Ingrid Betancourt was the FARC’s most prized asset, its most famous hostage and its means of getting global media exposure. To lose her at all is a blow to the rebel cause, but to lose her and three American hostages without a single shot being fired, and with no freed prisoners of its own in return, is a blow from which the leftist group may not recover.
Under current leader Alfonso Cano, the FARC finds itself with little leverage despite still holding hundreds of hostages. Its membership is dwindling, hit hard by desertions brought on by a government amnesty.
FARC’s founder, Manuel Marulanda, died of a heart attack in March, just weeks after the death in action of two other of its military leaders: Raul Reyes was killed by a Colombian army attack in Ecuador, while Ivan Rios was murdered by a bodyguard, who cut off Rios’ hand as proof of death in order to claim a million-dollar bounty.
But, if the FARC is down, it is not yet out. Through money earned by extortion, kidnap and drugs, it is still capable of recruiting and equipping more fighters. It could take more high-profile hostages. But it will not consider that its 44th year of existence has been a success.