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FARC, ELN: Colombia’s Left-Wing Guerrillas

Introduction

Colombia, one of the closest U.S. allies in Latin America, has been ravaged for decades by a civil war pitting left-wing guerrilla groups against right-wing paramilitary organizations. The two predominant rebel groups-the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (known by its Spanish acronym, FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN)-are included on the U.S. State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations. Under Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who took office in 2002 and has been boosted by large inflows of U.S. funding, both groups have been depleted in numbers and resources. Yet peace talks between each group and the government remain dogged by difficulties. Allegations in March 2008 and August 2009 by the Colombian government that the FARC is receiving support from the Venezuelan government have further complicated prospects for peace.

History and Ideology

FARC and ELN were both founded in the 1960s, after Colombia’s two main political parties ended more than a decade of political violence and agreed to share power. In 1963, students, Catholic radicals, and left-wing intellectuals hoping to emulate Fidel Castro’s communist revolution in Cuba founded ELN. FARC formed in 1965, bringing together communist militants and peasant self-defense groups.

Although ELN is more ideological than FARC, the two groups have similar programs: Both say they represent the rural poor against Colombia’s wealthy classes and oppose U.S. influence in Colombia, the privatization of natural resources, multinational corporations, and rightist violence. In 2006, the ELN decided to shift its political strategy to urban areas. There are indications it would like official political recognition, but it has not stated clearly what such recognition would entail.

The two groups have an ambiguous relationship; in some parts of the country they cooperate, while in others they have clashed directly.

Strength and Extent of Operations

FARC is Colombia’s largest...

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