On Sunday, Colombia’s largest rebel group confirmed the death of its senior leader : Manuel Marulanda.
This announcement lifted hopes for the release of hundreds of people, abducted by the revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Among those hostages there is Ingrid Betancourt, a former presidential candidate taken captive in 2002 and who has Colombian and French citizenship, and three American contractors, held hostages since 2003, when their plane crashed in the jungle.
“A great leader has marched on” said Timoleón Jiménez, a commander of the Farc, in a video released to the Venezuelan television network Telesur. Mr Jiménez, known as Timochenko, added that the rebels would continue their four-decade struggle which aim is to overthrow Colombia’s government.
Manuel Marulanda apparently died of natural causes. His death ended an area in Colombia, as he built a Marxist rebel army from the remnants of a rural guerilla group.
Despite the death or surrender of several of its top leaders in recent months, the Farc remains Latin America’s largest insurgency, with about 9,000 fighters.
Colombian military officials said they learned of Marulanda’s death through an intelligence source on Friday. And they said that on Saturday they intercepted a conversation about his death between FARC commanders.
On saturday, Colombia’s president, Alvaro Uribe, said that senior leaders of the Farc contacted him to discuss the possible release of hostages.
Alvaro Uribe and his government said they remained open to using a $100 million fund in order to compensate the guerillas, if they were to demobilize and release their captives. He added that Colombia would guarantee the transfer of the guerrillas to France, where they would be given sanctuary.
Each year, Colombia receives about $600 million in American aid, which makes the fight against the Farc a rare example of an American counter insurgency project that is easily exceeding expectations.
Timoleón Jiménez, the FARC commander, confirmed Marulanda’s death and said it occurred from heart failure on March 26, in a jungle redoubt. He added that Alfonso Cano, 52, a member of the FARC’s seven-member secretariat, will take Marulanda’s place.