Guillermo León Sáenz Vargas, otherwise known as Alfonso Cano, the latest leader of the FARC insurgents, was killed during a military raid of his mountain top hideout in Cauca, in the southwest of Colombia. Cano, a Marxist, lead the FARC since 2008 when their co-founder and legendary leader, Manuel “Sureshot” Marulanda, died of a heart attack.
Cano’s death, on the one hand, means that FARC will experience a power vacuum and decentralization of control, while on the other may hamper the peace talks that were happening between Cano and the Colombian government. Either way, this was a major set back to the already demoralized guerrillas. Colombia’s president, Juan Manuel Santos, claimed that this was, “the biggest blow in the history” of the guerrilla organisation.
Alfonso Cano was born in 1948 and grew up in a middle class family in Bogota. While studying anthropology at the National University of Colombia he was introduced to Communist ideology and took too it with gusto. Contact was first made with the FARC when he was invited to lecture about Marxism to some of its members. These meetings would continue, and he eventually dropped out of university and joined the group sometime in the late 1970’s.
For the next 40 years, Cano served with the FARC in various capacities, but was mostly regarded as an intellectual and took a more ideological/ administrative role. He was described as an idealistic hardliner who stood strong in his Marxism. With the death of Jacobo Arenas, the other founder and main ideologue of the FARC, in 1990, Cano became a part of a seven member leadership group the drove the direction of the organization. In 2008, Cano became the leader of the FARC, which has the notable distinction of being the longest running Marxist insurgency organization ever.
Alfonso Cano was shot and killed on November 4th by the Colombian military in southwestern Cauca department. The soldiers who raided his encampment said that they knew they were getting close when they found Cano’s trademark large, plastic framed glasses. Moments later, Cano jumped from his hiding spot in the forest and was shot three times by a soldier.
The FARC proclaims that the struggle will continue. “A policy has been laid out and it will continue,” a member of FARC’s leadership posted on the internet.
In the past decade, Colombia went from being a failed state to a regional economic powerhouse. It is my impression that Marxist/ rebel groups can no longer compete in this climate, as the governments and business sectors against which they fight are now essential parts of the global political and economic scheme — they have too much money, are too strong, and have too much to lose through a lack of national insecurity.
Through the 70s, 80s, and 90s Latin America was plagued by weak and puppet governments, political turmoil, and a distinct lack of capital. The region was likewise riveted with revolution, rebellion, and idealistic para-military organizations vying for control of their respective countries. Today, these revolutionary or para-military groups have almost all been defeated, disbanded, absorbed into the dominant political systems they once fought against, or are more or less inconsequential. Nicaragua’s Sandanistas, Peru’s Shining Path, Mexico’s Zapatistas, Colombia’s paramilitaries, and similar groups are now either non-existent, drug traffickers, or demilitarized social organizations. Marked exceptions are the FARC and ELN in Colombia, who are both on a fast decline as they are subjected to stronger opposition from the Colombian military and defection from within their own ranks.
The death of Alfonso Cano is another major blow delivered to an organization that is fast fading into the annals of history. The Latin American revolutionary will soon only be an icon printed on t-shirts sold in tourist shops, a legacy of the old days, a legend. In this era of cell phones, credit cards, foreign investment, southern migration of industry, relative political stability, wider spread educational facilities, and the new found lure of upward social mobility, Che is dead.