WASHINGTONWhen Juan Manuel Santos came into office as Colombias president and emphasized economic issues over the fight against terrorist guerrillas, he was suspected of going soft on those he had combated as minister of defense under the previous administration. Little did his critics know that he was planning the coup de grace against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
The devastating Sept. 22 attack on FARC headquarters in Colombias central Meta province all but signifies the end of the five-decade-old conflict. It will take a little while for the official end to be declared, but this war is pretty much over. The death of Jorge Briceno, aka Mono Jojoy, the feared military strategist and top commander of the organization, means two things. One, the historical leadership is now finished; the legendary founder, Manuel Marulanda, was killed by the army in 2008 and the man who replaced him, Alfonso Cano, is an ideologue, not a military strategist. Two, since Mono Jojoys demise is the culmination of a two-year streak in which every key camp inside Colombia has been located, FARC is now unable to operate effectively within national borders. No terrorist guerrilla has ever won a war in exile.
Despite the hundreds of soldiers who took part, Operation Sodom was not a victory of military might but of intelligence. The authorities infiltrated the headquarters and, after patient work, were able to place a GPS device inside Mono Jojoys (U.S.-made) boots that signaled his exact location.
This would have been impossible without the almost 40 million pages contained in the laptop computers of Raul Reyes, the FARC commander killed during an incursion into Ecuadorean territory in early 2008. That gold mine of information had already led to the rescue of Ingrid Betancourt, a former presidential candidate and international cause celebre, along with three American contractors and 11 Colombian soldiers and policemen. The intelligence data had also made it possible, together with files captured in other raids and tips provided by defectors, to locate FARC members hiding in camps inside Venezuela.
The attack against Reyes was savaged because Colombia violated Ecuadorean sovereignty. True, but Ecuador had also violated Colombian sovereignty by giving sanctuary to Reyes. When Bogota said it had captured vital information in Reyes camp, the international response was skeptical even though forensic experts authenticated the files. A few researchers, including French journalist Bertrand de la Grange, obtained privileged access to the material, reporting that it would lead to the end of FARC. All those who vouched for the credibility of the files have now been vindicated.
One can only imagine the information that the 16 computers and 60 disks uncovered in Mono Jojoys camp contain. It is presumably a matter of very short time before Cano negotiates a deal or is pulverized by a barrage of smart bombs.
Unless, that is, he is already in Venezuela, where Hugo Chavez, who has been humiliated by voters in the recent legislative elections and is presiding over an unprecedented crisis of law and order as well as an economic debacle, feels he has nothing to gain by clinging to a political leper.
For decades, politicians, academics, human rights activists and journalists on both sides of the Atlantic failed to see that there was nothing romantic, bien-pensant or Robin Hoodesque about an organization that killed, maimed, kidnapped and extorted for a totalitarian objective. Colombias solitude was such that even the United States began to lose faith in its ally a couple of years ago, refusing to approve a free-trade agreement that Bogota had negotiated at a major political cost.
Colombians did not give up and continued to reclaim territory for civilian rule. Much like the defeat of Venezuelas Cuba-inspired terrorist guerrillas in the 1960s, Colombias victory against FARC is the result of civilians awakening to the evil of totalitarian terror. We get to hear about spectacular military feats, but how many outside Colombia realize that peasants, factory workers, teachers, students and others joined the struggle to defeat FARC, beautifully symbolized by the hundreds of thousands who took to the streets inside Colombia and around the world in July 2008 to clamor for the end of terror?
There are still many challenges ahead. The lesson in courage and perseverance that Colombians have given us suggests they are ready to meet them.
Alvaro Vargas Llosa
Alvaro Vargas Llosa is Senior Fellow of The Center on Global Prosperity at The Independent Institute. He is a native of Peru and received his B.S.C. in international history from the London School of Economics. His weekly column is syndicated worldwide by the Washington Post Writers Group, and his Independent Institute books include Lessons From the Poor: Triumph of the Entrepreneurial Spirit, The Che Guevara Myth and the Future of Liberty, and Liberty for Latin America.
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