Alfonso Cano took over as supreme leader of Colombia's FARC rebels in 2008 and launched Plan Rebirth, which called for the leftist guerrillas to return to their hit-and-run roots.
The killing of the supreme commander of Colombia's top rebel group may delay rather than precipitate a negotiated end to the country’s nearly half century of civil strife, analysts say.
Guillermo Leon Saenz, better known by his nom de guerre Alfonso Cano, maximum leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) was killed Friday after a bombing raid on his remote camp in southwestern Cauca province.
Throughout most of his 33-year career in the FARC, Cano was known as a recalcitrant Marxist, convinced that the rebels could take power by force. Cano largely remained on the sidelines of ultimately failed peace talks between 1999 and 2002 with the government of then-president Andrés Pastrana, while creating and strengthening political movements tied to the FARC.
When he took over as supreme leader of the FARC in 2008 after the death of natural causes of legendary leader and founder Manuel Marulanda – one of a series of serious setbacks for the rebel group that year – Cano launched Plan Rebirth. That plan called for the rebels to return to their guerrilla roots, using hit-and-run tactics to attack government troops and relying more heavily on urban militias.
But while Cano led the new FARC offensive, he made overtures to the government of President Juan Manuel Santos.
He floated the possibility of peace talks and even praised a new law to return land to victims of Colombia’s conflict. His strategy, analysts explain, was to sit down at the negotaiton table from a strengthened position.
Cano had managed to win a consensus among the FARC leadership to seek peace talks with the government, says Arial Avila, a conflict analyst with the Nuevo Arco Iris security think tank in Colombia's capital, Bogotá.
In a video message released in August, Cano said: “Dialogue is the way.”
“They [members of FARC's ruling secretariat] were basically discussing the hows and wheres,” says Avila.
With Cano’s death, it is now unclear whether that consensus will hold.
In statement issued Saturday, the FARC secretariat described Cano as the “most fervently convinced in the need for a political solution and peace.”