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Colombia - Addicted to War

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Colombia: Addicted to War

Stefan Lako

GLDP-522 Dr. Thomas Ward

December 12, 2014


The conflict in Colombia is longstanding and ever-changing. The civil war has extended over the course of five decades and resulted in more than 220,000 deaths and the displacement of approximately five million people.[1]  This is the longest running civil war in the world and the social, economic, and health impacts extend beyond the scope of quantifiable measurements.[2]  In order to understand the current state of the conflict and fragile state of current peace negotiations a proper assessment of the conflicts history is needed, including a deeper understanding of the drug trade, which is a crucial element of this war.  This paper examines the conflict from a historical perspective, suggesting that peace negotiations can only be furthered if the means to address ripeness revolve around specific areas of tension that have spoiled previous efforts.  

Historical Assessment

In 1948 the assassination of Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, the left wing mayor of Bogota gave way to massive riots.  The riot, called Bogotazolasted for only ten hours, but resulted in the death of approximately 5,000 people.  This riot provoked a violent, ten year civil war known as La Violencia and an estimated 250,000 300,000 people were killed during this time.  The name La Violencia finds its meaning not only in the number of people killed but also the manner in which they were killed.  A large percentage of deaths were administrated in horrific and brutal ways, torturing victims and murdering women and children.[3] After this decade of violence Conservative and Liberal parties decided to end the conflict by establishing a National Front, an alliance between the two parties who agreed to alternate power.  This solution symbolized the end of La Violencia, but gave birth to the current conflict in Colombia.[4] 

        The previous conflict was solved, but democracy was sacrificed in order to achieve this peace. The two parties which together comprised the National Front banned all other political affiliations. Two particularly motivated banned parties were the Peasant Student Workers Movement (MOEC) and the Colombian Communist Party (PCC).  The exclusion they faced at the hands of the National Front created a negative long lasting effect on the political climate of the country.

The pro-socialist movements who felt their voices had been unfairly silenced began to organize their parties and it was from this ban that three major guerrilla groups formed, the pro-Cuban National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional, ELN) the Maoist Peoples Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación PopularEPL), and the following year, in 1966, the pro-Soviet Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerza Armadas Revolucionarias de ColombiaFARC).  FARC quickly became the largest and most powerful guerrilla group.  It is from political alienation that these groups were born, but it would not remain solely a political platform.[5]  FARCs original stated ideology was similar to many socialist parties, calling for a redistribution of wealth and land, and the retraction of multinational corporations from the country.

Alienation from political involvement became more overt when the Colombian government ordered attacks against pro-communist groups.  This act of violence was one of the key motivators for FARC to take up arms.  However fighting a war is difficult without resources; it takes money to fight wars, and even more money to win wars.[6]  In the 1970s FARC began funding its campaign primarily through the production of illegal drugs, specifically cocaine and heroin.  The availability of land and people to grow and harvest the coca plant were plentiful.  This shift to funding through the illicit economy will be focused on in more detail in the following section of this paper.  

The narco-terrorist era loomed over the nation from 1983-1993.  In this time drug traffickers, not to be confused with FARC, became powerful in Colombia.  Unlike FARC, these drug cartels cared only about profit maximization.[7]  The most notorious of the traffickers was Pablo Escobar, the leader of the Medellin cartel.  Escobar was the face of the Colombian drug trade and became the main target in the war against drugs.[8]  The war on drugs was sponsored heavily by the United States government and they leaned heavily on the Colombian army to wage war on Escobar.  Escobar did not recant, but engaged in the warfare, using paramilitary groups to fight his war and even assassinate Colombian police and government officials who supported the United Statespolicies; the number of assassinations exceeded 600 people before his death.[9]  In the 1990 elections, all three presidential candidates were assassinated, showing just how powerful the cartels had become, which gave further evidence in their resolve to keep their lucrative business intact.  

Many experts believed that the conflict in Colombia would end if the cartels, especially Escobar, could be overthrown.[10]  Escobars death in 1993 did not solve any of the issues in the conflict, but rather created a spike in the conflict.  Peasants throughout the nation viewed Escobar as a Robin Hood type of character; he built stadiums, schools and houses.  His death created an outrage and violence increased in the months following his death.[11]  Furthermore, the void left in Escobars wake was quickly filled by the Cali cartel and subsequently by smaller yet more numerous low profile cartels leaving the illegal drug problem remained unchanged.[12]



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