An integrated road to Colombian peace

By Dialogo
December 18, 2013



This is the first article of a three-part series.
After years of internal conflict, Colombia seems to have climbed the last precipice and finally stands just short of the summit of peace and prosperity. How they got there, and where they started their journey is an interesting story that tied a strategic vision to tactical implementation and has involved a comprehensive whole of government approach. As the final phases of its longstanding internal conflict begin, combatant demobilization and the consolidation of the government’s success are imperative in ensuring an effective presence is maintained throughout the country that is capable of providing services and maintaining law and order.
Colombia’s internal conflict has gone on for almost half a century, but since 2000, with the establishment of Plan Colombia, has represented an effort that pulled the country from a practically failed state to one of Latin America’s most robust economies. The Colombians brought together state, private and interagency capabilities to consolidate their national territory through varied collaborative approaches under one unified front against the guerrilla insurgencies and their drug-trafficking networks of violence and terrorism. Their experience has become a unique model of a whole of government approach that focused all elements of state power to reestablish security for the Colombian people as well as those throughout the region.

The birth of the insurgents and their marriage to drugs

With an area of 1,141,748 square kilometers and a population of almost 41.5 million according to the last official census in 2005, Colombia is the fourth largest country in South America. Its strategic geographic location in the northwest tip of South America, between both Caribbean and Pacific waters and borders with five other countries, makes it as an important gateway to Central America and North America and vice-versa. A large part of its national territory, however, is covered by thick jungles, and the rugged terrain of the eastern and western Andes mountain ranges, creating largely uninhabited and ungoverned areas of difficult access in environmentally rich territories.
For much of the last half century, illegal armed groups operating from Colombian bases in these areas have managed to create international networks for greater reach, sowing insecurity through their use of crime, kidnap for ransom and extortion to fund their illegal drug trafficking operations within and beyond the country’s boundaries, but also exporting their terrorist actions and influence to other regions of the world.
It began with deep socioeconomic divisions in the 1960s and 70s that generated generalized restlessness and popular discontent with the government, and produced increased urban protests and radical peasant movements that gave rise to extreme left and right insurgencies such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 1964 as a Marxist-Leninist revolutionary guerrilla organization and the largest and longest-running left-wing insurgency in the Americas; the National Liberation Army (ELN) in 1964; the Popular Liberation Army (EPL) in 1967; the M-19 in 1970; and the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) in the 1980s.
As these spread their extreme anti-government sentiment through violence, drug lords were taking control of large areas of the country and building international networks dedicated to supplying a major part of the world’s cocaine demand. In the 1980s, Colombia became the major producer of coca globally. Decades of intense crime followed; kidnapping and assassination became commonplace, resulting in rates that were unparalleled by other countries.

While a 2010 article in Time Magazine, referred specifically to the city of Medellín as “one of the most dangerous cities in the world” in the 1980s and 90s because it was initially the hub for Pablo Escobar’s cartel activity and then a “playground” for the insurgents, an article published on the BBC News online portal in June 2001, called Colombia “the kidnap capital of the world”.
At the same time, the FARC disassociated itself from the national communist party and its political ideology, and made a strategic decision to strengthen its military capacity in order to ex
According to Fundación País Libre, a Colombian non-governmental organization working to prevent and fight kidnapping, extortion, forced disappearance and other acts that deprive people of freedom, there were over 3,500 kidnapping cases reported in Colombia only in 2000, of which approximately 750 were perpetrated by the FARC alone. pand. They fused with the drug trafficking community to fund their activities, and peaked between 1996 and 1998, when they claimed to have control of close to one tenth of the country’s municipalities – some 100 of the 1093 at the time.
“When Álvaro Uribe became president of Colombia in 2002, the country had endured nearly half a century of a Marxist insurgency that had become perniciously entangled with the booming drug business. The lawlessness had spawned private protection militias, creating a three-way war among the government, the leftist guerrillas and the paramilitary forces,” said a column published by international affairs and foreign policy website World Politics Review (WPR) in October 2013.
Continued on Part 2: Light at the end of the tunnel: the 21st century and Plan Patriota









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