Magazine article Insight on the News

The Anatomy of the Narco-Rebels

Magazine article Insight on the News

The Anatomy of the Narco-Rebels

Article excerpt

FARC is a narcoguerrilla group that terrorizes the Colombian countryside. Insight presents facts and details from Colombia's secret intelligence files.

Founded as the armed wing of the Colombian Communist Party in 1966, FARC seemed destined in the late eighties to follow its generous sponsor, the Soviet Union, into the dustbin of history: FARC numbers dwindled to a mere 5,000.

But the Marxist armed force has bounced back with a vengeance. It controls huge swathes of Colombia's countryside and can field up to 20,000 guerrillas -- many of whom are kidnapped from poor campesino, or farm-laborer, parents as children and are indoctrinated and threatened with death if they try to flee, according to Colombia's family-services agency According to the Colombian government, FARC insurgency has spread from affecting 173 of the country's 1,000 municipalities 1985 to 620 today.

In October, the Russian ambassador to Colombia, Ednan Agaev, made headlines around the world when he issued a stern warning about the burgeoning guns-and-money-for-drugs alliances forged between FARC and powerful mobsters in his home country -- alliances brokered by a new generation of Cali narcotraffickers.

U.S. officials in Bogota and Washington downplayed Agaev's claims and suggested the Russian envoy was exaggerating. But the evidence of Russian mob involvement in Colombia has been growing apace for years.

According to Colombian intelligence sources, the first sign of a Russian connection came in 1992 when a Cali operative was spotted at Moscow airport. A year later Russian police seized a ton of Cali cocaine in St. Petersburg. Other drug seizures followed in 1995 at Kiev and Milan airports. Russian mobsters have allied themselves with Italian Mafia groups to handle the growing European-bound and American-bound Colombian trade. Also in 1995 Colombian authorities arrested a trio of Russians smuggling cocaine into Europe through the Pacific coastal town of Cartagena. Several Russians with known mob links recently have been arrested in Bogota, where there has been a sudden appearance of Russian or Russian-owned restaurants.

The formula is simple: Drugs out, cash and guns in. During the last few months, the Colombian police have stumbled across more and more Russian -- made weapons-AK-47 assault rifles, pistols, fragmentation grenades RPG-7 rocket launchers and mines -- in FARC camps. And some Colombian intelligence sources suspect insurgents have been supplied by Russian mobsters with surface-to-air missiles, highly effective in shooting down police helicopters.

Cash from the drug trade also allows FARC to buy black-market weapons and ammunition. On Oct. 10, the Colombian army stumbled upon a FARC arms dump in the southern Amazon province of Putumayo, near the border with Ecuador, and discovered six tons of Spanish-made ammunition. The ammo had been sold to the Ecuadoran army in 1993. Close by was an insurgents' drug lab, complete with the presses to pack cocaine for shipment overseas.

According to Colombian officials FARC is controlled by a seven-man secretariat that includes Luis Edgar Devia Silva, the head of the guerrillas' finances; Rodrigo Londono Echeverry, a 37-year-old physician; Luciano Marin Arango, the university-educated head of FARC fronts in the Colombian northwest and a go-between with the Cali cartel; Jorge Briceno Suarez, a 49-year-old high-school dropout who is highly experienced in irregular warfare; and the 62-year-old Noel Matta Matta who, according to Colombian intelligence sources, is a key arms-buyer. …

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