Manuel Marulanda — 1930-2008

Pedro Antonio Marin, better know as Manuel Marulanda and "Tiro Fijo" (Sure Shot), was the leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-Peoples Army (FARC-EP).

Over a period of 60 years, he organised peasant movements, rural communities and, when all legal democratic channels were effectively (and brutally) closed, he built the most powerful sustained guerrilla army and supporting underground militias in Latin America.

The FARC at its peak between 1999-2005 numbered nearly 20,000 fighters, several hundred thousand peasant-activists and hundreds of village and urban militia units. Even today, despite the Colombian regime's forced displacement of 3 million peasants resulting from scorched-Earth policies and scores of massacres, the FARC has between 10,000-15,000 guerrillas in its numerous fronts distributed throughout the country.

What make Marulanda's achievements so significant are his organisational abilities, strategic acuity and his intransigent and principled support for popular demands. Marulanda had unmatched rapport with the rural poor, the landless, the subsistence cultivators and the rural refugees over three generations.

Beginning in 1964 with two-dozen peasants fleeing villages devastated by a US directed military offensive, Marulanda methodically built a revolutionary guerrilla army without either foreign financial or material contributions. Marulanda's superb organising skills were honed on the basis of his intimate ties with peasants — he grew up in a poor peasant family, lived among them, cultivating and organising.

Marulanda worked out a series of strategic political–military operations based on his understanding of the geographic and human terrain. Between 1964 to his recent death, Marulanda defeated or evaded at least seven major military offensives financed by over US$7 billion dollars in US military aid, involving thousands of US special forces, mercenaries, over 250,000 Colombians soldiers and the 35,000-strong paramilitary death squads.

The FARC became an army of the people: one-third of the commanders were women, over 70% were peasants. Marulanda was revered for his singularly simple life style: he shared the drenching rain under plastic canopies. He was deeply respected by millions of peasants, but he never in any way cultivated a personality cult-figure. He was too irreverent and modest.

We live in times where supporting peasant-led national liberation movements is not "fashionable", where recognising the genius of peasant revolutionary leaders who build and sustain authentic mass peoples armies is taboo. However, he will live in the hearts and minds of millions of peasants in Colombia — the only leader who was truly "one of them", who confronted the Yankee military and mercenary machine for a half-century and was never captured or defeated.

Tiro Fijo presente!

[A significantly longer version can be read at http://petras.lahaine.org.]