May 1964: One thousand and two hundred campesinos, men, women and children, were gathered in an abandoned hacienda, “Marquetalia,” on the border of the departments of Tolima, Huila and Cauca. The fog and the luscious plant life made it the ideal hiding place for these Communists fleeing from the government’s army. Forty-two families, along with pigs, sheep, string sacs filled with coal for the cooking fires, coffee, soap, and blocks of salt also made its way up the mountains, to one of its highest peaks from where they could keep an eye out; the army was expected any day. The cabbage and the carrots were atop the boxes containing dynamite, and the mules logged it up one step at a time. The heavy rain turned the paths into landslides, and some mules went tumbling down. All dogs were slain because their barking gave them away. Thirty-five year-old Pedro Antonio Marín’s job was to instruct the FARC’s original thirty soldiers. He’d already gained the name “Sureshot” (“Tirofijo”) for his deadly accuracy; he later became the legend behind the FARC.
Isaias Pardo, Sureshot’s brother-in-law, was there. “Do not think that we are powerless because we are not,” he said. “We can be confused for this jungle. We are the water. We are one with these trees.” His calm self was transformed and he was adamant—“Quicker!”—about in which dirt roads they should plant landmines.
For two years, this Communist commune had taxed people, a cow here, a bucket of milk there. They also printed their own communist money to pay corrupt judges. In locales under their control, there were no civilian authorities who answered to the national government and anyone who entered or left had to get a permit. There were the first incidents of forced recruitment of minors. The government called the area of Marquetalia an enclave and called for its invasion.
On June 15, 1964, at six in the morning, the families watched sixteen thousand well-equipped government soldiers land in the mountains of Marquetalia. Smoke rose from the family’s burnt homes in the valley beneath.
Sureshot instructed the men to make their way to the high mountaintops. “And bring along the long-range arms,” he said.
There were fallen branches, swamps, quicksand, and in the distance, they heard government soldiers cutting down trees, then two hundred and fifty of the government’s best trained and most agile threw themselves off DC-3’s and C-47 planes. Their bombs shook the ground every few minutes. The army helped an Indian chief, who had health problems, and so earned the trust of his immediate clan. The natives helped the army lug along 60-mm mortars and machine guns.
Isaias Pardo and a few others were mid-mountain, planting more landmines. Around every one hundred meters, there was a grenade or a landmine explosion. Atop, Sureshot’s men were already firing and the government’s reinforcements could not land.
The survivors founded the FARC. That was the beginning of this war story. Since President Uribe’s military success against the FARC, analysts have been calling for its end. But as history points out, the FARC and the army restrategize and the explosions begin, again and again.