However, President Juan Manuel Santos declared the FARC’s announcement an “important though insufficient step in the right direction.” In addition to ending kidnapping, the government also demands that the FARC end forced recruitment, ban the use of landmines and leave civilians out of the conflict.
In the 1980s and ‘90s, at the height of the Colombian conflict, the FARC used ransom payments to fund their fight against the state, and used political hostages to put pressure on the government. Many rightwing paramilitary groups began to emerge in reaction the FARC’s widespread practice of kidnapping, and Colombia became known as the kidnapping capital of the world.
In the mid 1990s Colombia witnessed more than 2500 abductions a year, most of which were attributed to the FARC. By 2011 there were 298 kidnappings in Colombia, according to the defense ministry, with the FARC responsible for 26 percent of those (more than 60 percent of the kidnappings today are attributed to common criminals).
But giving up kidnapping for ransom will not put a dent in the FARC’s finances, analysts say. The FARC continues to garner abundant resources from extortion, drug trafficking, and illegal gold mining.
Alfredo Rangel, a security analyst, says there is little sense in the FARC declaring an end to the practice of kidnapping if it continues to demand extortion payments. “If they are going to continue to extort people, we haven’t gotten anywhere,” he said. The FARC have traditionally used kidnapping as punishment for failing to pay extortion payments. “So now they are going to place bombs instead? That’s hardly a great advance.”
In the past month, the FARC have attacked two police stations, killing 15 people and wounding nearly 100, most of them civilians. And on Feb. 23, a civilian who refused orders from FARC members to lead a donkey laden with explosives in front of an army camp in Cauca province, said he was tortured by having his fingers crushed and his mouth sewn up with wire before escaping to a hospital.