Explosive Journey
Perceptions of Latin America in the FARC-IRA Affair

By Edmundo Murray

Free the Colombia 3. Tried by the media. No possible chance of a fair trial. Tabhair abhaile iad! Their lives are in mortal danger. Bring Them Home
Mural at A1/Clonti Road, south of Newry, South Armagh (Northern Ireland)
(Artist unknown, May 2003,  © Dr. Jonathan McCormick)

The IRA's alleged connections with FARC, which surfaced in 2001 and continue to appear in the Irish and Colombian media, are an ideal opportunity to analyse perceptions of Latin America in Ireland. Newspaper articles, personal interviews, and the judgement of the Appeals Court in Bogotá have been used to study different attitudes in this puzzling affair, which can be viewed as one of the lowest points in Irish relations with Colombia - and perhaps with Latin America as a whole.

When the songwriter Renaud launched 'Dans la jungle' in December 2005 to support Ingrid Betancourt and other hostages abducted in Colombia, some were surprised to hear in the lyrics certain echoes of the war on terror currently being waged by the United States and other governments. Betancourt, a Colombian politician who adopted French citizenship and founded the Oxígeno Verde green party, was kidnapped on 23 February 2003 by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The song itself is a continuation of Renaud's long career as a writer of protest songs. He highlighted the double standards of Colombian guerrillas who claimed to wish to improve society and yet became a criminal army. However one could perceive in the French songwriter's most recent work a common worldview in which Latin America is depicted as a 'jungle', or a place steeped in corruption, chaos and turmoil, in contrast to the supposed honesty and civilisation of life and politics in Europe.

The Irish Republican Army's (IRA) alleged connections with FARC surfaced in 2001 and continue to appear in the Irish and Colombian media. I consider the ongoing affair an ideal opportunity to analyse perceptions of Latin America in Ireland. For the purposes of this article I used the limited number of relevant documents available to the public, together with online newspaper articles and interviews conducted by email. Rather than unveiling new information or undertaking a definitive account, the object of this article is to examine opinions that reveal values and beliefs regarding Latin America and its cultures.

Gangs of Colombia

Among Colombian rebel groups, according to the US Department of State, FARC 'is the oldest, largest, most capable, and best-equipped insurgency of Marxist origin' (US Navy NPS 2005). 'Foreign citizens are often targets of FARC kidnapping for ransom. The FARC has well-documented ties to the full range of narcotics trafficking activities, including taxation, cultivation, and distribution.' It comprises 'approximately 9,000 to 12,000 armed combatants and several thousand more supporters, mostly in rural areas' (US Navy NPS 2005). Several of the recruits are under eighteen years old and a third are women.

FARC training at San Vicente del Caguán
(Donna de Cesare, 2001)

FARC has proclaimed itself a political-military Marxist-Leninist organisation inspired by Bolivarian ideals. [1] It claims to represent the rural poor in opposition to Colombia's wealthy classes, and opposes US influence in the region and neo-liberal policies. FARC was created on 27 May 1964 during Operation Marquetalia, when the Colombian Army overran this enclave held by peasant guerrillas, with key leaders such as Manuel Marulanda Vélez and Jacobo Arenas. The first conference was organised in 1965 and was attended by 100 guerrillas. Internal feuds resulted in a lack of unified strategies until 1974, when a metamorphosis was implemented from a guerrilla force into a revolutionary army. After the sixth conference in 1978, FARC operated in the Guayabero area. In 1982 the official name was changed to Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - People's Army (FARC-EP), and the political-military Bolivarian Campaign was launched. A cease fire was negotiated with the Colombian government in late 1984, and FARC supported the parliamentarian candidates of the Patriotic Union party. Murders by the regular armed forces and paramilitary groups provoked a violation of the armistice and FARC resumed fighting in 1987. A new peace process began in 1991 but lasted only until 1992. Intensive military campaigns led by FARC resulted in another round of negotiations with the government. In the hope of negotiating a peace settlement, on 7 November 1998 president Andrés Pastrana granted FARC a 42,000 sq. km safe haven at San Vicente del Caguán in Caquetá department. This was the condition which FARC dictated for the initiation of peace talks. The peace process came to a halt in February 2002 after a series of high-profile actions, among them the kidnapping of political figures. FARC's international connections include links with Cuba and with radical groups in Latin America, most notably in Peru and more recently in Paraguay.

One of the paramilitary groups combating FARC, the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) is portrayed as an armed organisation that protects local economic, social and political interests by fighting Marxist insurgents, citing the excuse that the Colombian government has historically failed to do so. Its forces are estimated at between 10,000 and 20,000 militants, and it is considered to be a terrorist organisation by most countries, including the US. In 2000, former AUC leader Carlos Castaño Gil claimed that 70 per cent of the AUC's operation costs were financed through drug-related activities. Both FARC and AUC are accused of being key players in contraband drug production and distribution, and are therefore targets of the internationally-sponsored Plan Colombia.

With the primary aims of bolstering Colombia's social and economic development, combating the drug production and trade, strengthening government institutions, and ending armed conflict with insurgent groups, Plan Colombia was launched by the administration of president Andrés Pastrana in October 1999. Over one third of the original budget of US$7.5 billion was pledged by the international community. The Clinton administration in the US donated US$1.3 billion, and assigned military personnel to train local forces, and experts to assist in the eradication of coca plantations. These contributions to the plan made Colombia the third largest recipient of foreign aid from the US at that time. Further funding from the Bush administration was approved under the provisions of the Andean Counterdrug Initiative. Support from the European Union and some countries outside the EU met with little co-operation amid severe criticism, in particular of the procedure of aerial fumigation to eradicate coca. This activity allegedly damages legal crops and has adverse effects on the health of those exposed to the herbicides. Critics of the initiative also claim that elements within the Colombian security forces who receive aid and training from the Plan may be involved in supporting the AUC paramilitary forces. Moreover, recent research has shown that Colombia's economic problems are more related to political violence than to the drug trade in itself. [2]


1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5


Copyright © Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2006

Online published: 1 March 2006
Edited: 07 May 2009

Murray, Edmundo, '
Explosive Journey: Perceptions of Latin America in the FARC-IRA Affair (2001-2005)' in "Irish Migration Studies in Latin America" 2006. Available online (, accessed .


The Society for Irish Latin American Studies

 Copyright Information