Manuel Marulanda Velez, founder of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and its leader until his death, was a man firmly and decisively committed to the campesinos of Colombia and their liberation.
It is said that Marulanda was so thoroughly a man of the countryside that in his entire life he never set foot in the Colombian capital of Bogota.
He died of natural causes eight years ago today, March 26, 2008.
Born Pedro Antonio Marin, he adopted his new moniker in honor of one of the founders of the Colombian Communist Party.
The adoption of a fallen comrade's name is an old tradition amongst the Latin American Left. Famed Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa took the name of a murdered colleague. Subcommandante Marcos of the Zapatistas would follow this tradition, abandoning that name in favor of Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano in 2014 after a member of the rebel group killed by paramilitaries.
Marulanda's legend predates the founding of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - Army of the People, as the FARC is formally known.
He was also known as “Tirofijo” or “Sureshot” for his shooting acumen.
Marulanda was among those caught up in the conflict between Liberals and Conservatives known as La Violencia. He would come to be a leading figure in the “Independent Republic of Marquetalia,” a remote rural enclave under the influence of the Communist Party.
After the end of La Violencia, the government viewed Marquetalia and other so-called independent republics as a threat to the state's hegemony and sent the army to crush it.
Marulanda, along with 48 others, narrowly escaped this military operation. He would turn this small group of rebels into one of the largest and longest-lasting guerrilla armies in the world.
Manuel Marulanda in Riochiquito, 1965, just after the military attack against Marquetalia in 1964.
It was the way that Marulanda carried himself that made him such an effective organizer of campesinos. They saw themselves in him, though others in the FARC were dedicated to the ideological development of the rebel group, it was Marulanda that made it grow.
At its peak and under Marulanda's leadership the FARC counted on 20,000 fighters and controlled an estimated 40 percent of the country, primarily in the countryside, but also held considerable influence in the poor neighborhoods of Colombia's cities.
Marulanda was a veteran of two unsuccessful peace efforts between the FARC and the government. He was famously asked during negotiations in the 1980's what he would do if peace was achieved. Marulanda's answer was, “I will go back to my childhood farm in Genova, if it is still there.”
In some ways it is as a result of his loyalty to the countryside and the campesino that Marulanda is not a well-known figure, even among the Left.
Though in the capital of revolutionary Venezuela there is a plaza named after him, which also features a bust of the FARC founder, located in the historically combative working-class neighborhood of 23 de Enero.
The campesino roots of the FARC remains within the rebels today, which has emphasized during peace talks, above all else, the need for agrarian reform to benefit the campesinos.
Marulanda was so reviled by the Colombian political elite that the state on countless occasions proclaimed his death, only to be disproved later.
Manuel Marulanda finally did die on March 26, 2008, as a result of heart failure but his legacy lives on, as the song by FARC songwriter Julian Conrado, states, “Now Colombia is full of Manueles.”