Alfonso Cano, the top leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), was killed by the Colombian military on Friday. According to media reports, Cano was hunted by commandos and shot three times after sustaining an injury during a bombing raid on a hideout in southwestern Cauca department. Cano’s death at the hands of government forces is the strongest blow so far inflicted against the rebel army, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said.
“We must not be triumphalist, we must persevere, we must persist until we can give Colombians a country in peace,” Santos said. Indeed, Cano’s death is perhaps comparable only to the killings of several senior FARC commanders and the death of former leader Manuel Marulana of a heart attack in 2008.
“The death was the culmination of a three-year effort by the Colombian army to strangle and starve the guerrilla leader and his multiple security rings,” analyst Hannah Stone said. “By the end, these rings had been reportedly decimated, an apt metaphor for the group’s dwindling power.”
The strike, dubbed “Operation Odyssey,” reportedly relied on the assistance of FARC deserters and informants within Cano’s inner circle. The BBC aired images of the damaged hideout along with footage of retaliatory bomb attacks carried out on Sunday by FARC militants in the town of Piendamo.
Cano’s death was a surprise, but not very surprising. The rebel leader narrowly avoided death or capture during a June 30 raid on a FARC camp near the border of Huila and Cauca departments. According to reports from the Colombian media over the summer, Cano was said to be on the run, pursued by three battalions of Colombian soldiers and cut off from FARC columns.
The question now, then, is what comes next. There is no clear leader with the expertise, authority, or proximity to south-central Colombia’s FARC strongholds to replace Cano. Analysts point toward the FARC’s “foreign minister” Lucian Marin, nom de guerre “Ivan Marquez,” to be the likely next-in-line. Bloque Magdalena Medio commander “Timochenko” and two other regional commanders have also been named as potential successors.
Stone said that despite the publicity, Cano’s death could “move the rebel group further away from peace talks with the government, as those who take over may have less political control over the rank and file of the FARC.” Meanwhile, the FARC’s ruling secretariat vowed to continue its struggle.
Otto Perez Molina, a former army general and veteran of the Guatemalan Civil War who has promised a “mano dura” or “firm hand” approach to fighting crime and drug trafficking was elected president in a runoff vote this weekend. The Wall Street Journal rounds-up the context of Perez’s victory in a country increasingly beset by organized crime and insecurity. According to the newspaper, Perez will be force to grapple with the Mexican Zetas cartel — increasingly active in the country’s north and seemingly resilient against security operations — and managing the flow of anti-drug aid supplied by the United States. The Guatemalan military also remains at a fraction of what it was before a 1996 peace agreement, which ended the country’s civil war.
“Many analysts (myself included) are skeptical of mano dura policies due to their focus on short term results over long term institution building and their lack of success in the past,” analyst James Bosworth said. “However, the results in the first and second rounds of this election suggest that voters in Guatemala who are living with the constant threat of criminal violence want those policies. They want policies that punish the violent criminals and get quick results, with less regard for their long term consequences.”
In another Central American vote this weekend, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega of the Sandinista Front of National Liberation was re-elected in a landslide victory, according to results announced Monday. Security issues did not figure as prominently in the Nicaraguan election as they did in Guatemala, however, the election is important for outside defense observers due to questions over the election’s legitimacy.
On the one hand, it was clear Ortega consistently placed first in national polls and was widely believed to win re-election. On the other hand, Ortega was not technically allowed to run due to legal restrictions preventing back-to-back presidential terms. But Sandinista control over the Nicaraguan courts gave Ortega’s candidacy “the green light when it ruled that not allowing him to run would violate his human rights.” International observers and Nicaraguan monitor organizations have also alleged the government has restricted them from fully observing the elections.