FARC, Shining Path, and Guerillas in Latin America
- Marc BeckerMarc BeckerDepartment of History, Truman State University
Armed insurrections are one of three methods that the left in Latin America has traditionally used to gain power (the other two are competing in elections, or mass uprisings often organized by labor movements as general strikes). After the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, guerrilla warfare became the preferred path to power given that electoral processes were highly corrupt and the general strikes too often led to massacres rather than a fundamental transformation of society. Based on the Cuban model, revolutionaries in other Latin American countries attempted to establish similar small guerrilla forces with mobile fighters who lived off the land with the support of a local population. The 1960s insurgencies came in two waves. Influenced by Che Guevara’s foco model, initial insurgencies were based in the countryside. After the defeat of Guevara’s guerrilla army in Bolivia in 1967, the focus shifted to urban guerrilla warfare. In the 1970s and 1980s, a new phase of guerrilla movements emerged in Peru and in Central America. While guerrilla-style warfare can provide a powerful response to a much larger and established military force, armed insurrections are rarely successful. Multiple factors including a failure to appreciate a longer history of grassroots organizing and the weakness of the incumbent government help explain those defeats and highlight just how exceptional an event successful guerrilla uprisings are.