Master thesis

The development of the internal conflict

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The development of the internal conflict

Throughout the 1990s, the Colombian internal conflict caused tragic and enormous dimensions in numbers of dead, wounded, and missing persons, abductions, massacres and refugees. On the side of the leftist guerillas, there was a significant growth in power of both the FARC-EP and the Ejército de Liberación Nacional [National Liberation Army] (ELN). At the same time, there was an expansion in the actions of the right wing paramilitary groups, such as those of the Autodefensas Únidas de Colombia [United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia] (AUC). President Pastrana declared a drug war, rearming and modernizing the armed forces and police, after announcing a negotiated solution with the insurgencies. For Pastrana, Colombia was at war against two different things: drug-trafficking and the guerilla movements. In July of 1998, the President met with Manuel Marulanda Vélez, the leader of the FARC-EP, in order to negotiate a peace agreement in which the government established a demilitarized zone in the Colombian jungle, while maintaining the offensive against the guerillas in other regions. The agreement was part of a development plan called Cambio para Construir la Paz 1998-2002 [Change to Build Peace]. For three years, the FARC-EP was in dialogue with the government, executives of transnational corporations, committees and politicians, foreign journalists, trade unions and students. Despite these efforts, the peace process failed, and as a result the internal conflict progressed, as can be explained through the BTW (Santos: 174-175).

For the traditional political class, the reason for the bargaining failure was the generosity of the government, which, by succumbing territory to the FARC-EP, provided its regrouping, training and weaponry. From the side of the FARC-EP, Marulanda Vélez justified the failure through the intransigent position of the government to negotiate key issues on the agenda of the guerillas, such as equal political participation, the division of land, the break with the neo-liberal economic policy and the end of PC (ibid: 175). The FARC-EP is based on Marxist principles, which are not supported by the Colombian government. According to many analysts of the subject, amongst the several factors that led to the failure of the peace project, the primary one has been the internationalization of strategies for the resolution of the Colombian conflict and the fight against drug-trafficking with interference of the US government through PC. PC was introduced in 2000 and transformed President Pastrana’s peace plan into a military anti-drug and counterinsurgency plan, even though Pastrana’s original version of PC consisted of something different. When the peace talks between the government and the FARC-EP in the south of the country commenced, productive investments and the development of poor and isolated areas of the country were part of the negotiations. Furthermore, the FARC-EP and the Colombian government were meant to settle together on the fate of economic resources from the international community.

When the US entered the scene in 1999, the first thing they did was discard the FARC-EP from discussions on the use of economic resources from PC. Furthermore, they assisted the army and took control of the war in the south of the country. This resulted in the complete disappearance of the contents of the peace talks that were decided in the initial version of the plan, turning it into an anti-drug and counterinsurgency plan. The FARC-EP, consequently, discarded the plan under the allegation of assault on the peace process and continued the conflict. PC, which was initially expected to last until December of 2005, was drawn up in an English version only. The program foresaw an investment of $7.5 billion, of which the US would provide $1.3 billion. The Colombian government added $4 billion, of which 80% would come from external resources and the additional 20% from fiscal adjustments and taxes under control of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Additional financing would come from European countries and international institutions (ibid).

The FARC-EP and the situation in Colombia

The FARC-EP is, historically, mainly present in rural and poor areas of Colombia, thereby raising support from the population for its goals. It has not been generally agreed on whether or not inequality and violence are interrelated, therefore, poverty and inequality cannot be considered to be the direct sources of the internal conflict in Colombia. However, both are commonly recognized as significant and contributing factors to the conflict. This is illustrated by the fact that “[o]ne direct connection between poverty and Colombian violence is that in many cases the guerillas, regardless of ideology, offer relatively higher wages than other available agricultural jobs, and this facilitates recruitment” (Holmes, Gutiérrez de Piñeres & Curtin: 81). The agricultural sector did not grow as steadily as the overall Colombian economy, which may be a result of unsuccessful land reforms during the past decades. The fact that the FARC-EP has been able to grow significantly over the past decades is not only a result of “[…] their increased ability to generate revenues through extortion, kidnapping or threats to local authorities and sectors of the civilian population” (TNI). It is mainly through their ability to take advantage of the existing Colombian regime that requires extensive reforms with regards to its socio-economic institutional framework, that the FARC-EP has been able to take control over parts of the country and, thereby, influence the economic development of Colombia. Continuous struggle shapes Colombia, as was described by Marx in his theory of historical materialism.

The FARC-EP insurgency can be explained through many factors including the country’s history and geography, as well as the government, economy and demography. Furthermore, it is noticeable that the internal conflict in Colombia does not derive from different ethnic or religious groups, which suggests alternative explanations for the conflict, such as the factors described in the Theory of War and BTW. These factors include both contributory and necessary causes for war, as well as the failure of bargaining efforts. As for the FARC-EP, it can be stated that its rise was “[…] a result of a lack of opportunities for the population, a failure of the political system to be inclusive, and a lack of professionalism in public administration” (Holmes, Gutiérrez de Piñeres & Curtin: 73). The Marxist background to the ideals of the FARC-EP further explains this statement. However, it must be stated that the factors responsible for causing the conflict are not necessarily the same ones leading to the persistence of the conflict, especially in the case of the FARC-EP. Guerilla movements, such as the FARC-EP, have historical criticism against the Colombian state as well as the country’s elite. There are a few necessary factors required for the success of an insurgency, which are “[…] a home base, a resource base, access to a supply network, and access to international trade” (ibid: 74). The economic history and geographical features of Colombia make the country very viable for an insurgency like the FARC-EP.

An offensive against the FARC-EP

Assisted by US military strategists and supported by a broad technological base of radars, aircrafts, helicopters and war material offered or sold by the US, the Armed Forces of the Colombian state implemented a tough offensive against the guerilla groups in 1998. The Armed Forces were used to combat illicit cultivation in the departments of Nariño, Cauca and Putumayo, by use of chemical arms. Furthermore, it should be added that hundreds of US soldiers, spies and civilian contractors did not only go to Colombia to assist the Colombian army in the anti-drug and insurgency plan, but also to guarantee security and protect the economic interests of large US corporations. According to studies done by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the approval of PC by the US Congress was arranged through heavy lobbying by the companies interested in oil reserves in Colombia. This illustrates the strong ties between the US and Colombia. These companies became a permanent target of guerilla actions, which entailed blowing up oil pipelines and kidnapping executives, ultimately damaging business. Therefore, military intervention by the US was crucial for the oil companies in the region.

Under PC, the US military began air security missions in the areas of oil corporations activities. It might be because of this geo-economic dimension that PC possibly explains the concentration of FARC-EP bombings in the south of the country, such as the Putumayo department, as this area possesses a lot of oil. Furthermore, the introduction of PC represented an increase in military activities of US private corporations in the Andean region. In fact, the US government had been using the services of private military corporations in the region since 1990. When PC was introduced, there was an increase in the hiring of private military companies to develop information services, research, intelligence, logistics, surveillance and training of the Colombian military, as well as the fumigation of illicit crops. While the US Congress does not allow greater military presence in Colombia, these companies may satisfy the disposition of the US to increase its aid to President Pastrana, as well as the need to fight guerilla movements in order to gain control over narco-trafficking (Santos: 178-179). Altogether, it may be clear that US presence in Colombia, both governmental and corporate, is of great importance to the developmental process of Colombia.

The influence of violence on the economy

The security issues in Colombia, deriving from violence, drug-trafficking and the influence of the FARC-EP, have had an impact on the business climate for foreign companies. The impact of the internal conflict on the economy is shown through the fact that companies are afraid to invest in Colombia as a result of the influence of the actions of the FARC-EP and the violence deriving from the internal conflict. However, FDI is now increasing as a result of the pro-business mentality and efforts made by the government in the past years in order to decrease the impact of the violent conflict. “Colombia is a resource-based economy, and while unemployment and poverty is high compared with some in the region, the influx of foreign investment may raise the standard of living in the country” (International Business Times). While neighboring countries such as Venezuela and Bolivia have been resistant towards FDI, Colombia is focusing on attracting more FDI to the country, as part of its neo-liberal economic strategy. Although many investors are scared due to the history of drug-trafficking and violence that has terrorized Colombia, the influence of these factors is now decreasing because of the policies implemented by President Uribe aimed to attract FDI and develop the country’s industry.

Although it is generally assumed that violence and crime are simply part of the problems countries in Latin America and Africa have to face, the reality is that violence and crime cause problems in nations worldwide. However, crime rates usually increase faster and are much more violent in developing countries. Both Colombia and South Africa used to be considered the most violent countries in the world for a long period of time, and Colombia has still not been able to fully lose its image of a violent nation (McIlwaine, 1999: 454). In early February of 2012, two attacks were carried out on police stations within 24 hours, which indicates that security is still an issue within Colombia in spite of the significant improvement of the situation in recent years. The attacks have been blamed on the FARC-EP, therefore, the tensions between the Colombian government and the FARC-EP remain high (Latin America Monitor).

Attacks on oil companies

The FARC-EP has influenced the development of the Colombian economy by attacking the oil infrastructure facilities of the government. In 2008, a series of attacks on the largest oil pipeline of Colombia were executed, hindering the production of an estimated 800.000 to 3.000.000 barrels of oil. Furthermore, “[t]he guerillas strategically destroyed important transportation routes needed to control the flow of oil and military supplies throughout various departments in the north of the country” (Brittain & Petras: 23). While the attacks on these pipelines were executed, another front assaulted the security forces guarding the real target of the attack; the largest pipeline owned by the Colombian Ecopetrol and American Occidental Petroleum. The attack took place only “[…] hours after US ambassador to Colombia, William Brownfield, visited the area and applauded the progress made in areas of security and economic prowess as a result of the FARC-EP’s decline” (ibid).

The influence of the internal conflict on the Colombian economy

It has become commonly accepted that Colombia has been suffering from an internal conflict for decades and that, as a result, the Colombian society is affected by violence. According to Karl Marx, conflict is the foundation of history, as would be applicable in the case of Colombia. The internal conflict is more intense in parts of the country that provide products and natural resources, e.g. petroleum, bananas and coca, as well as the transportation systems within the country (Solidarity). Essentially, violence in Colombia seems to be connected to the capitalist accumulation in the country. However, violence mainly emerged as a result of the inequality deriving from capitalist accumulation, providing a platform for guerilla movements to originate. There is no proof of economic growth, poverty and violence being inherently interconnected. The significant capitalist accumulation emerged as a result of the neo-liberal and capitalist focus of the Colombian government, leading to the creation of greater wealth for part of the population. It may be clear that a lack of governmental presence throughout the country has contributed to the many internal conflicts Colombia has been dealing with historically. This is also illustrated by the fact that “[t]he relatively low military spending and small military force for a country facing a decades-long insurgency reflect the historical weakness of the Colombian state” (Holmes, Gutiérrez de Piñeres & Curtin: 77).

The previous lack of concern from the government for the peripheries of the economy resulted in a large amount of people without access to basic facilities, thereby becoming more vulnerable to the influence of an insurgency such as the FARC-EP, as is explained through the Theory of War. According to the Theory of War, the FARC-EP can be regarded as a sovereign organization that has the freedom to start a war when deemed necessary. The economic factors supporting guerilla violence are both the lack of economic means for a large part of the population, thereby creating grievance, and the source of motivation as well as the funding22 for the creation of an insurgency looking to start a conflict. Basically, “[…] it is important to examine economic factors to understand both recruitment and resource aspects of nonstate violence” (ibid: 81).

The influence of the FARC-EP on the Colombian economy also becomes clear through the impact of violence on the efforts to reform land, as well as the higher production costs and risky investments in rural areas. Altogether, these factors deriving from violence caused by the internal conflict worsen the quality of life in Colombian rural areas. Consequently, “[p]oor economic conditions precipitate violence, and violence has negative effects on the economy” (ibid: 85). Another factor confirming that the FARC-EP influences the economic development of Colombia is the insurgency’s strong involvement with coca production, as illicit drug cultivation puts a strain on the development of an economy. The FARC-EP is involved in activities related to coca cultivation which tend to create more violence in the area. It is stated that there is more “[…] FARC fighting in areas of economic expansion, weak state presence, and agricultural production, including coca” (ibid: 87). It is well-known that drug-traffickers are often forced to pay taxes to the FARC-EP and that there are strong connections between the guerilla movement and the illicit drug network, therefore, the FARC-EP does influence the Colombian economic development.

Economic development and the internal conflict

“One of the most significant changes in the guerilla forces in the 1990s has been their increased control over local economic resources and increased economic reserves to fuel their war machine” (TNI). The FARC-EP has been able to generate an income that allows for further existence through extortion and kidnapping, combined with the organization’s involvement with various sectors of the illegal-drug trade. As was stated before, the Colombian economy only started to take off again after President Uribe initiated a program to combat violence, which reassured the international community of the economic potential of Colombia. Although the internal conflict in Colombia cannot be designated as the sole factor contributing to the lagging economic development23, through the connection between violence, conflict, drug-trafficking activities and socio-economic development, it may be clear that all factors are interrelated, and, therefore, of significant influence to one another. As a result of the problems the country is facing, the Colombian economy has not yet grown to its full potential, in spite of the steady economic growth only interrupted by episodes of crisis. In particular since President Uribe took office, the economy has improved significantly and in 2005 Colombia became the third most popular destination for FDI in Latin America (Holmes, Gutiérrez de Piñeres & Curtin: 8). The Colombian government lead by President Santos has determined that the five factors receiving immediate attention in order to stimulate the economy are agriculture, extractive industries, housing, infrastructure and innovation (Index Mundi).

Many of the current economic problems Colombia is dealing with derive from the influence of the drug industry. Negative effects from the drug trade causing problems for the country’s economic development include “[…] increases in smuggling, concentration of land ownership, deterrents to both foreign and domestic investment, and changes in prices” (Holmes, Gutiérrez de Piñeres & Curtin: 105). The drug trade equally influences Colombia’s political credibility, which has its reflection on the economy. In spite of an investment climate that can be considered fairly favorable, as was mentioned before, Colombia is dealing with the image of a dangerous country to invest in, and foreign interest in investments in Colombia decreased as a result of the great extension of violence within the country. Domestic violence does not only drive FDI away, it also influences the number of foreign experts that wish to live and work in Colombia, thereby limiting the sources of expertise. Violence is strongly related to the illegal drug trade and internal conflict in Colombia. The insecurity within the country costs a great deal, which in turn influences decisions that have to be made for the long-term and damages the economic progress. Not only the industrial sector is influenced by the domestic situation, also “[…] in the rural economy, both the internal conflict and the growing drug trade added to an already challenging economic environment” (ibid). The possibilities for the FARC-EP to build a strong network of guerilla combatants damaged Colombia’s economic development through the organization’s vast involvement in coca cultivation and illegal drug-trafficking, as well as through the violence connected to these activities.


An important factor influencing the economic growth of Colombia is the country’s infrastructure. The lack of a well-functioning transportation network is impeding Colombia’s economic growth, and is only recently starting to improve under the leadership of President Santos. According to the president of the Colombian Infrastructure Chamber, Juan Martín, “[…] the “monumental backwardness” of Colombia’s transport network […] is perhaps the biggest obstacle to economic growth” (Economist: 37). Furthermore, “[i]nfrastructure is key to the profitability of an operation” (International Business Times), and without a sufficient transportation structure there are limited possibilities available for companies to do business in more remote parts of Colombia. However, the country has been improving its infrastructure in recent years, which opens up new possibilities to foreign investments.

Part of the reason for the Colombian transportation network to not be developed properly is the influence of the FARC-EP, as many of the investments in infrastructure over the past decades were destroyed by guerilla actions. However, Colombia’s natural geography has always made transportation difficult, due to large mountain chains and areas of jungle. Furthermore, politics have influenced the lack of development of the country’s infrastructure, as the government set other priorities or suffered from corruption. Colombia’s lacking infrastructure came 79th out of 139 countries on a ranking by the World Economic Forum, and the costs of this are enormous. As the poor infrastructure leads to extremely high costs of transportation of goods, the government came to the conclusion that annual GDP growth could raise by a full percentage point if the transportation issues were to be resolved (Economist: 37). Under the administration of President Santos, there will be an increase in the spending towards improving the infrastructure, especially after the heavy floods the country has suffered in recent years. Not only will the damage done by these floods be repaired, the government has also announced an investment plan worth $55 billion for the next ten years.

While “[r]oads are the first order of business” (ibid), there will also be a focus on waterways and even a railway to connect major cities with ports. Not only is the development of the country’s infrastructure of major importance to the Colombian economic development, the country similarly has obligations to other South American countries through the regional integration plan that was launched in 2000. This plan includes 33 projects with regards to the Colombian infrastructure, and aims to improve the strategic crossroads in Latin America. Altogether, “[w]ith the economy growing at over 4% and foreign capital pouring in, funding these projects is not a problem” (ibid: 38). The challenges lie in the difficulties with regards to ensuring timely production, as well as building projects of high quality with the budget allocated. While inefficiency and corruption remain significant issues in Colombia, as well as in the rest of Latin America, the country has improved greatly in the past decade. Where President Uribe made it possible for Colombians to safely travel within their country, President Santos is now improving the infrastructure to make it easier for people and goods to reach their destination (ibid). Improvements in the Colombian infrastructure would not be possible without the decline in power of the FARC-EP, therefore, it is clear that the FARC-EP has hindered the economic progress of Colombia over the past decades.

The US and Colombia

Historically, the US has been strongly involved in Colombia’s development, especially during the early 1990s. By 1992, “[…] the Andean region was receiving more US military assistance than any other region in Latin America” (Rochlin: 721), with a total of $147 million for Colombia, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador. Yet, while the administration of President George Bush Sr. was very involved with Colombia, this changed when President Clinton took office in 1993. Colombia was no longer seen as a strategic problem for the US, and, therefore, Colombia was largely ignored in spite of the escalation in its drug production. The focus of the US government was no longer on the eradication of illegal drugs at their source, but instead on the treatment of drug use, thereby aiming to diminish the demand. The disregard for Colombia until 1998, the year when Colombia entered an economic crisis and the country made a bargaining attempt with the FARC-EP, was also due to the fact that the Colombian government had apparent ties to drug-trafficking activities. However, with the growing strength of the FARC-EP came the interest of the US to fight not only the most powerful leftist guerilla group, but also the other Colombian insurgencies that had grown significantly (ibid: 728).

When looking at the historical development of US involvement in Colombia, it cannot be denied that the Obama administration faced a challenge with regards to its international relations with Latin American countries, including Colombia. However, Latin America generally shares the same opinion and interests with the US, such as “[…] the need to preserve and create jobs in the face of the global economic downturn; expand growth and trade; reduce poverty and inequality; combat organized crime and drug trafficking; […] manage migration flows; and strengthen international institutions of governance” (Lowenthal, Piccone & Whitehead, 2009: vii). Both the US and Colombia base their economic policies on neo-liberal ideology. This makes it undeniably important for the US to improve its international relations to the south, as cooperation may result useful.

Although both the US and Colombia have made considerable investments aimed at diminishing drug-trafficking activities, the illegal drug trade remains virtually intact. These investments were made through PC, which was established with the goal of eradicating illicit drug-trafficking and improving security in Colombia. Though coca production decreased in several regions of the country, overall, the measures taken as part of PC have not been able to fully eradicate the illicit drug activities in Colombia. In 2008, the Government Accountability Office stated that “[…] Plan Colombia had helped improve the security situation in Colombia but had failed in its goal of reducing the cultivation, processing and distribution of illegal narcotics by 50 percent in six years” (Shifter: 74). While the US focused on regulations meant to diminish drug-trafficking, cocaine being available at lower prices and with higher purity rates makes it seem like the drug supply to the US has actually increased during the early 2000s. Furthermore, due to the focus on the illegal drug trade, other important elements of PC, such as the improvement of security, seemed to be for a large part disregarded. Ultimately, it can be stated that “[t]he U.S. emphasis on the drug trade over security has been a response more to U.S. domestic politics than to Colombia’s needs” (ibid: 77).

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