The Colombian revolutionary movement lost a great leader on March 26. Manuel Marulanda, born Pedro Antonio Marín Marín, was a founding member and top commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP). His life and political leadership spanned the entire history of the Colombian civil war.
Manuel MarulandaBorn to a peasant family around 1930, poverty forced Marín at age 13 to leave home and find work. In 1948, rising tensions between competing sectors of the Colombian ruling classes exploded with the assassination of leftist leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán. The masses of oppressed people, living under brutal conditions, had looked to Gaitán to bring them relief.
Over the next decade, a war between the Liberal and Conservative Parties known as "La Violencia" ("The Violence") claimed the lives of 200,000 Colombians. The Conservative Party represented older land-owning sections of the ruling class. The Liberal Party represented newer sectors of the ruling class, but it was joined by thousands of peasants and many communists.
Marín joined a guerilla group after Conservative Party militias attacked his family. As the struggle in Colombia unfolded, Marín developed as a political and tactical leader. It was during this time that he took the name Manuel Marulanda Vélez—in honor of an Afro-Colombian union leader who was tortured and killed in 1953. As a guerrilla, Marulanda earned the nickname "Tirofijo" ("Sureshot").
After ten years of war, the Liberal and Conservative parties signed a power-sharing agreement and turned the force of the capitalist state on the remaining guerillas, now led by the Communist Party of Colombia.
In 1964—with direction and support from the CIA—the Colombian government attacked a major guerilla stronghold at Marquetalia, where Marulanda and other guerillas were living with their families. He and 47 other survivors of "Operation Marquetalia" went on to found the FARC to carry the struggle forward.
Over the following decades, the FARC grew tremendously under Marulanda’s leadership, eventually becoming the largest guerilla army in the Western Hemisphere. Since the 1990s, the FARC-EP has controlled roughly 40 percent of Colombia.
In 1980, seeking a political solution to the raging civil war, the FARC-EP entered a major peace agreement. Without relinquishing their organization and weapons, the FARC and the Colombian progressive movement attempted to participate in Colombian electoral politics. In 1985, the FARC formed the Patriotic Union (UP) to run in the coming elections. Before the new party could even get off the ground, the Colombian state initiated a wave of political murders that took the lives of more than 4,000 UP leaders and organizers over the next several years.
Facing this repression, the FARC-EP returned to the guerilla struggle. But under the leadership of Marulanda, the guerillas continued to work for a political solution to the civil war. They willingly engaged in peace talks and prisoner exchanges with the Colombian government. At each stage of the Colombian civil war, it has been the intransigence and violence of the Colombian state—supported and financed by the U.S. government—that has undermined the peace process.
U.S. and Colombian capitalist media are joyful at Marulanda’s death. The Colombian government claims that Marulanda died not from a heart attack but from a bombing campaign by the Colombian air force. Government officials are demanding the FARC-EP relinquish his body for an autopsy.
The spokespersons for the capitalist class are taking advantage of Marulanda’s death to promote their favorite propaganda myth about the FARC-EP: That this once a revolutionary force has become a terrorist group financed by narcotrafficking.
This is a complete falsity. The FARC-EP is a revolutionary Marxist organization that has fought for a new kind of society in Colombia, a rich country whose people live in poverty under the thumb of imperialist domination.
Marulanda’s death is a great loss for the revolutionaries in Colombia and around the world. His leadership and his political and tactical abilities were central to the FARC-EP’s struggle for liberation from the grip of U.S. imperialism and Colombian capitalist exploitation.
Yet, the struggle in Colombia does not die with Marulanda. Only the eradication of the very oppression and exploitation that give rise to class struggle can bring that struggle to an end. Marulanda’s legacy will live on as new generations of revolutionaries step forward to fight for a free Colombia.
Manuel Marulanda, presente