After the successful military operation that resulted in the death of the FARC leader, President Juan Manuel Santos has publicly threatened the group's remaining members with three stark choices - demobilise, go to prison, or be killed.
The removal of the leader of Colombia's oldest and largest guerilla movement is an important strategic successes, and scores a significant blow to rebel morale. However, it may not ultimately lead to the group's end, as widely predicted by many analysts and media outlets. Why?:
1) FARC has suffered similar losses in the past, and continued to function effectively. Most recently, the death of Mono Jojoy in September 2010 during a military operation by the government. Jojoy was FARC's strategic mastermind and leader of its Eastern Bloc. Many commentators at the time suggested that Jojoy's death would be a game-changing loss for the organisation,but they were proved wrong as the group continued, and even increased its military activities, during early and mid 2011.
2) Today FARC plays a far more important role as a criminal syndicate than it does an agent for political change. As witnessed with the Mexican government's Kingpin strategy, numerous successes in either killing or arresting leaders of criminal groups have not ultimately led to their demise. Criminal gangs' complex financial and hierarchical networks, and economic motivation, now mean that the killing of one man alone is rarely, if ever, sufficient to bring down an entire organisation.
3) In Colombia in recent years FARC have developed extensive and lucrative financial ties, based around drug trafficking and relarionships with neo-paramilitary organisations and other gangs, both in and outside the country. They have also become increasingly involved in other money making ventures such as kidnapping. Such ties and illicit activities have arguably entirely replaced the politically-driven ideology that first gave birth to the organisation. The financial rewards of these relationships are simply too significant to turn their back on.
Therefore, we predict that while FARC's military capability continues to dwindle, a new leader will rise to fill the void left by Cano, and the disruptive activities in certain pockets of the country that put such a strain on local communities and the Colombian economy (in the form of its inflated defence spending) will continue.