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When Colombia Bombed Ecuador: The Killing of Raul Reyes

The FARC’s second in command was killed in Ecuador eight years ago by the Colombian army, with the help of U.S. intelligence.

On March 1, 2008, the Colombian military carried out an attack on a FARC guerrilla camp in northern Ecuador, killing one of the group’s top commanders, Raul Reyes.

The attack, an aerial bombardment, has long been considered controversial because it was illegally carried out in Ecuadorean airspace, with the help of the U.S. government.

Then-President Alvaro Uribe at first denied this fact, saying the attack was carried out from Colombia in order to “not violate the sovereignty” of its neighbor. Evidence later revealed, however, that the Colombian air force had deliberately crossed into Ecuadorean territory to target the rebel camp, and specifically the rebel leader.

According to testimony from both U.S. and Colombian officials, the Colombian Air force also carried out the attack with tacit U.S. approval, and dropped U.S.-made “smart bombs,” according to The Washington Post.

This close partnership between the U.S. and Colombian forces was part of a larger CIA covert action program to help Bogota take out rebel leaders. This included providing real-time intelligence to track the guerrillas and a US$30,000 GPS guidance kit to guide smart bombs to their target, reported the Post.

Reyes, in addition to being one the FARC’s top two leaders, was an advocate for peace. He was one of the principle negotiators of the previous peace talks (1998-2002) under former President Andres Pastrana, trying to bring five decades of fighting to an end. 

He also led a mission of FARC guerrillas on a special trip through Europe, along with government officials, to raise awareness and funds for a post-conflict Colombia.

However, when Uribe took office in 2002 the peace talks crumbled, the new president determined to crush the guerrillas rather than negotiate. That same year, the military took over an area of 42,000 kilometers and a US$2.7 million bounty was put on Reyes’ head.

The guerrilla leader took refuge in the jungle region of Putumayo, and crossed the border into Ecuador where he and his crew were eventually found and targeted.

The 2008 bombardment also killed over a dozen other people in Reyes’ camp, most of whom were other guerrilla combatants.

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa condemned the attack and confirmed that Colombian war planes had entered into Ecuador’s territory, followed by ground troops who came by helicopter to collect Reyes’ body and bring it back to Colombia before the FARC could give him an honorable burial.

Today, Reyes is a divisive figure. For supporters, the rebel leader is a symbol of resistance against the oppression of the Colombian state. For the army, Reyes’ killing was considered one of their most important victories against the left-wing guerrillas.

In 2012, after Uribe left office, the FARC and the Colombian government renewed peace negotiations under the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos, who was the Secretary of Defense at the time Reyes was killed. The two sides are closer than ever to reaching a final peace deal and expected to sign an agreement by their self-imposed deadline of March 23.