The economic recession known by Colombia after 1978, which has eased since 1986, has led to a worrying increase in urban unemployment, while the distribution of land has remained highly unequal. The almost secular violence in the countryside was joined by that linked to the production and export of marijuana and the refining and trafficking of cocaine (3 billion dollars a year).
65% of this traffic is controlled by the Medellín and Cali cartels, while about sixty small groups in ruthless struggle among themselves divide the rest. The power of the narcotraficantes has increased enormously over the years, so much so that one of their most prominent representatives – P. Escobar – was elected to parliament in 1982. Essential elements of this power can be identified in the corruption of military, judicial and political authorities, in welfare initiatives and in the creation of jobs and income in areas that have experienced a profound crisis in traditional crops, but also in the use of intimidation and murder, as well as in the economic and military strength of the drug empire. Between 1985 and 1989 nine ministers of justice succeeded one another in Colombia, all of whom resigned following threats from coca organizations, as well as numerous judges. An impressive wave of murders hit magistrates, journalists, politicians, policemen. narcotraficantes between 1984 and 1986, the period in which the extradition treaty between Colombia and the United States remained in force.
Violence, also traditional in political life, has intensified since the mid-1970s due to the guerrillas, the reaction of the armed forces and the appearance of paramilitary groups (over 130), suspected of connivance with the world of drugs and integrated by elements of the army, who have assumed the right to kill “subversives” and deracinés (prostitutes, beggars, petty criminals, etc.). Out of 29 million residents, 2 million are armed. Every year about 15,000 Colombians are murdered, over 10% for political reasons: between 1985 and 1989, 3000 members of the left UP party were eliminated by the extra-institutional right.
On the political level, the stubborn maintenance of a bipartisanism by now devoid of representativeness led liberals and conservatives to share, until the general elections of spring 1990, the great majority of the votes; the abstention rate is around 60 ÷ 80%, demonstrating the scarce legitimacy of the system. The above considerations explain why, despite the facade democracy and the assumption of Third World positions in foreign policy, the country has lived for 30 years in a state of practically uninterrupted siege.
The profound crisis of bipartisanship has suffocated political life in the contrast between clientelism on the one hand and terrorism on the other, while also on the social level there has been an increase in instability and protest. The trade union world is still poorly represented (15% of the workforce) and very divided; the indigenous, peasant and human rights movements as well as the civil movements, of an inter-class character and bearers of various claims, which are expressed in the paros cívicos, a sort of general strikes on a local basis with road blocks and occupations of buildings public, which occurred nationwide in 1977, 1981 and 1985.
The weakening of the institutional forms of political life that underlies the actions of social protest also explains the strengthening of the guerrillas in the 1980s. The oldest formation – FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) – dates back to the 1950s: of a liberal and then communist matrix, it grouped more than 40% of the 30,000 men in arms at the beginning of the 1990s; it operated exclusively in the countryside, where in some areas it set up a real parallel government. There have also been many other groups, mainly urban and often of non-Marxist ideology, of a nationalist character, which, rejecting the logic of the FARC, based on self-defense, have focused on the creation of a people’s army: the most representative group after the FARC was the M-19 (Movimiento 19 de Abril). In mid-1990 there were still 56 guerrilla fronts, spread over two thirds of the national territory.
The problem of protest, armed or not, has characterized Colombian political life since the presidency of AL Michelsen (1974-78), when the state of siege was restored. The weight of the military on political life continued to increase even under the successor (also a liberal) JC Turbay Ayala, who ruled until 1982 in a climate of progressive polarization and creeping dictatorship: during his administration 70,000 arrests were recorded, while the protest was spreading to involve part of the middle classes as well.
In 1982 the conservative B. Betancur was elected president, who launched a pacification plan aimed at reintegrating the guerrillas into civilian life and undermining the consensus they were beginning to enjoy. The plan was carried out in two years through the discussion of a reform program, the establishment of a peace commission, the granting of an amnesty, the signing of a truce (1984) and the initiation of a dialogue process. with the FARC, the M-19, the EPL (Ejército Popular de Liberación) and another minor group. During the truce a division of the guerrilla front was outlined between the FARC, committed to giving a political outlet to the armed struggle through the creation of the UP (Unión Popular), and the other groups that favored the commissions charged with studying projects in various fields (constitutional, agrarian, labor, health, etc.).
The lack of deposition of arms, the lack of support from liberals and conservatives for the president and the non-involvement of the military in the pacification, however, led to numerous violations of the truce, while far-right groups decimated the opposition forces: in June 1985 the M- 19 and the EPL decided to break the truce. The epilogue of this phase occurred on November 8, 1985, when the armed forces attacked the courthouse occupied by an M-19 commando: the death toll was over 200, including many progressive magistrates killed in suspicious circumstances.. The image of Betancur suffered a serious blow, attenuated only by the drama of the Nevado del Ruiz volcano which a few days later caused 25,000 victims.
The elections of 1986 saw the victory of the liberal candidate V. Barco (the UP stood at 4% of the votes), who maintained the truce with the FARC, but failed to attack the objective causes of subversion, poverty above all..
The reforms turned out to be practically nil, just as the innovations had little impact on the political level, in the first place the election of mayors (March 1988), who had previously been appointed from above. The system has remained highly centralized and the return to a state of siege – theoretically dictated by the fight against drugs – has opened up further spaces in the state apparatus for the armed forces. Together with those of the police, they absorb one third of the state budget. For Colombia history, please check ehistorylib.com.
The last few years have seen the drug problem escalate. Backed by the United States – increasingly alarmed by the spread of cocaine in their country – President Barco launched an offensive against drug traffickers in 1989, restoring the extradition treaty with Washington. The response of the drug cartels was articulated on the usual level of individual and collective attacks and on that of the invitation to dialogue and negotiation. In this climate, Barco achieved appreciable political results with the decision of the M-19 to lay down its arms and transform itself into a legal party at the end of 1989, but this success was diminished by the resumption of the armed struggle by the FARC and, above all,, from the climate of terror created by the Medellín and Cali cartels, which culminated in the assassination of LC Galan, a liberal candidate for the presidency of the republic and a declared enemy of any negotiation hypothesis.
A few months later were also physically eliminated Colombia Pizarro and B. Jamarillo, candidates respectively of the M-19 and of the UP, who following this murder did not appear in the presidential elections of May 1990. The latter saw the victory of the liberal Colombia Gaviria Trujillo, whose party had already obtained a majority in the parliamentary elections in March. Having taken office in August and formed a government of national unity between liberals, conservatives and M-19, Gaviria relaunched the peace process with the other guerrilla groups and initiated an attempt at dialogue with the drug traffickers themselves (several of the latter were formed following the new administration’s commitment to cease extraditions to the United States).
A constituent assembly was elected in December, whose work, which opened in February 1991, ended in July with the promulgation of a new constitution; the elections saw a strong advance of the M-19 which, coming in second place, immediately after the liberals, broke for the first time the monopoly of the two traditional parties. Two seats were assigned to the EPL, which in March 1991 put an end to the armed struggle after 23 years, taking the path already traveled by the M-19; fighting continued with the other two main guerrilla organizations, the FARC and the ELN (Ejército de Liberación Nacional), although a resumption of negotiations between them and the government is imminent.