Top FARC commander Jorge Briceño Suárez AKA “Mono Jojoy” was killed Sept. 23 by Colombian government forces. President Juan Manuel Santos confirmed the death of the guerilla leader from New York City, where he is attending the UN General Assembly. The head of the FARC’s Eastern Bloc and member of its Secretariat was killed in an air operation in La Macarena region in the central department of Meta. Some 20 other guerrillas were killed and five members of the security forces were injured in the operation, Defense Minister Rodrigo Rivera said.
Mono Jojoy, born under the name Victor Julio Suarez Rojas, was thought to be the FARC’s second-in-command, and was considered a hardliner within the command structure. He had a $1.3 million reward on his head, and 62 arrest warrants against him. The US had requested his extradition to face drug trafficking charges.
The FARC has faced serious setbacks in recent years, with high-level commander Raul Reyes killed by a Colombian air-strike on Ecuadoran territory in March 2008. The group’s founder and supreme leader Manuel Marulanda died of natural causes in 2008. Current supreme commander Alfonso Cano remains at large.
Alfonso Cano has proposed dialogue to the new Santos administration, but refused to meet the government’s demand that the FARC cease violence and release all hostages before talks begin. The guerillas began an armed campaign that has killed at least 56 members of the armed forces since Santos took office on Aug. 7. Santos responded by categorically ruling out peace talks, declaring his government’s determination to crush the FARC. (Colombia Reports, Sept. 23
A representative from the White House called Mono Jojoy’s death an “important victory” for Colombia. Former FARC hostage Ingrid Betancourt said that his death gave new hope for peace in Colombia. “He is one of the most bloodthirsty commanders of the guerrillas in Colombia,” she said. “I always thought that as long as Mono Jojoy was alive, there would be no chance for a serious peace process.” But Colombian Sen. Piedad Córdoba said that Mono Jojoy’s death doesn’t mean Colombia can abandon dialogue. “You have to sit down and define together the next steps to take,” Córdoba stated on her website. “Crushing one another will not strengthen democracy.” (Colombia Reports, Sept. 23)
With experts in Colombia trying to crack the codes to 15 computers and almost 100 memory sticks seized in the raid, military officials revealed more information about the operation. “Operation Sodom” involved 78 aircraft and targeted an area known as La Escalera in the Macarena mountain range. They dropped dozens of bombs on Mono Jojoy’s camp, which Defense Minister Rivera described as “the mother of all lairs” for its size and the number of hidden tunnels it had. Some 400 Colombian special forces troops then rappelled from helicopters and surrounded the camp. After hours of fighting, another 400 soldiers and police moved in on the camp. General Javier Florez, the commander of the joint task force leading the attack, said his men were able to identify Mono Jojoy by his scars and the fact he carried insulin for his diabetes. His identity has been verified by experts, he said.
Police sources told the BBC they suspected a number of other senior FARC leaders were killed in the raid, including the men known as Mad Ivan, Mauricio the Medic and Romana, although their bodies have not yet been identified. Fighting is said to continue in the area around the camp. Some 10,000 extra police officers have been deployed to Colombia’s main cities to prevent retaliatory attacks by the Farc. (BBC News, Sept. 25)
Days before the raid, the Colombian government announced that Sixto Antonio Cabañas AKA “Domingo Biojo”, a leader of the FARC’s 48th front, was killed in an attack on a guerilla camp near the Ecuadoran border. The operation dubbed “Fortaleza II” took place near San Miguel, Putumayo, and killed 22 guerrillas. Biojo was also a member of the FARC’s leading political body, the Estado Mayor and in charge of the “political work”of the guerillas’ “Southern Bloc.” He was on the list of 50 guerrillas wanted by the US to face drug trafficking charges. The 48th front is held responsible for a recent attack on San Miguel that killed eight police officers. (Colombia Reports, Sept. 20)