Death by Informant
In July 2008, I photographed this Wanted Dead or Alive-type poster in Leticia, Amazonas, on the fence of an army compound. The “X” marks the the face of FARC commander Ivan Ríos, who was assassinated that year. To add insult to injury, a soldier must have stuck this likeness in the forehead with a ball point pen. The image on the right, under a dotted X, is of Joaquín Gómez, commander of the FARC’s Southern Block. To date, Gómez is still alive, but the dotted line represents the Colombian army’s growing confidence that, one by one, they will cross out the whole FARC leadership.
Starting with FARC spokesman Raúl Reyes, killed March 1, 2008 in a cross-border bombing raid on his camp in Ecuadoran territory, the Colombian security forces have relentlessly been hunting the FARC’s ‘historic’ commanders. Reyes is seen below in an unsigned Proof of Death photo released by the Colombian army. With each blow, the FARC becomes weaker as a centrally organized force.
This recent military advantage of the Colombian army comes both from having developed a highly experienced corps of jungle commandos and-due to over 6 billion dollars of US aid over the last decade- an effective air force. But, to locate a clandestine jungle camp requires human intelligence. The forest is too dense for surveillance devices to penetrate, so the army has relied on information bought from informants.
Indeed, since 2007, the Colombian armed forces and the US government have offered rich rewards in exchange for the heads of the FARC’s top commanders, yielding a spectacular harvest of betrayal. According to declarations by then Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos, security forces were able to locate and bomb the camp of FARC spokesman and strategist Raul Reyes within Ecuadoran territory on March 1, 2008 thanks to an informant, who was rewarded a 2.5 million dollar bounty and who then emigrated with his family from Colombia “to enjoy a new life.” Two days later, the chief of security for FARC commander Ivan Ríos (accused by the United States of being the main strategist behind the FARC’s cocaine trafficking operations), executed Ríos and his girlfriend in their sleep, and then came down from the mountains to deliver Ríos’s right hand to the Colombian army, as a real Proof of Death. He reportedly received the sum of $2.600,000, for his efforts. The exact same scenario took place in the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta in August, 2005, when a FARC deserter killed El Indio, commander of the FARC’s 59th Front, chopped off his hand to use as a proof of death, and earned himself $400,000.
In the latest and heaviest blow yet, on November 4, 2011, the Colombian armed forces killed ‘Alfonso Cano’, maximum leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). After an intensive manhunt of over 2 years, Cano and 24 other guerrillas were discovered and attacked by a reported 1000 commandos and infantry, with air support from 4 Supertucano jets, a dozen Black Hawk helicopters, 4 Harpy attack helicopters, and 2 AC-47 Spooky bombers.
The Colombian government had reportedly offered 2.4 million dollars for information leading to the capture or death of this guerrilla leader, with the United States State Department adding another 5 million dollars to the pot. According to news reports, Cano’s coordinates were divulged to authorities by two deserters from the FARC, but the amount of bounty these informants may receive has not been made public.