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PART 1: The Colombian crisis in historical perspective (Record in progress)

Canadian Jnl of Latin American & Caribbean Studies June, 2003

v.28(55/5) 2003 pg 165-209; LeGrand, Catherine C

This article explores the nineteenth- and twentieth-century roots of the present violence in Colombia and the main actors involved therein. Focusing on the civilian government, the Colombian military, the FARC and ELN guerrillas, and the paramilitaries, it emphasizes the chronic weakness of the state, the privatization and regionalization of conflict, the impact of the cocaine export economy, and the difficulties of coming to a peace agreement. This article also explains connections and differences between the Colombian violence of the 1950s and the current conflict, and it provides a guide to the literature authored by Colombian social scientists on the subject.

Colombia today is in major crisis. Large areas of the countryside are controlled by guerrilla groups (there are 20,000 guerrillas in arms) and paramilitary forces (the paramilitaries claim 10,000 members). The government has no legitimate monopoly of force and is extremely weak; it does not and cannot effectively protect its citizens. Most crimes never come to trial, judges receive death threats, and the army itself is accused of human rights violations. Since 1985 there have been 25,000 violent deaths per year, a total of 300,000 murders over the past decade and a half, 18% of which are attributable to the political violence. Homicide is the leading cause of death for men between the ages of 18 and 45, and the second leading cause for women. From 2000 through 2002, more than 5,000 people died in 900 massacres and another 3,500 a year were kidnapped for ransom. Trade unionists, teachers, human rights workers, politicians, church people, journalists, and peasant and indigenous leaders are threatened, and assassinations and disappearances are daily occurrences. In the past decade, 2.5 million people, mostly the rural poor, fled their homes and many remain refugees inside the country, while another 1.1 million Colombians, educated members of the upper and middle classes, have departed since 1996 for the United States, Europe, and other Latin American countries (mainly Ecuador and Costa Rica). Meanwhile, since 1999, the economy has gone into deep recession, the worst Colombia has experienced since the 1930s.(f.#1)

North Americans tend to associate violence in Colombia with the drug trade. Indeed, Colombia is the world's major supplier of cocaine and an increasingly important supplier of heroin. In May 2000, Colombia suddenly leapt into the news in North America because the US Congress, at President Bill Clinton's urging, voted to send $1.3 billion mainly in military aid to Colombia to fight the drug war. The Colombian government was already the largest recipient of US military aid in the hemisphere and the third largest in the world, after Israel and Egypt. About 75% of the additional $1.3 billion allotted to what is known as ''Plan Colombia'' has gone to train a new Colombian anti-drug army battalion and purchase military hardware, including Black Hawk and Huey helicopters.

The stated aim of this controversial escalation in US involvement in Colombia is to significantly reduce cocaine consumption in the United States (which is viewed as a problem of national security) by eradicating production of the coca plant in the southern jungles of Colombia. According to the United States, the Colombian government is fighting a life-and-death struggle against drug lords in cahoots hoots with left-wing guerrillas who, since 11 September 2001, tend to be labelled ''terrorists'' both inside and outside the country (Tate 2000; Roldan 2001; Estrada Alvarez 2001; IEPRI 2001).

In 2001 US President George W. Bush increased security assistance to the Colombian army and police through the Andean Regional Initiative to support counter-drug activities in the Andean countries of South America. Then in March 2002 the Bush administration began crossing the invisible line between counter-narcotics and counter-insurgency to target Colombian armed groups without regard to drug activity. Concretely, the US government sought congressional funding to protect economic infrastructure--the Cano Limon-Covenas oil pipeline--against guerrilla attacks (Isacson 2003).(f.#2) In May 2003, in the wake of Colombian support for the war in Iraq, the Colombian president asked Washington to extend the program of aerial interception of drug shipments to guerrilla arms shipments and to provide Colombia with intelligence equipment no longer needed in Iraq to combat the drug traffickers and the guerrillas (El Tiempo 1-4 May 2003).

In this article I will argue that drugs and oil are only part of a much more complicated story. Colombia's difficulties did not begin with the illegal drug economy, and this is not a simple saga of a democratic government fighting against left-wing revolutionaries--or terrorists--bent on its destruction. This essay points to the weakness of the Colombian state, its historical failure to create institutional channels for the expression of popular concerns, and its less-than-complete control over the Colombian armed forces. It also details how the expression of organized violence in Colombia has changed over the past 55 years, the evolution of the guerrillas and the paramilitaries, and how land and resource issues undergird and are played out in the conflicts. Finally, it seeks an explanation of why the violence has intensified over the past two decades in the regionalized three-way competition between government, guerrillas, and paramilitaries for control of territory, people, and profits that fuels the Colombian conflagration today. In sum, my aim in this article is to shed light on the historical background and nature of the present crisis, drawing mainly on the work of Colombian historians and social scientists.(f.#3)

Let me begin with an overview of Colombian geography and demography, which is essential to understanding the regional and agrarian dimensions of the conflicts today. Twice the size of France, Colombia has a population of 42 million people. The western half of the country is broken by three great ranges of the Andes Mountains. During the colonial period, the Spanish first settled in the cool, healthy mountains; there they founded Santafe de Bogota, today Colombia's capital, and Medellin, its industrial centre during much of the twentieth century. Beyond the mountains lie the hot lowlands which include the Pacific coast and the Caribbean litoral where the Spanish colonial ports of Cartagena and Santa Marta still attract tourists. The tropical lowlands also include the southern Amazonian jungles, the vast Eastern Plains (los Llanos Orientales), and the valley of the Magdalena River, which runs from deep in the interior between the eastern and central mountain ranges north to the bustling port of Barranquilla on the Caribbean Sea. The majority of the population lives in the mountains and is Spanish-speaking, of mixed Spanish and native Indian descent. Afro-Colombians add to the mixture and are a significant group in the cities of Medellin, Cali, and Bogota. During the colonial period, from 1524 until 1819, Spaniards consolidated large estates (haciendas) with tenant labour in the highlands around Bogota; the mountains harboured some Indian communities (resguardos) and villages of small-holding mestizo peasants, too. Along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts live significant black and mulatto populations, and in the Magdalena River valley are many people of mixed ancestry (Afro-Colombian/Spanish/Indian). The interior of the Caribbean coast and the banks of the Magdalena River are particularly suitable for cattle ranching. The eastern half of the country, the endless grassland plain that extends into Venezuela, always sparsely populated by cowboys and a few native hunting and gathering groups, has recently attracted international oil companies. Finally, in the southern jungles, native Indian villages that combine manioc agriculture with fishing and hunting spread out along the rivers. (Native people comprise only 2.5% of the Colombian population.)

To grasp the agrarian dimensions of the current crisis, it is important to understand that before 1700 Colombia was a relatively poor colony with no centralized state authority and little domestic or external commerce.(f.#4) Although the Viceroyalty of New Granada was created in 1717 with Santafe de Bogota as its capital, the radius of Spanish economic activity continued to be relatively narrow. Much land in the middle altitudes of the mountains and the lowlands remained Crown or public lands (terrenos baldios), that is, forests or grasslands open to homesteading. Thus, whereas the United States and Canada both had western frontiers, Colombia possessed many scattered internal frontiers, including the interior of the Caribbean coast, the Magdalena River valley, the Eastern Plains, and the southern jungles.

Like most other Latin American countries, after independence Colombia had trouble finding profitable export products. Finally, after 1870, Colombia began exporting coffee, and the coffee economy continued to expand in the twentieth century, shifting out of the eastern mountain range into the central cordillera to the south of Medellin (Palacios 1980; Bergquist 1986). Meanwhile, the introduction of barbed wire and sown pasture grasses precipitated a significant expansion of cattle ranching, and around 1900 the Boston-based United Fruit Company started up export banana plantations south of Santa Marta on the Caribbean coast.

The result of these novel economic activities (and the building of railroads, which also began in the 1870s) was that Colombians began migrating out of the highlands into the temperate middle altitudes and the hot lowlands, which became the epicentres of commercial production in the late nineteenth century. Peasants left haciendas or small farm areas, where land was scarce and families too large, to stake claims on public land down the mountain. Such frontier settlers, known as colonos, cleared public land and put it into cultivation, but often a decade or so after they arrived, land sharks appeared on the scene, threatening to take over their fields with fabricated property titles. So the growth of agricultural exports stimulated colonization movements of poor people into previously unsettled areas, often followed by the privatization of the land by men with resources who succeeded in consolidating large private properties.(f.#5) This enclosure process, by which homesteaders were expropriated, led to social conflict over public lands between peasant settlers and land speculators or landlords seeking to form profitable new haciendas in economically dynamic regions. This is the major form of rural conflict in Colombia historically, and it is a major form today (LeGrand 1985, 1989).

Thus, Colombia's vast areas of public lands, its mountainous terrain, the variety of altitudes, climates, ecosystems, and peoples, and ongoing transport and communication difficulties produced a country of many regions and sub-regions, a profusion of central areas and wild hinterlands. From colonial to contemporary times, according to historians Frank Safford and Marco Palacios, Colombia has been marked by ''spatial fragmentation,... economic atomization, and cultural differentiation'' (Safford and Palacios 2002, ix). The sense of nation remained tenuous, regional and local struggles for power were endemic, and the institutionalization of an effective central state proved difficult indeed.(f.#6)

With this human geography in mind, let us turn directly to the historical roots of the current violence in Colombia. Colombian scholars emphasize that not just one but rather a multiplicity of violences afflict the country today. These include an enormous escalation in crime over the past two decades, conflicts between youth gangs, and the so-called ''social cleansing'' groups that attack prostitutes, homosexuals, and drug addicts in cities. There are many forms of non-political as well as political violence (Comision de Estudios sobre la Violencia 1988; Perea Restrepo 2001). In this essay I will focus specifically on political violence, which is of direct interest for non-Colombians who want to understand the implications of United States policy and who are concerned with human rights and possibilities for peace.

The main domestic actors in the current political violence are: the civilian government, the guerrilla groups, the drug traffickers, the paramilitaries, the Colombian army, and civil society. The best way to make sense of what is going on is to examine these overlapping yet distinct forces one by one.

Political Parties and the Civilian Government

Colombia has not experienced military dictatorship like so many other Latin American countries.(f.#7) What is confounding about the current violence and the widespread violation of human rights is that it is occurring in what appears to be a political democracy.

Soon after independence, in the 1830s and 1840s, two political parties took form in Colombia, the Liberals and the Conservatives. Soon everyone came to identify themselves as Liberal or Conservative: indeed, loyalties to one or the other political party became primary, almost hereditary, in the nineteenth century. It has often been said that in Colombia, one was born Liberal or Conservative; Gabriel Garcia Marquez's novel In Evil Hour (La Mala Hora) vividly portrays how such affiliations were lived at the local level. Both the Liberals and the Conservatives were multi-class parties, led by elites and including middling groups and urban and rural poor (Safford 1972; Stoller 1991; Sanders 2000). During the nineteenth century, numerous civil wars between the two parties erupted: indeed, for 33 years of that century, civil wars were being played out in one or another part of the country. The seemingly interminable fighting culminated in the great War of a Thousand Days (1899-1902) that affected the whole country, killing, it is said, 100,000 people (Bergquist 1978; Sanchez Gomez and Aguilera 2001).

Of course, Liberal and Conservative parties also existed in most other Latin American countries in the nineteenth century. What is unique about Colombia is the depth of party affiliation. The parties were the first supra-local institutions with which people identified (most scholars of Colombia say that the state took form later). And these parties have endured: Colombia, Nicaragua, and Uruguay are the only countries in Latin America today where political parties that originated in the nineteenth century continue to be important on the political scene. In the 1930s and 1940s, Colombia did not give birth to an important populist party like APRA in Peru, the Peronists of Argentina, or even the Mexican PRI. In Colombia the emergence of the middle and working classes as political actors in the twentieth century was contained and constrained within the old two-party system (see Braun 1985; Pecaut 1987; Palacios 2001). Students of Colombia question, then, what impact the extraordinary continuity of the two-party system has had on the formation of the Colombian state and its evident weakness. Partisan attachments and antagonisms, with specific regional expressions, were primary; clientage networks within each party channelled political ambitions and access to resources, permeating, debilitating, and in some ways substituting for the state. Because of the monopoly of the two traditional parties, observers question, too, whether emergent social sectors have been able to find real political expression for their concerns (Reyes 1987; Palacios 1998; Hoskin 1998).

After the peace treaties that ended the War of a Thousand Days in 1902, an exhausted Colombia experienced 40 years of peace. But violence broke out again in the late 1940s. The years 1946 to 1964 in Colombia are known simply as La Violencia. After the US Civil War and the Mexican Revolution, the Colombian Violencia of the 1950s was the civil conflict in the Western Hemisphere that killed the most people: it left 200,000 dead.

Some people say La Violencia began with the elections of 1946 in which the Liberals lost the presidency to the Conservatives. But violence really erupted when the great Colombian Liberal populist politician Jorge Eliecer Gaitan was murdered in the streets of Bogota on 9 April 1948. Gaitan's death set off the largest urban riot in Latin American history, the Bogotazo, and it intensified tensions between Liberal and Conservative party elites, which some say soon precipitated the breakdown of the state (Oquist 1980; Sanchez Gomez 2000a). Political conflicts between party leaders set off a war in the countryside between peasant Liberals and Conservatives. During the late 1940s and early 1950s, Conservatives controlled the government and military, and they also armed peasant groups that they turned into semi-military or irregular, what we call paramilitary, forces. In self-defence and retaliation, Liberals formed guerrilla groups to fight the Conservatives and the government.

There are many interpretations of La Violencia of the 1950s.(f.#8) Some see it as a renewal of the nineteenth-century civil wars between Liberals and Conservatives, while others interpret it as a Conservative offensive against the followers of Jorge Eliecer Gaitan. Still others say that the breakdown of the state released a multitude of local conflicts, some political and others socioeconomic. Yet others see La Violencia as an abortive social revolution or, alternatively, as an offensive of landlords and business people against peasants and their allies who had begun to push for land redistribution.

Those who would make sense of continuities and changes in Colombia should note that La Violencia was mainly a conflict between Liberals and Conservatives, and those who died were mainly poor people in the countryside. In contrast, the conflict between Liberals and Conservatives is no longer relevant today. While these are still the main political parties in Colombia, they are not the protagonists of the conflicts, and they are losing coherence and influence. Also, today's violence affects everyone--urban and country dwellers and the upper and middle classes as well as popular groups. Today the powerful--presidential candidates, congressional representatives, and business people--are targets of the violence, as are the rural poor. Furthermore (it is important to remember) in the 1950s, there was no drug trade in Colombia. Thus the character of Colombian violence has undergone major changes in recent times.

By 1957 the Liberal and Conservative elites became alarmed by the extent of violence and fearful that social conflicts were getting out of control; so the leaders of the Liberal and Conservative parties came together to make peace through a political pact known as the National Front (Frente Nacional). The National Front of 1958 was an agreement between the Conservative and Liberal party directorates that they would alternate the presidency and divide political offices for the next 15 years (1958-74). Elections continued to be held, but everyone knew who would win: first a Liberal president, then a Conservative, then a Liberal again (Hartlyn 1988; Berry et al. 1980). This was a kind of elitist, restricted democracy, in large measure a return to the ''politics of gentlemen'' (Braun 1985) who arranged the affairs of the nation over drinks at the Jockey Club. As time went on, the establishment became increasingly bogged down in bureaucracy, clientelism, and corruption.

The problem, then, was that there was no real change. The National Front system was a formal democracy with two political parties and elections every few years, but as industrialization occurred and more people moved to cities, as society became more complex, and new social movements took form, Colombians could not find independent political expression.(f.#9)

Beyond this need for the ''democratization of democracy,'' those who have studied Colombia also emphasize that the Colombian state continued to be weak. Party affiliations, embodied in patron-client relations, took precedence; business and large landowning groups organized strong private gremios (lobbying groups) that played a major role in making economic policy; and, even in the latter decades of the twentieth century, the government did not have much of a presence in large areas of the country, especially in zones of recent settlement (see Hartlyn 1985; Leal Buitrago and Davila Ladron de Guevara 1990). According to historian Mary Roldan, ''For most Colombians the central state was an abstract concept and power was largely exercised and determined locally or regionally, not in Bogota'' (Roldan 2002, 296).

The Guerrillas

In the early 1960s, new kinds of guerrillas emerged in Colombia--armed left-wing organizations that challenged the system. Most of these new movements were inspired by the Cuban revolution and Fidel Castro's success in using guerrilla tactics to take power (this is the period when young people all over Latin America sought to emulate Fidel and Che, and various small guerrilla groups, including the Sandinista National Liberation Front in Nicaragua, took form). But in Colombia, the new guerrilla movements also had domestic roots, since some of the guerrillas that challenged the political monopoly of Liberals and Conservatives emerged directly out of the armed groups of the preceding decade.

During the 1970s and 1980s, several guerrilla organizations were active in Colombia, including the pro-Chinese Popular Liberation Army (EPL) and the nationalist Movement of April 19 (M-19) (Pizarro Leongomez 1992; Arnson 1999). I will focus here on the two main groups that remain active today: the National Liberation Army and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

The National Liberation Army (Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional, or ELN) was formed in the department of Santander in the early 1960s by Colombian university students who had gone to Cuba. Traditional ELN strongholds are in the valley of the Magdalena River between Santander and Boyaca on the east bank and Antioquia on the west (Magdalena Medio) and in northeastern Colombia, near Venezuela (the Catatumbo and Sarare areas). The ELN is active in regions of historic and recent oil exploitation and in recent colonization areas where there are ongoing conflicts over land. The ELN is the guerrilla movement that Camilo Torres, the first Latin American priest to take up arms, joined, and until his recent death of natural causes, the organization's leader, Manuel Perez, was a defrocked Spanish priest. So beyond its Cuban inspiration, the ELN also finds its roots in the Liberation Theology movement in the Latin American Catholic Church (Arenas Reyes 1971; Penate 1999; Broderick 2000).(f.#10)

The ELN, with roughly 4,000 adherents, is significantly smaller and weaker than FARC: over the past decade it has been hard hit by a paramilitary offensive in the Magdalena River valley and the interior of the Caribbean coast. Despite the fact that, or perhaps because, it is on the defensive, in recent years the ELN has engaged in spectacular mass kidnappings, and attacks on oil pipelines and electrical pylons, which many regard as a sabotage of the national economy. The ELN has been more open to peace negotiations than the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, but no negotiations have been successful.

The other guerrilla group active in Colombia today is the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC), the oldest guerrilla army in Latin America and the largest and most important in Colombia. FARC and the ELN are not a united front. They have rarely confronted each other directly, but neither do they collaborate in any concerted way. For the most part, the government's peace processes with each guerrilla group have been entirely separate.

Founded in the mid-1960s, around the same time as the ELN, FARC emerged directly out of the Colombian Communist Party and radical Liberalism at the end of La Violencia. Like other Latin American Communist parties, the Colombian Communist Party (PCC) was formed in the late 1920s, which happened to be a period of agrarian unrest in coffee regions in the eastern and central mountain ranges. Although numerically small, the PCC involved itself almost immediately in these struggles over Indian communal lands, the rights of tenant farmers, and public land claims. This early rural orientation of the Communist Party in Colombia and particularly its success in putting down roots in several areas of the countryside, some not far from Bogota, is unusual in the Latin American context.(f.#11) During the 1950s, several parts of western Cundinamarca, eastern and southern Tolima, Huila, and Cauca, where the Communist Party had generated support 20 years earlier, came to be known as ''independent peasant republics'' (Gonzalez Arias 1992). These Communist-influenced rural redoubts became refuge zones for peasants fleeing from the partisan violence.

In the early 1960s, the National Front government attacked these peasant republics with aerial bombing, and people streamed out of them toward new frontier regions in the Eastern Plains and the northern part of the southern jungles. These refugees saw the state as the enemy because the government was attacking them. The new migrations became self-defence movements of armed colonization that went off in the by now familiar way to settle new areas of public lands and engage in subsistence agriculture. The FARC guerrilla movement originated in these colonization movements, and settlement areas of the late Violencia became FARC's local power bases.(f.#12) FARC, then, was a real peasant movement, a response to official violence and military repression; in the 1960s and 1970s, FARC's strength lay in distant rural areas with virtually no state presence. It just so happened that these areas were suitable for growing coca leaves and, in the 1980s with the international drug economy in full expansion, peasants in these areas began raising coca commercially (Molano 1987, 1990; Jaramillo et al. 1986).

In 1982, the Colombian government under Conservative President Belisario Betancur began peace negotiations with the guerrillas.(f.#13) In response to Betancur's initiative, some members of FARC agreed to seek change from within the political system by turning themselves into a legal political party. Thus in the mid 1980s out of FARC a new political party was born, known as Patriotic Union (Union Patriotica, or UP). Over the next decade, members of the Union Patriotica party who ran for political office, became involved in union organizing, and so on, were assassinated by faceless killers whom we now know were hired by incipient paramilitary groups, army people, or local political bosses. More than 2,000 people associated with the Union Patriotica were murdered in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and the party was wiped out.(f.#14) This experience, together with the deaths of many of the more moderate, more politically oriented members of FARC who had joined the UP, is in part responsible for FARC's reluctance to surrender its arms through peace negotiations. The inability or unwillingness of the Colombian government to create a secure political space was a blow to the possibility of consolidating a strong, inclusive state within which real democratic opposition could thrive.

In the early 1980s, FARC had only 5,000 guerrillas in arms, but since around 1990, it has expanded exponentially in numbers and geographical reach (Bejarano Avila 1997; Pena 1997; Echandia 1999; PNUD in press). Today FARC has 63 fronts (operations in different parts of the country) and the ELN has 33. Beyond their traditional regions of influence, the guerrillas have successfully established bases in areas of dynamic new resource economies, for example, oil, coca, heroin poppies, bananas, gold, and also in the vicinity of hydroelectric projects, where multinational corporations have shown an interest in investing, land speculation is rampant and social disequilibrium marked. Guerrilla groups are also active around major political and administrative centres such as Bogota and Cali. Today FARC is still especially strong in the southern jungle areas of Guaviare, Caqueta, and Putumayo (destinations of the armed colonization of the 1960s), and ELN in the region bordering Venezuela in Norte de Santander and Arauca, but together these organizations have a presence in approximately 700 of the nation's 1085 municipalities. FARC has 17,000 fighters in arms, one quarter of whom are women.(f.#15)

Whereas at first FARC was a self-defence movement that sought to be left alone in the outback, today it plants land mines, takes police stations, and ambushes army patrols. It dynamites electrical towers and bridges and attacks urban water supplies; it lobs gas cylinders into village police stations, sometimes causing many civilian deaths. It has the capacity to cut off whole regions of the country through roadblocks and attacks against infrastructure, and it has urban militias and sets off bombs in the cities. In 2002, it took hostage a presidential candidate (Ingrid Betancourt), the governor of Antioquia, the ex-governor of Meta, a former minister of defence, the bishop who presides over the Latin American Episcopal Conference, and 12 members of the departmental assembly of Valle de Cauca, all with the aim of forcing a prisoner exchange (Human Rights Watch 2003; Semana 5 May 2003).

FARC's sources of financing are many: indeed, since the 1980s, in part because of the upsurge of cocaine profits, FARC has been autonomous financially, militarily, and politically. It pays recruits and purchases weapons by taxing the production of coca, much of which is cultivated in regions under FARC influence. Furthermore, in 2000 it emitted ''Revolutionary Law 002,'' which required the well-to-do to pay FARC a tax of 5 to 10% of their capital; business people, landowners, and foreign companies paid significant sums, fearing that employees or family members would be kidnapped if they refused (El Tiempo 6 November 2001).

Traditionally, guerrilla groups in Latin America used kidnapping as a tool to obtain the release of political prisoners and garner publicity for their political programs. In recent years, FARC has practiced on a large scale the kidnapping of men, women, and children in cities and rural areas for immense ransoms. While FARC says that it only targets the rich, many middle class and even quite humble people feel ''kidnappable.'' This is true especially since FARC began the practice of ''miraculous fishing'' (la pesca milagrosa), which involves setting up roadblocks on highways and kidnapping people out of cars or buses after verifying their credit ratings by radio or laptop computer (Symmes 2000). Recent investigations indicate that FARC also controls much of the profits from gold and platinum mining and from the stolen car business in Colombia, where 36,000 automobiles are stolen each year (El Nuevo Heraldo 18 February 2002; El Tiempo 26 March 2002).

When Conservative Andres Pastrana came to the presidency in 1998 on a peace ticket, FARC once again entered into peace negotiations with the government. Meanwhile, the war went on: the government, FARC, and the majority of Colombians accepted that it was necessary to negotiate in the midst of war. Because there was no ceasefire, all sides endeavoured to use force to strengthen their positions at the negotiating table. When President Pastrana broke off negotiations in February 2002, the anger in Colombian cities against FARC kidnapping and attacks on infrastructure had reached a fever-pitch. They were regularly labelled ''bandits'' and ''terrorists,'' and progressive intellectuals accused FARC of targeting the civilian population, violating international humanitarian law, and precipitating a rightward drift in Colombian public opinion that favoured the paramilitaries and an escalation of war to exterminate FARC (El Tiempo 4 February 2002; Problemes d'Amerique Latine 2002).

A few general comments about the guerrillas are in order. First, they are particularly strong in both old and new colonization zones where there has never been a positive state presence. In these regions, they take on the role of local government. It is estimated that at present guerrilla groups exercise strong influence in at least one third of Colombian rural counties (municipios), which means that in these places they have a major say in who is elected and how municipal funds are spent. In such zones, the guerrillas are de facto the law, adjudicating disputes and punishing thieves, while taxing most productive activities, including the highly profitable coca crop (PNUD in press). Thus, the guerrillas continue to have strong territorial control in many parts of the country, despite President Pastrana's decision to retake the so-called ''demilitarized zone'' in southeastern Colombia, ceded to FARC in 1998 as a precondition for peace negotiations. In May-June 2002, FARC threatened hundreds of mayors and municipal authorities with death if they did not immediately resign: the aim was to prevent any state authorities from functioning in the small towns and rural areas so that FARC could move into the vacuum (Human Rights Watch 2003).

This situation of guerrilla territories (and, as we shall see, of paramilitary-controlled areas) leads to the crucial question of how is the Colombian government to re-establish control and/or legitimacy in such regions? If and when peace negotiations bear fruit, is there a possibility that the guerrillas may remain the local government there, reestablishing connections with the national government? (see Semana 9 April 2001).(f.#16)

During the past 15 years, struggles over local political power have intensified in Colombia in part because of institutional reforms. Before 1988, departmental governors and local mayors were appointed by the central government. In an effort to democratize the political regime by decentralizing it in order to encourage greater participation, the Colombian government reformed the system to allow the popular election of mayors and governors (see Bell Lemus 1988; Gaitan and Moreno Ospina 1988; Angell et al. 2001). This move has had the unexpected effect of intensifying struggles over local control which have often turned violent, pitting local Liberal or Conservative political bosses (traditional gamonales) against candidates from new groups including in the 1980s, the Union Patriotica party, and in the 1990s, the guerrillas and the paramilitaries (Carroll 1999, 2000; Romero 2000a, 2000b).

Two further issues to be considered are the impact of the development of coca production on the guerrilla organizations since the 1980s and the relation of the guerrillas to social movements. Has drug money corrupted the guerrillas, and will a rich guerrilla seriously negotiate? According to former Colombian Attorney General Alfonso Gomez Mendez (24 November 2000), just as drug money has corrupted society and the establishment, it has also corrupted the anti-establishment. Extortion and kidnapping have weakened the ethical bases of guerrilla action and undermined its social legitimacy. In Colombia it is generally believed that neither FARC nor the ELN retains much of an ideological vision and that they are not doing much political organizing; rather they (and particularly FARC) are engaged in war as business.(f.#17)

Do the guerrillas represent ''the people''? In regions they control, FARC does support the survival of peasant farms against the encroachment of landlords. Beyond this, most knowledgable observers say that FARC does not represent ''el pueblo.''(f.#18) Rather, the guerrillas and the paramilitaries are engaged in a power struggle over control of territory as a way to control people and resources. Where there are guerrillas and where there is retaliatory violence from paramilitaries or the Colombian army, there autonomous social movements find it very difficult to survive (see Ortiz 2001; Reyes Posada and A. Bejarano 1988; Archila N. 1996).

PART 2: The Drug Traffickers and the Paramilitaries

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