FARC commander killed in raid on Ecuador; Chávez warns of “war”

Raul Reyes (AKA Luis Edgar Devia), second-in-command of Colombia's FARC guerillas, was killed March 1 in a raid across the border in the Ecuadoran lowland rainforest department of Sucumbios. President Alvaro Uribe called it "the biggest blow so far" against the rebel organization, and said he informed Ecuador's President Rafael Correa by telephone after the pre-dawn raid. Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said Reyes was killed in an air-strike on a FARC camp 1.8 kilometers in Ecuadoran territory, followed by a ground incursion. Announced Uribe: "The Colombian Air Force proceeded to attack the camp from the Colombian side… Once the camp was bombarded, Colombian forces were ordered in to secure the area and neutralize the enemy." Sixteen other guerillas were killed in the attack near the settlement of Santa Rosa. Colombian intelligence apparently determined the location of the camp by tracking the guerillas' satellite phone signals. (Mercopress, Montevideo, El Comercio, Quito, March 2)

President Correa announced that Ecuador will send a diplomatic note to protest the incursion—and questioned whether Uribe had been honest with him when he first informed him of the raid. "The [Colombian] president either was poorly informed or brazenly lied to the president of Ecuador," Correa said. "We are going until the ultimate consequences for a clarification of these scandalous actions that are an aggression on our territory." (AP, March 2)

Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos' statement said a Colombian border patrol was attacked from Ecuadoran territory, and retaliated with an air-strike launched from the Colombian side, without violating Ecuador's air space. He said the ground incursion came while Uribe was making his phone call to Correa. Reyes' body was recovered, brought back across the border to Puerto Asis and flown to Bogotá, he said. (Reuters, AFP via Univisión, March 2)

Speaking at a televised meeting of his cabinet in Caracas, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez warned Colombia against attempting cross-border operations. "Don't think about doing that over here because it would be very serious, it would be cause for war," he said. (BBC, March 2) "The situation is extremely grave," he said. One Colombian soldier was also killed in the fighting. (Reuters Latin America, March 2)

Colombia's armed forces also announced the capture of Lucio Gómez Bríñez (AKA Mañe) in Córdoba Tetón, Bolívar department, in north-central Colombia. (Armada Nacional de Colombia, press release, March 2)

See our last posts on Colombia and Ecuador, and the FARC.

  1. More details on killing of FARC commander
    From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 2:

    The Colombian military killed 18 members of the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Ecuadoran territory early in the morning of March 1, including the group’s second-in-command and chief spokesperson and negotiator, Raul Reyes. According to Colombian defense minister Juan Manuel Santos, “a human source” gave information that Reyes had arrived in the area, near the San Miguel river in a zone known as Granada, bordering on Colombia’s southern Putumayo department. Shortly after midnight the Colombian air force bombed the camp where Reyes was staying. Afterwards, the Colombian military removed Reyes’ body to Colombia “to keep the guerrilleros from taking it away,” Defense Minister Santos said; photos of the corpse quickly appeared in the media.

    The Colombian military said Guillermo Enrique Torres (“Julian Conrado”), another FARC negotiator, was killed in the operation; there were also reports that Reyes’ partner Gloria was killed. (Reyes, whose real name was Luis Edgar Devia, leaves three children; two of them are medical professionals.) Ecuadoran president Rafael Correa said his country’s soldiers later found the other FARC members’ bodies “in underwear, pajamas.” They were “massacred while they slept,” according to Correa. The Ecuadoran soldiers also rescued three wounded guerrilleros.

    In addition to commanding the FARC’s Southern Front, Reyes headed failed 1998-2002 peace negotiations with former president Andres Pastrana; he remained the group’s most visible spokesperson. He was killed just three days after the FARC’s Feb. 27 release of four hostages—former National Congress members Gloria Polanco, Jorge Eduardo Gechem, Luis Eladio Perez and Orlando Beltran—to Venezuela. [This was the second release since the beginning of the year.] Former Colombian senator Piedad Cordoba, who accompanied the freed hostages to Caracas, called Reyes’ killing “a premeditated blow to the process” of starting prisoner exchanges between the government and the FARC. “A few months ago I was with Reyes in one of his camps,” she told the Mexican daily La Jornada, “and I was able to verify his wish to achieve an exchange, so that his death is a great loss not just for the FARC but also for hopes for peace for Colombia.”

    The New York Times noted that the FARC’s highest commander, Manuel Marulanda Velez (“Tirofijo”), is reportedly ill; with Reyes gone, Eastern Front commander Jorge Briceño Suarez (“Mono Jojoy“), known as a hardliner, is a “contender to succeed” Marulanda.

    The Colombian government’s decision to attack the FARC in Ecuadoran territory heightened tensions with both Ecuador and Venezuela, whose leftist governments are allied. According to President Correa, rightwing Colombian president Alvaro Uribe called him and said the Colombian military had attacked while “in hot pursuit” of the FARC. Citing the evidence that the guerrilleros were in fact asleep, Correa said Uribe either “was deceived, or yet another time he has lied to the Ecuadoran government.” On the evening of March 1 Ecuador formally protested the incursion into its territory; on March 2 Correa told Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez Frias that he was recalling Ecuador’s ambassador, Francisco Suescum, from Bogota and was moving troops towards the Colombian border.

    On March 2 during his weekly television program, “Hello, President,” Chavez announced that he was closing Venezuela’s embassy in Bogota and was sending 10 battalions to the border with Colombian. A Venezuelan battalion can have 576 soldiers; the Venezuelan military has about 40,000 soldiers, including reservists. Chavez called Reyes’ killing “a cowardly murder, coldly prepared,” and described Uribe as a “lackey,” a “liar” and a “criminal” who “does what [US president George W.] Bush tells him to do.” (La Jornada, Mexico, March 2 from correspondent, AFP, DPA, Reuters, Notimex; NYT, March 2 from correspondent; El Diario-La Prensa, NY, March 2 from AP)