Tag Archives: Terrorism

What does Hugo Chavez’s death mean for the FARC?


The Colombian state’s chief antagonist for over half a century has been the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, or FARC. After experiencing unprecedented growth in the 1990s they posed a serious threat to Colombian security especially after, then Colombian president, Andres Pastrana ceded a switzerland-sized piece of territory to the left-wing guerrillas in the hope they would attend the negotiation table.

Coupled with this swell in revolutionary zeal in Colombia, was the rise of populist left-wing politics in the Latin American region, spearheaded by the exuberant Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Unpopular already with the U.S. owing to his propagandising anti-American speeches, revelations of his political and material support for the FARC did not sit well with Colombia or their U.S. allies.

In 2000, Olga Marin, the daughter of FARC leader, Manuel “Sureshot” Marulanda attended the Latin American Parliament held in Venezuela’s legislative chamber. Colombian officials claimed Venezuelan lawmakers had organised the forum. This confirmed to skeptics Venezuela’s sympathy towards the marxist guerrillas – by this time termed terrorists by the U.S. State Department – and willingness to provide the FARC with political legitimacy.

But what does Chavez’s death mean for the FARC, and what obstacles do his death conjure for the revolutionary forces of Colombia?

Chavez’s sympathetic overtures to the FARC earned him the nickname, “Angel” in FARC circles. His country had welcomed the guerrillas, providing them with refuge and an opportunity to resupply; far away from the jurisdiction of the Colombian military. Venezuela is to Colombia and the FARC, what Pakistan is to Afghanistan and the Taliban, or al Qaeda. One of the greatest obstacles to campaign success in counterinsurgency is porous borders; international law does not legislate for invading “neutrals” or neighbouring allies. The hysteria in Pakistan following the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s luxury villa is testament enough to this. With FARC rebels fleeing into Venezuela, the Colombian military with it’s U.S. assistance was not able to follow. This kind of maneuverability is an explanation for FARC’s longevity despite Colombia’s status as the third highest recipient of U.S. aid. Without this kind of collusion, the FARC would still be able to disappear into the likes of Ecuador, however it would still prove disastrous to the organisation should Chavez’s replacement lean closer to the U.S. and tighten the Venezuelan border.

Diego Arria, a former Caracas governor and Venezuelan ambassador to the United Nations claims that Chavez asked that the FARC be removed from the list of terrorist organisations, insisting they had “deserved recognition” for their “political project”. Yet he later attempted to chair the negotiation for the release of FARC hostages. Whether this was with genuine humanitarian intention is debatable. However it can certainly be interpreted as a further attempt to enhance the FARC’s political status. Most of us are aware of the mantra: “We do not negotiate with terrorists”. Chavez’s actions rendered this slogan moot and provided them with a legitimacy and respect that by definition they shouldn’t have ever received. Again, should Chavez’s replacement be less disposed to campaigning for FARC’s recognition they risk being further embroiled in the war on terror with no political ally.

Chavez also allegedly assisted the FARC materially with high-tech weapons, ammunition and substantial funding. This provided the marxist rebels with some chance against the increasingly U.S.-aided Colombian military. In this respect, both forces were able to up their game. There is no doubt that U.S. aid will continue to pour in, yet question marks certainly arise with Chavez’s death in regards to Venezuela’s commitment. If a protege of Chavez fails to enter office, the FARC face losing extensive military and financial support. This is especially worrying for them as Colombian president Alvaro Uribe continues his successful hardline crackdown on the rebels with impressive results. Many of it’s leaders have been put down in recent years and it’s numbers have halved in numerical strength. Dwindling outside support in addition to dwindling numbers does not bode well for Colombia’s revolution.

What will happen in Colombia is impossible to tell so soon, but Venezuela’s link to the stability of Colombia is undeniable. If Chavez’s death equates to the expiry of his brand of populist socialism, Colombia’s government could be provided with an unexpected boon in their fight against the FARC. Any successive leader that can be more closely influenced by Obama and the U.S. government would be a devastating blow to an organisation already facing a bust, to their boom in the mid 90s. Colombia will watch proceedings in Venezuela very closely – that’s for sure.

Find the published article at MouthLondon here.

At the Forefront of Modern Terrorism: The Curious Case of Canada – yes, seriously Canada.


“Get down on the floor or you’ll be fucking dead,” went the instructions of the anonymous gunman, shortly before threatening to shoot a dalmatian. But this was no agent of Cruella de Vil seeking pelts for a new coat. This callous ultimatum was in fact issued by a member of Canadian terrorist group, the Front de liberation du Quebec [FLQ] at the home of British trade commissioner James Cross and his pet pooch in October 1970. But let me backtrack a little.

Canada – yes Canada – provides an early example of modern terrorism, and a controversial, no holds barred method of counterterrorism.

Famed for its docility and placidness as much as it’s maple syrup and mounties, Canada has garnered a reputation as the Switzerland of North America. Within popular culture this has been explored time and again. The likes of Michael Moore’s striking portrayal of Canada, when compared to the almost maniacal U.S. in “Bowling for Columbine” demonstrates why the Canadians entertain this harmonious reputation. Yet Canada has a less than cordial past, and 2013 marks fifty years since the formation of bloody urban terrorists the FLQ in 1963, a separatist movement with designs to secede Quebec from federal Canada.

Although not really undertaking anything groundbreaking until the late 60s/ 1970 this group were formed in 1963, curiously by foreigners. They were made up mostly of disenchanted students, convinced they were victims of oppressive colonial rule. Kidnap victim, James Cross commented that ‘it used to be said that in any large building in Montreal the proportion of French Canadians decreased as you rose to the top floors’. British oppressors enjoyed top positions in the city, not the repressed French Canadians. In the volatile atmosphere of social change in the 1960s that saw the birth of movements such as the Provisional Irish Republican Army [PIRA], the FLQ was spawned. They began by raiding banks, attacking arms stores and carrying out various bombings, most notably the Montreal Stock Exchange in 1969. These tactics were similar to that utilised by the urban guerrillas in Latin America. They had brought revolutionary struggle out of the countryside and presided over the rural insurrectionary of Cuba infamy rising from the ashes to spread his bomb-strapped wings as the urban terrorist.

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Westmount, Montreal, an Anglophone region often found itself a target of FLQ bombing.

The FLQ’s campaign climaxed in October 1970 when they “diplonapped” – a growing trend of international terrorism alongside the “skyjacking” of palestinian liberation movements – James Cross, and a few days later Quebec Minister of Labour, Pierre Laporte, later found dead in the trunk of a car. In fact, this was the first modern case of political kidnapping in North America. The ever-docile Canucks had ushered in a new tenet of urban terrorism.

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Their demands were sevenfold: 1) the cessation of all police activity designed to find kidnappers of their hostages; 2) the publication of a political manifesto on the front pages of all major Quebec newspapers and its broadcast on Radio-Canada; 3) the release of 20 political prisoners; 4) the provision of a plan to fly them to either Algeria or Cuba; 4) the rehiring of a unionized group of postal drivers, known as the Lapalme boys, who had been replaced with another company by the Federal Minister of the Post Office; 6) a voluntary tax of 500,000 dollars in gold ingots to be placed on the plane with the political prisoners; and 7) the publication of the name and photo of a suspected informer related to a previous ‘diplonap’ plot.

These demands were to be met in order to “preserve the life of the representative of the ancient racist and colonialist British system”. But of all these demands, the minimum requirements were the release of the political prisoners and publication of the manifesto. In this respect the ‘diplonapping’ was a manifestation of propaganda of the deed; to propagate their demands for the secession of Quebec, and congregate support for their aims. A Toronto reporter, Anthony Westell, picked up on this succinctly,

As Trudeau emphasized, the key demand for release of FLQ members in jail, was not a Robin Hood attempt to rescue comrades, but a calculated effort to weaken authority by creating a parallel power able to enforce its will on the government, if only for a few hours.

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Alarmingly for the Canadian authorities, this platform the FLQ so desired was somewhat established. After FLQ supporters took over an opposition party rally at the Paul Sauve Arena on Thursday 15th October 1970 it was clear that the FLQ’s high-profile kidnapping had done just the trick. A degree of sympathy and support for the Quebec terrorists pervaded Canadian society.

Canada’s response was surprisingly draconian. The following day, Friday 16th the War Measures Act was passed, for the first time in peace-time. This gave the police powers of arrest, search and seziure without warrant, and the preventive detention of suspects for up to 21 days without laying charges and up to 90 days without setting a trial date. 238 people had been arrested by the end of the morning of the 16th. Placid eh.

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Anyone who had ever shown any form of sympathy or support for the left or nationalistic elements of society were rounded up. Civil liberties had been suspended in Canada, yet within a few days outside support for the FLQ had effectively dried up and popular support for the government was returning. James Cross was eventually released after negotiators had agreed the kidnappers a flight to Cuba. The Canada Pavillion in Montreal was formally declared Cuban territory for the purpose of the transfer. The FLQ had achieved their minimum political aims of publication of their manifesto, and the Canadian government had provided them an iota of political legitimacy by negotiating with them; a short term victory perhaps. However the hardline measures adopted by the Canadian authorities also wiped the FLQ out in the long term. This form of martial law had allowed the authorities to identify sympathisers and supporters of the movement; effectively breaking up their cell network.

Interestingly, these sorts of measures would later have disastrous consequences for the British when attempting to combat the popular subversion of the PIRA on the streets of Londonderry. Furthermore, these counter-terror tactics did attract criticism despite effectively nipping the FLQ in the bud. Yet importantly this uniquely dark chapter in Canada’s history and vanguard example of modern terrorism, dispels certain myths. So next time you see popular culture take a dig at poor Canada’s expense, just remember they can and have been pretty badass in recent memory. Their southern drone-wielding, neo-interventionist brothers in the U.S. may have a more complete resume in this field, but French-Canada’s home-grown terrorists elicited a hardline suspension of civil liberties that should completely change your perception of them docile Canucks. Not so much placid as Lake Placid. 

 

For the published article at Sabotage Times, click here. 

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