Alfonso Cano: Leader of the FARC Marxist guerrilla group in Colombia

 

Guillermo León Sáenz Vargas, best-known by his nom de guerre Alfonso Cano, was the supreme commander of Colombia's Marxist-Leninist guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which has been fighting successive governments, and the country's wealthy, for nearly 50 years. He had lead the group since March 2008 when its founder Manuel Marulanda, nicknamed Tirofijo [Sureshot], died of a heart attack.

Cano faced prison terms totalling more than 300 years on charges including murder, kidnapping, extortion and terrorism. The US government was offering a $5m reward for information leading to his capture to face trial on cocaine-smuggling charges. Cano had always denied processing cocaine or smuggling it. He was, however, thought to have carried out the kidnapping of 12 provincial politicians in 2002, after which 11 of them were killed. The government claimed they had been murdered but the FARC insisted they had died in crossfire, possibly between guerrillas who misidentified each other.

Addressing the nation on TV, the Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos described Cano's death, after a raid on his remote camp, as "the most devastating blow that this group has suffered in its [47-year] history. The FARC has reached breaking point and the leadership will come down like a house of cards. I want to send a message to each and every member of that organisation: demobilise, or you will end up in a prison or a tomb." The president had visited the site of the military raid – codenamed Operació* Odiseo [Odyssey] and involving 1,000 troops – near the gold-mining town of Suárez in the south-western province of Cauca.

The thick-bearded, bespectacled Cano, a bookish urban intellectual who gave up anthropology studies and became a communist, joined FARC around 1982, inspired by Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution. The group originally billed itself as a revolutionary peasant movement – its formal title in Spanish is FARC-EP (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Ejército del Pueblo, or "Army of the People") and its stated aim has always been land redistribution. But it increasingly turned to kidnapping and cocaine trafficking to pay for its weapons and supplies. One of its most famous victims was Ingrid Betancourt, the former Colombian senator who grew up in France. She was held for six years before being rescued by security forces in 2008.

By the turn of the millennium, the FARC had up to 18,000 fighters, threatened the approaches to Bogotá and, together with a smaller Marxist group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), controlled around one-third of Colombian territory, mostly in the mountains and jungles. It is now thought the FARC has less than 7,000 fighters.

Guillermo Leó* Sáenz Vargas was born in Bogotá in 1948, the fifth of seven children of a middle-class agronomist and his teacher wife. A passionate supporter of the capital's Millonarios football club, he went to the city's National University of Colombia to study anthropology. Around the same time, he joined the JUCO or Juventud Comunista [Communist Youth], part of the Colombian Communist Party.

Increasingly radical, he dropped out of university and spent several years in the Soviet Union in the 1970s. On his return, his Communist Party ties led to contacts with the FARC, for whom he taught Marxist ideology to new recruits, as well as helping raise funds from sympathisers in the capital. He is believed to have become a full-time, uniformed FARC member around 1982, taking on the name Alfonso Cano, and swiftly rose through its hierarchy.

When his mentor, the group's chief ideologue Jacobo Arenas, died in1990, Cano took over as FARC's chief political negotiator. He led a negotiating team facing Colombian government envoys in Venezuela and Mexico in the early 1990s.

In recent months, an army squeeze had forced Cano to flee from his mountain camps in the west-central department of Tolima and move to less familiar terrain in Cauca. After tip-offs, troops knew they were closing in when they found his two dogs and his glasses at an abandoned camp. He was traced, attacked by troops who abseiled from helicopters and hit three times during a shoot-out. According to Carlos Lozano, editor of the weekly newspaper Voz: "while other FARC commanders were talking about blowing up bridges, Cano would be sitting around reading a book."

Cano abandoned his wife and children when he joined the guerrillas in the hills and jungles in the early 1980s. A woman described as his "personal nurse," called Yenifer, was killed with him. His long-time "sentimental companion," a fellow guerrilla known only as Patricia, was not among the victims and her whereabouts are not known.

Guillermo León Sáenz Vargas (Alfonso Cano), guerrilla leader: born Bogotá, Colombia 22 July 1948; married (two children); died near Suárez 4 November 2011.

Suggested Topics
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth gamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Supply Teachers Would you ...

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game