Colombian forces killed Mono Jojoy, a “symbol of terror” who served as second-in-command of the country’s biggest rebel group, in an attack that may change the direction of the nation’s armed conflict, analysts say.
“This means we can achieve peace more quickly,” President Juan Manuel Santos said in an interview in New York where he is attending the United Nations General Assembly. “Mono Jojoy was the symbol of terror in Colombia.”
Colombia’s armed forces killed the rebel leader in an air and ground assault in central Meta province yesterday, more than two years after the death of Raul Reyes, who was then the No. 2 commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. A separate operation by Colombia’s armed forces three days ago killed 27 members of the rebel group, known as the FARC.
Santos, who as defense minister led the 2008 raid that killed Reyes in a rebel camp in Ecuador, took office Aug. 7. He has pledged to continue former President Alvaro Uribe’s policies aimed at ending almost 50 years of violence by the FARC and other drug-funded groups.
“The death of FARC commander Mono Jojoy is a major event that can change the dynamics of the armed conflict in Colombia and change the equation for a negotiated solution,” said Aldo Civico, a director of the Center for the Study of Genocide, Conflict Resolution & Human Rights at Rutgers University in Newark.
Mono Jojoy, considered the FARC’s bloodiest leader and also known for wearing a black beret that matched his moustache, was the group’s chief of military operations and the second-highest commander after Alfonso Cano.
He was responsible for the kidnapping in 2003 of three U.S. military contractors and held former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt hostage for six years.
The guerrilla leader, whose real name was Victor Julio Suarez Rojas, set up cages and kept dozens of prisoners chained by the neck for as long as a decade to pressure the government to release jailed FARC members.
“He caused so much pain in Colombia,” said Consuelo Gonzales, an ex-congresswoman held captive six years in his jungle camps. “He was inhumane. I was terrified of him.”
Yesterday’s raid, called “Operation Sodom,” employed 30 airplanes and 27 helicopters, Santos said. Five members of the armed forces were injured and an anti-explosives dog was killed in the attack, Defense Minister Rodrigo Rivera told reporters.
Tunnels and Bunker
Mono Jojoy’s hideout was “the strategic heart of the FARC” and “the mother of all FARC camps,” Rivera said. It was 300 meters long, with tunnels and a concrete bunker.
“This is another step toward peace,” Armando Benedetti, president of Colombia’s congress, said in an e-mailed statement. “The FARC needs to understand they must cease their terrorist activities, release all captives and negotiate without conditions.”
The FARC has suffered blows in the last few years including the death of four of its highest-ranked leaders, the desertion of dozens of its most seasoned commanders and the betrayal of at least one of its senior security chiefs.
Uribe and Santos’s policy of stepped-up attacks on the rebels and paying informants has been central to the offensive against the FARC, whose numbers have been reduced by more than half to about 8,000 since 2002, when Uribe took office, according to Defense Ministry data.
“The long-term trend continues to be for a weakening in the insurgents’ capability,” said Robert Munks, senior analyst at Englewood, Colorado-based defense researcher IHS Jane’s, in an e-mailed message. “The FARC has now passed a point of no return that will see it decompose further into smaller, local outfits involved more heavily in drug trafficking than ideological struggle.”
The FARC, which is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. and the European Union, was founded in 1964 as a rural, peasant, Marxist insurgency. Its founder, Manuel Marulanda, died in 2008 of a heart attack, days after Reyes was killed.
The FARC traffics in cocaine for the bulk of its revenue, according to the U.S., which has sent Colombia about $7 billion since 2000 for its anti-insurgency campaign. The guerrillas control most of Colombia’s production of coca, a key ingredient of cocaine, the State Department says.
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