Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.


 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate

Subscribe!
Subscribe





On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.
___________

Syndicate
RSS/XML


RSS 2.0

Colombia: mixed messages

By Rodrigo Acuña - posted Tuesday, 19 February 2008


The recent release of hostages by Colombia's largest rebel movement the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), has again demonstrated the rebels' willingness to engage in peace negotiations with the government of Álvaro Uribe Vélez.

And yet, if the latest reports that the FARC have kidnapped six tourists are correct, it also reveals that their leadership does not regard its international image - which is deservedly bad enough - high on its list of priorities. This is particularly the case after the successful mediating role played by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and the declaration passed by his country's National Assembly which stated that the FARC and the Army of National Liberation (ELN) - the country's second largest leftist guerrilla group - to be insurgents and not terrorists.

The civil war in Colombia is undoubtedly complex with no members of the conflict free of committing human rights abuses. Growing coca plantations and manufacturing cocaine is a lucrative trade whose dirty money is touched by all hands. However, despite these complexities, a few things should be straightforward to understand.

Advertisement

For a start, naming the FARC and the ELN as terrorists - as did the US State Department since November 2001 - has been based on political motives rather than these organisations abandonment of their Marxists and liberation theology philosophies - as much as they have degenerated in the last two decades.

Guerrilla movements in Colombia have a long history often originating after all legal means to establish trade unions or leftist political parties were closed off through harsh violence. When the country plunged into civil war after the moderate centre-left presidential candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitán was assassinated in 1948, guerrilla organisations emerged in even greater numbers as poor peasants were driven off their lands for having supported Gaitán.

Although many rebels rallied under the banner of the Liberal party - Colombia's second oldest political organisation - until it reached an agreement with the Conservatives in 1958, many insurgents continued to fight after these accords since, from their perspective, the settlement would not bring about a greater degree of social justice or the legalisation of organisations such as the Communist Party.

And hence a war has raged in Colombia which seems to have no end.

When the cocaine trade flourished in the mid-1970s, the conflict became even more complex. The ELN, like the M19 - a former rebel group who signed a peace accord in the late 1980s - decided not to become involved with cocaine but instead relied on ransom from kidnappings as their key source of revenue.

The FARC however was more pragmatic. It taxed poor peasants, robbed cocaine gangsters and eventually kidnapped anyone they thought could pay up. While the cocaine cartels in return declared war on the FARC through the creation of huge right-wing paramilitary armies, by 2002, according to one estimate, the guerrillas made over $US200 million through kidnappings and $US500 million from taxing sections of the drug industry.

Advertisement

Colombia though has had its chances for peace. Nowhere was this more evident than when the Uribe Accords were signed in 1984 between the government and the FARC.

Steven Dudley - Bureau Chief of the Andes for The Miami Herald - in his book Walking Ghost: Murder and Guerrilla Politics in Colombia has written about the peace accords which included allowing the FARC to legally establish a political party called Unión Patriótica (UP).

While Dudley notes the complexities of the negotiations and how the FARC used them to continue to arm itself, his analysis of how the ring-wing paramilitaries and sections of the Colombian establishment destroyed the UP - and hence eliminating the possibility for a permanent peace - are clear:

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

First published in The Diplomat in January 2008.



Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

2 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with del.icio.us Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Rodrigo Acuña is a PhD candidate in International Studies at Macquarie University, Sydney. A recipient of Benchmark Prize in Hispanic Studies by the University of New South Wales, he was also runner up for Open Prose in the Unsweetened 2007 Literary Journal. He writes regularly on Latin American affairs and has presented seminars at various Australian universities on political developments in Venezuela, as well as other Latin American countries.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Rodrigo Acuña

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Article Tools
Comment 2 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend
Advertisement

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy