Raul Reyes: Colombian guerrilla leader

Inasmuch as the clandestine Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) had a public face, Luis Edgar Devia Silva – using the nom de guerre Raúl Reyes – was it. He was the guerrillas' chief negotiator, and his death at the hands of the Colombian military, in an air and ground strike against a Farc jungle base just over the Ecuadorean border, was both a major success for President Alvaro Uribe's counter-insurgency policies and a significant escalation of international tensions in the region.

The Colombian action provoked President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, Colombia's much more powerful neighbour, to warn that a similar attack on Venezuelan territory could lead to war. Colombia has accused Chávez of giving safe haven to Farc units inside Venezuela, which Chávez denies. But Venezuela, unlike Ecuador, has formidable armed forces, and the ambitious Chávez has been spoiling for a fight with his conservative, pro-American Colombian counterpart.

Reyes was a member of the seven-member Farc "secretariat", the shadowy inner circle of commanders and policy-makers around the guerrillas' supreme leader, who is known variously as Manuel Marulanda, Pedro Marí*and "Tirofijo" ("Crackshot"). Marulanda, a taciturn, 77-year-old campesino, preferred to leave the talking to Reyes, who was his son-in-law and may have been his intended successor.

Reyes travelled abroad to cultivate links with like-minded organisations (including the IRA), and even held talks with a US State Department official in Costa Rica in 1997. He also led negotiations with the Colombian government, and was deeply involved in the recent unilateral release, in two batches, of six prominent hostages held for years by the guerrillas. This deal was brokered by Chávez, who is close ideologically and personally to the Farc leadership, and has called on the international community to recognise Farc as legitimate combatants in a civil war.

Reyes seems to have been behind the Farc strategy of taking prisoners, both military and civilian, and holding them as bargaining chips. The guerrillas' aims were both to raise funds by demanding ransoms for lower-level captives, and to use high-profile hostages, such as Ingrid Betancourt, a former Colombian presidential candidate, to negotiate the release of several hundred guerrillas captured in combat with the Colombian military.

Despite several years of on-and-off talks between the two sides, no prisoners had been released until Chávez offered his services as mediator late last year. Reyes helped to pile pressure on the Colombian government to make concessions, by keeping the plight of the hostages on the world news agenda. The European Union, however, continues to regard Farc as a terrorist organisation.

The first time Reyes came to international prominence was during the administration of President Andrés Pastrana (1998-2002), when he headed a Farc negotiating team during formal talks on prisoner swaps (known as a "humanitarian exchange") in a large demilitarised zone in Colombia's southern jungles. During that time this stocky, grey-bearded figure became a familiar sight on Colombian television, and he frequently gave press briefings.

The talks finally collapsed when the government realised that the guerrillas were using the demilitarised zone to regroup and re-equip their forces, and they have not been resumed since Uribe took office in 2002. Reyes' use of hardline Marxist rhetoric, which seemed to be caught in a 1960s time-warp, was one of the factors that made meaningful negotiations impossible.

Luis Edgar Devia Silva was born in 1948 into a poor rural family in the southern department of Huila; his father was a small farmer and his mother a village schoolteacher. After a few years' schooling, Devia went to work at a Nestlé dairy in the jungle region of Caquetá, where he became a local union leader and member of the Communist Party's youth organisation.

He later joined Farc, which had been founded by Marulanda as a rural self-defence militia in 1964, and seems to have risen quickly through the ranks to become Marulanda's spokesman. He always seems to have been a political rather than military figure within the Farc hierarchy, though he liked to be photographed in jungle camouflage fatigues, carrying a machine-gun.

Colin Harding

Luis Edgar Devia Silva (Raúl Reyes), guerrilla commander: born La Plata, Colombia 30 September 1948; married Olga Marín; died Santa Rosa, Ecuador 1 March 2008.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Project Manager - Birmingham - up to £40,000 - 12 month FTC

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Manager - Birmingham - ...

SThree: Recruitment Consultant - IT

£25000 - £30000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Sthree are looking fo...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin (based in London)

£20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before