This IISS Strategic Dossier shows how FARC evolved from a small, autarkic and strategically irrelevant group into an insurgent movement which, fuelled by revenues from narcotics production, came close to jeopardising the survival of the Colombian state.

This Strategic Dossier provides unique insights into the thinking and evolution of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). It is based on a study of the computer disks belonging to Luis Edgar Devía Silva (aka Raúl Reyes), head of FARC’s International Committee (COMINTER), that were seized by Colombian armed forces in a raid in March 2008 on Devía’s camp inside Ecuador. Several months afterwards, senior officials from the Colombian Ministry of Defence invited the IISS to conduct an independent analysis of the material.

The dossier shows how FARC evolved from a small, autarkic and strategically irrelevant group into an insurgent movement which, fuelled by revenues from narcotics production, came close to jeopardising the survival of the Colombian state. A key part of FARC’s evolution was the development of an international strategy aimed at acquiring financial support, arms and political legitimacy. The dossier looks in detail at FARC’s relations with Venezuela and Ecuador.

'This comprehensive study of FARC communications draws on a wealth of new material to offer unparalleled insights into the international relationships and strategic thinking of one of the world’s longest-running insurgencies. It is an important reminder that insurgencies are not just won or lost on the battlefield but are critically influenced by public perceptions, and often also by the covert support or sponsorship of governments.'

David Kilcullen, author of The Accidental Guerrilla and Counterinsurgency

‘The IISS analysis of FARC communications fills an important gap in our understanding of the recent history of the Andean region. It is an essential research tool.’

Malcolm Deas, St Anthony’s College, Oxford.

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  • Introduction

    At 00:25 hours on Saturday 1 March 2008, Colombian armed forces launched Operation Phoenix, an assault on a jungle camp of the country’s largest insurgent group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).1 Considered a success by the Colombian government, the operation involved the use of precision-guided bombs delivered from the air and an incursion by land forces. Though differing accounts were circulated in the wake of the operation, it...
  • Chapter One: Strategic Evolution

    From the beginning, FARC has dedicated itself to the pursuit of the decidedly national goal of taking power in Colombia. But though its military operations have been carried out almost entirely within Colombia’s borders, the strategic space in which the group today has interests and seeks resources is global. This has not always been the case. For at least the first two decades of its existence, FARC had little strategic...
  • Chapter Two: Foundations – Venezuela 1982–1999

    FARC’s involvement in Venezuela, sometimes assumed to have begun when Hugo Chávez took power in 1999, actually started much earlier, when the group first established a presence on the Colombia–Venezuela border in 1980. From 1991, the group engaged in political liaison in Venezuela both in support of this border activity and in order to indirectly attack and undermine the Colombian state. The group first made contact with Chávez in 1992...
  • Chapter Three: Diplomacy – Venezuela 1999–2002

    Hugo Chávez’s accession to the presidency of Venezuela in February 1999 marked the beginning of a wholesale transformation of Venezuelan security policy, particularly regarding the Colombian–Venezuelan border and Colombian insurgents. This was firstly because of Chávez’s reorientation of Venezuelan foreign policy as a whole, with less importance being given to positive political and economic relations with Colombia and its ally, the United States. Indeed, it quickly became clear that Chávez...
  • Chapter Four: Insecurity – Venezuela 2002–2004

    On 12 April 2002, after months of mounting discontent, an attempt by Chávez to gain full control of the state oil company PDVSA triggered outright rebellion among a broad alliance of opposition sectors. That day, anti-Chávez demonstrators marched on the presidential palace, where they clashed with the president’s supporters. Unidentified gunmen fired into the crowd, killing a number of demonstrators on both sides. Opposition leaders and members of the armed...
  • Chapter Five: Crisis – Venezuela 2004–2006

    The brief coup against Hugo Chávez in April 2002 had altered the relationship between FARC and the Venezuelan government but not ended it completely. At the end of 2004, however, FARC made two serious mistakes that caused a rupture that was complete, although not irreversible. The first mistake angered Chávez sufficiently to push him to reconsider his government’s ties to the group. The second had consequences for regional politics that...
  • Chapter Six: Complicity – Venezuela 2006–2008

    Just before FARC’s first period of close cooperation with the Venezuelan government was ended by the April 2002 coup against Hugo Chávez, Ramón Rodríguez Chacín appears to have asked the group to undertake the assassination of an unidentified victim, probably a political opponent. When the relationship started to recover after several years of disorder and crisis, this recovery began with a similar request from one of Chávez’s delegates. Julio Chirino...
  • Chapter Seven: Infiltration

    Like Venezuela, and for many of the same reasons, Ecuador was also of strategic interest to FARC from the 1990s onwards. Politically, however, the trajectories of FARC activity in Venezuela and Ecuador diverged with the election of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in 1998. In Ecuador, no regime offered the same potential benefits for FARC as did the Chávez administration until the election of President Rafael Correa in 2006, little more...
  • Chapter Eight: Manipulation – Ecuador 2006–2008

    In November 2006, Rafael Correa was elected president of Ecuador, having campaigned as the candidate of the ‘Proud and Sovereign Fatherland’ (PAIS) party. Luis Devía had first become aware of Correa in 2005 when he was Ecuador’s minister of economy and finance, some FARC collaborators having identified him as a figure of potential relevance. The election that brought him to power in 2006 was one in which FARC had a...
  • Conclusion

    Colombian Police Director General Oscar Naranjo stated soon after the capture of Devía’s archive in 2008 that ‘the government’s intelligence regarding FARC was [previously] at twenty percent. Eighty percent [of the archive material] is new for us.’1 The archive provides unprecedented access to the group’s strategic thinking. It charts the historical development and implementation of FARC’s strategy, first articulated at its seminal 7th Conference in 1982, to spread insurgent activity...
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Strategic Dossiers

The FARC Files: Venezuela, Ecuador and the Secret Archive of 'Raúl Reyes'

Unique insights into the thinking and evolution of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Strategic Dossier Press

The FARC Files

Press releases for the launch of this Strategic Dossier are available in English, Spanish and Portuguese

Press statements for the launch of this Strategic Dossier are also available in English, Spanish and Portuguese

Strategic Dossiers

Harnessing the Institute's technical expertise to present detailed information on the key strategic issues.