The death of Mono Jojoy in the heart of the Plan Colombia
September 23th, 2010
The death of ‘Jorge Briceño’, also known as ‘Mono Jojoy’, happens in the core of the military help given by the USA to Colombia. The Serranía de la Macarena has a very high value for the fighting parties and represents a worthy military and economic trophy that, given the present circumstances, will determine the future course of eastern Colombia. As we see how the lame spectacle that celebrates death morbidly seizes the country, we can ask: what course will the government and the guerrilla take after such an important event?
Colombia knew ‘Jorge Briceño’ as a slightly overweighted man, with a thick moustache and a black military beret always on him. He was one of the most emblematic of the leaders of the FARC-EP and his elimination was the main target of the ‘antiterrorist’ military strategy of Uribe’s Government ‘democratic security’ policy. His many interventions in the peace negociations in El Caguán, that took place between 1999 and 2002, and his command of that guerrilla’s military apparatus had made him an enemy of the State, whose elimination meant a symbolic success seeked by the Colombian Military Force and its sponsors.
With rude manners and an aggressive language, Víctor Julio Suárez Rojas, the true name of the of this peasant-born man, whose mother was a cook and who devoted himself to the guerrilla since the age 22, had been known in the Colombian media since the mid-90’s, when he was stood out among the other members of the FARC-EP’s Secretariat as the commander of the guerrilla operations in eastern Colombia and as the achiever of an iron control over the Serranía de la Macarena, after the declaration of ‘integral war’ by Cesar Gaviria Trujillo’s government and the destruction of Casa Verde -located in the town of La Uribe, Meta, considered as the headquarters of the guerrilla group- in 1990. His rude manners in public, the rewards offered for his head since then and the statements of all the Military Commanders during the last twenty years, that spoke of him as a bloodthisrty terrorist and the possible successor of ‘Tirofijo’, made the ‘Mono Jojoy’ be seen by the public opinion as the manifestation of evil, who should be erradicated by a strong-hand government that wouldn’t bother talking with the guerrilla.
For the members of that organization, as several investigations have documented, ‘Mono Jojoy’ was an admired man: under his military guidance, the insurgency struck the military forces decisively, with attacks such as the one that killed general Carlos Julio Gil Colorado, in 1994; and the attacks to the military bases of Las Delicias (Putumayo) in 1996, and Patascoy (Nariño-Putumayo border) in 1997, actions that made the FARC-EP grow during those years as never before and allowed them to go into a much more agressive strategy until 2003. However, he was also a very feared leader: men and women under his command received a very severe treatment, which led to a significant number of desertions during the last years, and it is known by testimonies of demobilized combatants, that the ‘Mono’ din’t tolerate desertors or traitors, against whom he used all the force of the armed organization.
Additionally, the lack of results after the negociations in the Caguan, due to the lack of interest of Pastrana’s Government in making concrete social commitments to make viable the agreed peace agenda, made him be presented as the leader of the militarist wing of the guerrilla group, as opposed to the politic one, lead by ‘Alfonso Cano’. Nevertheless, once ‘Cano’ succeded ‘Manuel Marulanda Vélez’ after his death, and due to Briceño’s health problems, worsened by the guerrilla life, the ‘Mono’ ended up his life under his own terms: fighting the troops that chased him.
With his death, a strong tension within the guerrila commandance is predictable. According to the information provided to the media by the military intelligence, the candidates to replace him would be Joaquín Gómez’, commander of the South Bloc; ‘Timochenko’, who directs the Magdalena Medio Bloc, and ‘El Paisa’, who commands the ‘Teófilo Forero’ Mobile Column. In addition, the government scores an important symbolic strike against the guerrilla, by killing a man seen as invencible by the FARC-EP basis, which will possibly generate many desertions from its ranks, but not the definitive collapse of its structures, as the president Juan Manuel Santos announced in his statement given the morning of September 23th from New York.
The Truth of La Macarena
Despite the military success of the ‘Sodoma Operation’, in which at least 30 bomber planes and 27 helicopters participated, we can’t forget that the region where they killed ‘Mono Jojoy’ is precisely the same in the press headlines during the last months for two very different but closely related facts: an increase of military presence and of the Plan Colombia’s funds, and the finding of a cemetery containing a huge quantity of unidentified bodies in La Macarena, whose existence has been described as a defamation by the government.
According to a report presented last July by the NGO Fellowship of Reconciliation’s office in Colombia, the Quick Deployment Force (FUDRA, for its initials in spanish) -composed by the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 7th, and 10th Mobile Brigades- is one of the military units that concentrate the majority of resources from the Plan Colombia’s third phase, which allowed it to be crated in 1999, as a part of the Omega Joint Task Force (Fuerza de Tarea Conjunta Omega). According to the Army, the FUDRA is the “cutting edge of the Colombian military strategy” and has its headquarters precisely in the national park located in the Serranía de La Macarena. Next to this military facility, says the document, “the investigators found a huge burial site, or common grave […] The first reports showed that the Army, probably combined with other armed groups, buried over 800 and maybe up to 1500 bodies in the grave”, although the commander of the Omega Joint Task Force, general Javier Flórez, and the national governent sustains that it is a cemetery where the bodies of 564 unidentified members of illegal armed groups killed in combat were legally buried. Even so, at least 261 extra-judicial executions have been reported in the zone, which are atributed to the FUDRA and the Army’s 7th Brigade, and the human rights defender organizations sustain that there are tens of forced disappearance cases that might have ended as ‘false positives’, and will only be proved when the identification of the remains found is made, as well as many others that the families haven’t denounced because they fear retaliations.
Even before this cemetery was found, that region had been one of the most affected by crimes commited by military men against civilians. Human rights defender organizations have documented hundreds of cases of rape, torture, arbitrary detentions, homicides and disappearances, in events that involve the military forces as much as different paramilitary organizations. Even so, the military units present in the zone have been certified recently in human rights for a one-year term by the United States, wich assures their funding by making the Leahy Law inapplicable.
La Macarena, a very important zone controlled until 2002 by the FARC-EP -who were present in this silvan zone since the 1960’s-, is today a main spot to be conquered in the Plan Colombia’s military strategy to control all the southwestern zone of the country. The department of Meta, where the park named the same way is located, not only is essential in the counterinsurgence war but is also in the sight of different economic megaprojects: besides its importance in the oil exploitation, with discoveries like the Cuenca Caguán Putumayo -with a production of 7,000 barrels a day, between the departments of Putumayo and Meta-, different companies expect to use 168.800 hectares for single-crop exploitation agriculture, related mainly with agrofuel, and different illegal organizations seek to seize over the coca crops in the region, from which many native peasants earn their living. Likewise, its role in important mining projects in Vichada and Guaviare makes the control of this zone a priority, since it connects geographically these two departments with the center of the country and Bogotá.
The Santos Government, pushed too far by an extreme right that’s held responsible by some analysts for the car bomb attack in front of the Caracol Radio offices in Bogotá, has shown its military capacity and warlike character, thus clearing any doubt about possible scenarios for a negociation with the insurgence, an issue objected fiercely by the most backward looking sectors.
The same group of officers that a few weeks ago echoed the supposed presence of ‘Jojoy’ in Venezuela, cried out loud by Uribe’s government in order to deteriorate the relations with the neighbors, celebrates today this victory using even biblical quotations in TV speeches that remark the “professionalism of the Military Forces”, as sustained Rodrigo Rivera, the defense minister. A military strike of this characteristics, only comparable to the death of ‘Raúl Reyes’, must definitiely be useful to clean the images of the military and justify the ‘strong hand’ policy, along with the abuses as a valid method to achieve convincing results against ‘terrorism’, no matter the consequences.
With this achievement, the Santos’ government will boost its popularity. It could even exceed the popularity levels in the public opinion reached by his predecessor, taking -as Uribe did- advantage of the social support to boost his own agenda, the economic one and that of social control. The true result of this event is still to be seen in the very authoritarian measures announced a few days ago by this government and whose results are still unsuspected: the militarization of some cities and the reforms in wage, financial and public health matters.
Things being so, we can only wait to see how the government capitalizes its military success, as much as the response from the guerrilla, amidst a confrontation that has involved all of the Colombian social sectors and classes for over 50 years, and that will continue determining the course assumed by a country that celebrates the death of a guerrilla leader, forgetting its poverty, the more than four and a half million displaced violently from their lands and the deep crisis to which it has been lead by the very governments that pride on having eliminated the ‘terrorist snake’ during the last years.