The Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) leads an attack on a military base in Guaviare, Colombia, in protest of the Colombian military’s drug eradication program, which was backed by the United States. The program, involving rigorous spraying of a defoliant in the coca-growing regions of southern Colombia, had been destroying valuable coca crops. During three weeks of guerrilla warfare, FARC killed at least 130 Colombians.
When coca cultivation began in the early 1990s in Solano, Colombia, farmers tried to organize alternatives to growing cocaine, but they had little success and few other options. In the summer of 1996, 200,000 peasants marched on their state capitals to demand viable economic alternatives and to protest crop fumigation.
The Colombian government, shocked by the amount of planning and organization that must have gone into attacks on various military bases, interpreted the march of coca growers and the subsequent guerrilla attacks as a show of strength by FARC, who had never before engaged in such an organized assault. Prior to 1996, FARC’s activities included kidnapping, performing a few isolated raids on police stations, and enforcing “taxes” on large growers, merchants, and laboratories involved in the drug trade.
Under pressure from the U.S. government, the Colombian military responded to the attacks by stepping up the fumigation program. In 1997, the Colombian military allied with paramilitary groups to launch anti-drug operations, including bombings and air attacks in which civilians were often the victims. While the campaign was justified as an anti-drug crusade, the attacks were clearly intended to reduce FARC’s power by destroying the social and economic bases of the areas under their control. The Colombian military, more concerned with containing the guerrillas than the drug trade, saw an opportunity to receive U.S. money to help in this effort.
Unfortunately, the peasant farmers suffered the most as a result of the fumigation and the military and paramilitary attacks. Most likely, the powerful drug lords were not even affected by the measures. The U.S.-funded military campaign to control the drug trade focused most of its efforts on containing left-wing indigenous organizations and did little, if anything, to restrict the flow of narcotics into the United States.