By: Vishnugayathre S, Research Analyst, GSDN
Colombia, officially known as the Republic of Columbia is home to a variety of indigenous organisms, ranked as the second highest biodiverse country in the world, and known as the gift of God on earth. It was considered to be a beautiful and peaceful place to live in, but it was the condition before 60 years. Now Colombia is in major crisis because of armed insurgencies against the government, illegal drug trafficking, crime, and kidnapping. The geographical location of this country also paves the way for it as the country’s vast area of the mainland is divided into many sub-diversified regions because of the nature of the landscape, climates, and ecosystem due to which there emerged many secessionist and regional divisions.
Colombia effectively achieved its independence from Spain in 1819 and soon after the independence, in the 1830s and the 1840s, two political parties with a different vision for the country’s future formed, namely the Liberals and the Conservatives. During the nineteenth century, several wars between both groups took place. The great war of thousand days is one such example. Colombia experienced peace for about 40 years after the peace treaty which ended the Thousand Days War. But in that span too, it experienced small-scale wars like Banana Massacre. In that massacre, the direct involvement of the US government was ascertained. This rebellion was seen as the thirst for a communist government that concentrated on the life of poor citizens and keeping prices of goods and commodities in check. But soon large-scale violence broke out again in the 1940s.
The years between 1946 and 1964 were known as La Violencia, a decade of civil war that is estimated to have killed more than 2,00,000 people. It began when the Liberals lost the election to the Conservatives as the vote for them got divided into two candidates and it further got intensified when a Liberal populist politician was murdered, which led to clashes between Liberal and Conservative elites. The Liberal Party pushed for the impeachment of the President. In return, the Conservatives to protect their status in the country dissolved the Congress and formed dictator rule. They controlled the military directly, armed the peasant supporters, and turned them into Para-military forces. Liberals were excluded from the power-sharing agreement that end up in guerrilla group formation by liberals for self-defence from the conservative government such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). The FARC is composed of military communists and self-defense peasants’ groups whereas ELN was dominated by students, catholic radicals, and left-wing intellectuals. Both claimed the rights of the poor and the communist form of government. On the other hand, the largest paramilitary group, The United Self-defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) emerged and had a direct link with the state military to protect the landowners and the conservatives from the guerrilla group. It was a contrast as the informal group led by the conservative government perceived threats of the guerrilla group. These groups were announced as foreign terrorist organizations by the US.
Liberals and Conservatives were aware of the extending violence and thus brought in the National Front Agreement in 1958. Both parties agreed to rotate the power among themselves, intercalating for a period of four presidential terms. But this also did not work as it questioned the “Democratisation of Democracy.” Several guerrilla organizations were formed in such a way that it became very difficult to identify and separate the groups and their ideologies. In 1967, Population Liberation Army was formed by the Communist Party of Colombia which itself was broken from the Colombian communist party over the disagreement with stringent Soviet ideology. It is well evident that most of the armed insurgent groups were quite familiar with their ideologies but with slight differences.
By 1974, the country witnessed the emergence of another guerrilla group, M-19 which was led by the urban guerrilla group. It was seen as a form of civilian uprise against the regime after the fraudulent election of 1970 and the forced removal of the former election. Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) initially engaged mostly in the village side began to make money by illegal drug trafficking for buying modernized equipment and training the rebels. The FARC and ELN used violence, kidnapping, drug trafficking, and extortion as a source to earn money. FARC began to kidnap and kill US officials. FARC’s assassination of the US’s Former Cultural minister in 2001 is one such example and it is also involved in the hijacking of a domestic commercial flight.
In the 1980s, drug cartels increased, and as a result, Colombia emerged as the highest supplier of Cocaine in the world. It also raised various criminal and unjustified activities. Drug cartels kidnapped people if they were seen as an obstacle to selling drugs. It also emerged as a severe threat to the US as the drugs started to enter the markets of the US as well. The US reported that the FARC is responsible for 60 percent of Colombian Cocaine exports to the US. Right from the beginning the US helped the Colombian government tackle guerrilla organizations, and this led the US to further intensify it. The US approved Plan Colombia, the aid package provided to tackle the insuring non-state actors.
In 1982, FARC began to talk with the government for peaceful negotiations as it added the people’s army to its name and concentrated on people’s welfare. A series of ceasefires and negotiations took place between the Government and the FARC which created some hope. But some of the people in the FARC were not satisfied with the formation of FARC as a legally organized political party. It thus led to the creation of a new political party known as the Patriotic Union. But FARC was not satisfied with the government’s negotiation and continued its smuggling business and small-scale low intense massacres like the Mapiripan massacre that took place in the 1990s. FARC, which was formed as a self-defence organization that began to control many economic resources and is enduring it till now. Even after the steps and measures taken by the government to decentralize the power, it ended up with the negative effect of further intensification of the violence.
The formal and legal peace talks with FARC began in 2012. The negotiations created five principles that both sides promised to follow. Those are future political participation of FARC members, rebels’ reintegration into civilian life, illegal crop eradication, transitional justice, and reparations, and rebel disarmament and implementation of the peace deal. And at last, in 2016, the revised peace agreement was signed and implemented which is seen as a ray of hope for the country.
It is the vilest fact that around 16.9% of the total country’s population has been a direct victim of the war according to the reports. Colombia is still an underdeveloped country in the world even though it has the resources to emerge as a developing country, the main reason for this is the improper utilization of resources as well as the influence of guerrilla organizations and criminal activities in society. This also led to the displacement of around 5 million people between 1985 to 2012. The life and shelter of these people are questioned. Colombia needs to raise itself from inequality and must develop its infrastructure and economy as well and there is a long way for the country to go. But the way to peace, right after the war is not that much easier. Still, there are many insurgency groups engaged in criminal and smuggling activities that need to be encountered by the state in order to protect its citizens from tensions and years of violence.
The government is fiscally strapped by spending its money on tackling ongoing armed resurgence activities and not on protecting the rights and welfare of the people. It is a fact that even though the war is between the government and the guerrilla group, common people are impacted a lot. The government provides poor services to its citizens which was well evident from the Covid pandemic and the poverty rate in Colombia is now the highest in the South American countries. In order to tackle it, the government can get help from its closest ally the US, and the United Nations, in terms of funding and then make certain reforms in its governmental laws to overcome the fiscal deficit and to lead the country towards growth. So, it is vested in the hands of the government to take initiative and work for the better improvement of the economy and to safeguard the rights of its citizens.