Colombian Conflict: Failure of Successive Negotiations on an Ongoing Violence


The Colombian conflict is one of the world´s oldest of internal armed conflicts. The creation of the main guerrilla groups still active (FARC and ELN) dates from the years 1950 and 1960. The extension of this confrontation can be explained both by internal political developments (weakness of the territorial state presence, exclusive control of power by the two traditional parties) and external influences (diffusion of the revolution in the 1960s, drug trafficking in the 1970s). Since then, the country is developing under the influence of violence. Annually, over 20,000 victims among the civilian population prove the seriousness of the situation. Since the failure of several attempts of negotiations, violence has been increased, thus causing displacement of thousands of people. UNHCR estimates that Colombia is the country, after Sudan, with the highest number of IDPs (internally displaced people).

To understand reasons this extension of the armed conflict, it is essential to elucidate its causes and examine difficulties of its resolutions. Since 1980s, various negotiation attempts took place: their successive failures weigh on both the strategies of the government and guerrilla groups. With the election of Uribe in 2002, the situation was characterized by strategy of open armed confrontation. That prevents any prospect of a negotiated solution and the end of armed conflict seemed possible only by military way. But this didn’t mean the end of armed groups and violence. Since the election of President Santos (2010), the parties have started new negotiations and have confirmed their desire to end the conflict. Therefore the process and results of these negotiations appear to be blurred.

Historical background

The Colombian armed conflict has its roots in the period of La Violencia (1949-1953), a very bloody civil war between two major political parties: Conservatives, then in power, and Liberals. Violence debuted after the assassination of Liberal Party leader Jorge Elicer Gaitan in 1948. Following a brief period of military dictatorship, the Liberal and Conservative Fumigaciones Las Condes parties came together in 1957 and created a coalition called Frente Nacional. This agreement was intended to put an end to armed clashes, but mainly to prevent another conflicts by a power-sharing agreement. As part of this agreement, liberals and conservatives alternated the presidency and would share the positions of political leadership from the central to local government. The agreement was sustainable: it was established for four presidential terms (1958-1974) and continues thereafter in practices coalition government.

This agreement excluded small armed groups from other political trends that are neither liberal nor conservative. In remote regions, rural communities were organized during the Violencia´s Period in self-defense militias in the context of civil war. Influenced by communist ideas, from the defense of their land and establishment of collective structures of production means, they refused their demobilization at the end of the La Violencia period and rejected the power-sharing pact between liberals and conservatives. In the context of institutions reconstruction, these militias appeared to elites as an obstacle to national reconciliation process. Thus, the government undertook to attack them by force in 1964-1965. Despite the military offensive against them, they are not destroyed. Nor politically integrated into the regime or defeated militarily, they formally came together in organized protest movements that have undertaken the first activities of the Colombian guerrillas. The two most active important revolutionary movements, which were born in reaction to these events, are the FARC and ELN. The EPL group (Ejercicio Popular de Liberación), founded in 1967, was also influential, but demobilized in 1990.

In contrast to these groups, the paramilitaries “paracos” came in addition to the conflict. They are the answer conservative elites have made to defend their economic and political interests in a widespread violence context. It was legalized by Parliament with Decree 3398 of 1965 and Law 48 of 1968. These groups are formed by landowners allied to drug traffickers to fight against guerrillas and support the army in counterinsurgency efforts (cf.Jennifer S. Holmes, p.4). But their actions are no different from their enemies’ guerrillas; violence and terrorize the civilian population. They gained national unity in 1997, under the name of AUC- Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia-. This movement of the right defends the interests of large landowners and has as goal the removal of all communist-types aspirations. Several observers note a direct association between the military and the AUC, and military condone their camps and activities. Yet the paramilitaries, such as the FARC, fueled by income provides drug trafficking. In addition, the United States and the Soviet Union (USSR) sometime supported, according to their own interests, the main protagonists of the Colombian conflict. This international interference has greatly contributed to the degeneration of the conflict.

Other rebel groups, such as M19 (radical nationalist and populist) emerged (1973-1990) and enjoyed a great popularity due to spectacular actions: the theft of 5000 weapons and the occupation of the Embassy of the Dominican Republic (1980) as well as of the law court (1985).

The history and interests that drive the Colombian conflict help to explain the dynamics and transformations that characterize it. These events are developed in a global context where the Cold War was at its peak. Then these groups were more influenced by the diffusion of the victory of the guerrilla in Cuba and the experience of Che Guevara in Bolivia.

Ideologically the Colombian conflict has aimed at the land distribution and social equality. The guerrillas believe that the people are victims from landowners and the military. The FARC and some revolutionaries groups justify their violent on behalf of the Colombian population and they promote their ideals of social justice, equality and solidarity. So they can recruit candidates and save their image to the effect that they are still fighting on behalf of farmers and social justice. Thereafter, the guerrillas abandoned its project of social emancipation and changed in an essentially military action. However, the conflict has been transformed and today has its origins in the drug traffic and land control for the coca cultivation. Consequently, many are questioning its real desire to become a legitimate political party in the actual military and political context.

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