombia)[60]
  • 1970: 1,000 (Democracy In Colombia)[61]
  • 1971: 780 (Guns, Drugs, and Development in Colombia)[62]
  • 1978: 2,000 (Guns, Drugs, and Development in Colombia)[63]
  • 1982: 6,000 (The Wilson Center)[64]
  • 1983: 3,000+ (Democracy In Colombia)[65]
  • 1986: 4,000+ (Democracy In Colombia)[66]
  • 2001: 16,000 (Council on Foreign Relations)[67]
  • 2003: 17,000 (The Telegraph)[68]
  • 2007: 18,000 (Colombia Journal)[69]
  • 2013: 7,000+ (Council on Foreign Relations)[70]
  • 2014: 7,000+ (InSight Crime)[71]

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