Colombia Assassinates FARC Commander Raúl Reyes
The second-in-command of Colombia’s largest guerrilla group—the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)—Luis Édgar Devia Silva, better known by his nom de guerre “Raúl Reyes,” was killed by the Colombian military in an air strike on March 1. The Colombian military killed 16 guerrillas in the operation, according to their own reports, in addition to Raúl Reyes, the rebel group’s most visible spokesperson. The reports suggest that it was an assassination carried out in Ecuadorian territory, the type of assassination that the Israelis have committed in recent decades and are most recently accused of committing against Hizbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh. Indeed, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez noted the similarity, asking if Colombia was going to become the Israel of the Americas.
According to El Tiempo, Colombia’s national newspaper: “Reyes was killed in an intelligence operation that included the Army and Air Force, which intercepted a satellite phone call from the guerrilla chief, in recent hours that made it possible to find his exact location.” The Ecuadorian army retrieved the bodies left behind by Colombian troops that had crossed the border to collect Reyes’s corpse and those of other FARC officers.
Ecuador has recalled its ambassador from Colombia and Venezuela has closed its embassy in Bogotá in response to the attack. The two nations are also deploying troops to their borders with Colombia. “We do not want war, but we will not permit the Empire or its puppy, President Uribe, to weaken us,” declared Chávez. “It is very serious that a country arrogates to itself the right to bomb the territory of a neighbour and commit an incursion to take bodies, violating many international laws. Think of the consequences, not just for Colombia, but for your neighbours.” Chávez also said that the killing did not result from combat; that it was a “cowardly murder” and that Reyes was a “good revolutionary.”
The Venezuelan government’s official communication noted that the assassination was “a very hard blow against the humanitarian accord and the possibility of negotiations, revealing the irresponsibility of those who privilege the military option and escalate the armed conflict, making more difficult political and negotiated solutions, without regard for the consequences.” The assassination was, literally, the Colombian government’s answer to the FARC’s second unilateral release of four former Congresspeople that it had held captive, a humanitarian gesture coordinated with the Venezueln government.
There are numerous parallels between the Colombian government’s assassination of Reyes and Israel. First, the tactic of high-tech, long-distance assassination of high-profile leaders. Second, the killing of dozens of others around the target that are considered “collateral damage.” Third, the use of such assassinations to undermine the possibilities for dialogue and negotiated solutions.
The US-Israeli approach in the Middle East, from the invasion of Iraq in 2003 to the invasion of Lebanon in 2006 and the ongoing massacres in Gaza, has been to commit atrocities and acts of violence and, using their superior militaries, exploit the political and military opportunities that arise—this is a military counterpart of what Naomi Klein calls “the shock doctrine.” Even when these tactics have backfired politically or strained military resources, these violent approaches have cost their victims much more than their authors, who continue to have reason to believe that more violence can work.
One of the political opportunities that Israel counts on after it commits an assassination is some random act of violence by the Palestinian armed groups, which it can then exploit, calling the Palestinians terrorists. With this latest attack, the Colombian government has told the FARC that if it unilaterally releases kidnap victims, the response will be the assassination of its commanders. How should those who believe that the only solution to the conflict is a political solution respond?
It would be a major improvement in world affairs, particularly in the Middle East, but perhaps increasingly in the Americas as well, if assassination was not viewed as an acceptable instrument of policy. As it is, the best short-term hope for the region is if there is an outpouring of official and popular disgust throughout the Americas at Uribe’s regime—and those who call the shots for that regime—for what it has done.