FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Colombia’s Dirty War

The conflict’s recent history is well known. In the early 1980s, a rash of guerrilla kidnapping and extortion led to local alliances of drug traffickers, emerald smugglers, large landowners, multinational corporations, industrial groups and Colombia’s police and military forces. These groups formed paramilitary units such as the infamous Death to Kidnappers (MAS).

Ever since, these death squads have carried out most of the war’s killing, and they’ve functioned in close coordination with the nation’s U.S.-backed security forces (despite occasional objections from some officials, including Colombia’s human rights ombudsperson and its attorney general). In the 1990s, most of the death squads joined forces in a national rightwing federation, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC).

What’s understood less is that government support for paramilitary organizations is a tradition that dates back more than half a century. Mary Roldán’s new book, Blood and Fire: La Violencia in Antioquia, Colombia, 1946-1953 (Duke), makes a strong case that government links to paramilitary groups are nothing new and that “recent and past periods of violence are inextricably intertwined.”

Even before the 1948 assassination of Liberal Party leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, the ruling Conservative Party was busy laying a legal basis for armed civilian squads known as “contrachusmas.” These squads attacked popular Liberals, inaugurating “La Violencia,” as Colombians refer to the mid-century years. Contrachusma deployment was coordinated by appointed Conservative mayors, many with criminal records.

The government also arranged civilian “police” units on the municipal level. Assistance for the deployments came from regular police forces, Conservative Party bosses and even priests. Using civilians gave the government plausible deniability at a rock-bottom price, since training amounted to little more than handing out .38 Specials.

In response to contrachusma attacks and massacres, a Liberal faction and other besieged Colombians organized “self-defense” groups. Years of partisan clashes, and eventually military bombings, led many of these groups to form the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 1964. But the state-sponsored terror persisted, making it nearly impossible for the FARC and other guerrilla groups to demobilize.

Roldán shows that “La Violencia” was not a natural development but, rather, the direct consequence of state-sponsored repression. The death squads were both a principal cause and sustaining force of the bloodshed.

The question is how long the government will be allowed to go on supporting death squads. Barring pressure from the United States, it looks like the preacher had it right: “That thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done.”

W. JOHN GREEN is a senior research fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs in Washington, D.C., and author of Gaitanismo, Left Liberalism, and Popular Mobilization in Colombia (University of Florida, 2003).

This column was originally published by Colombia Week; subscribe for free by writing to colombiaweek@mn.rr.com.

 

More articles by:
April 19, 2018
Ramzy Baroud
Media Cover-up: Shielding Israel is a Matter of Policy
Vijay Prashad
Undermining Brazilian Democracy: the Curious Saga of Lula
Steve Fraser
Class Dismissed: Class Conflict in Red State America
John W. Whitehead
Crimes of a Monster: Your Tax Dollars at Work
Kenn Orphan
Whistling Past the Graveyard
Karl Grossman - TJ Coles
Opening Pandora’s Box: Karl Grossman on Trump and the Weaponization of Space
Colin Todhunter
Behind Theresa May’s ‘Humanitarian Hysterics’: The Ideology of Empire and Conquest
Jesse Jackson
Syrian Strikes is One More step Toward a Lawless Presidency
Michael Welton
Confronting Militarism is Early Twentieth Century Canada: the Woman’s International League for Peace and Freedom
Alycee Lane
On David S. Buckel and Setting Ourselves on Fire
Jennifer Matsui
Our Overlords Reveal Their Top ‘To Do’s: Are YOU Next On Their Kill List?
George Ochenski
Jive Talkin’: On the Campaign Trail With Montana Republicans
Kary Love
Is It Time for A Nice, “Little” Nuclear War?
April 18, 2018
Alan Nasser
Could Student Loans Lead to Debt Prison? The Handwriting on the Wall
Susan Roberts
Uses for the Poor
Alvaro Huerta
I Am Not Your “Wetback”
Jonah Raskin
Napa County, California: the Clash of Oligarchy & Democracy
Robert Hunziker
America’s Dystopian Future
Geoffrey McDonald
“America First!” as Economic War
Jonathan Cook
Robert Fisk’s Douma Report Rips Away Excuses for Air Strike on Syria
Jeff Berg
WW III This Ain’t
Binoy Kampmark
Macron’s Syria Game
Linn Washington Jr.
Philadelphia’s Top Cop Defends Indefensible Prejudice in Starbucks Arrest Incident
Katie Fite
Chaos in Urban Canyons – Air Force Efforts to Carve a Civilian Population War Game Range across Southern Idaho
Robby Sherwin
Facebook: This Is Where I Leave You
April 17, 2018
Paul Street
Eight Takeaways on Boss Tweet’s Latest Syrian Missile Spasm
Robert Fisk
The Search for the Truth in Douma
Eric Mann
The Historic 1968 Struggle Against Columbia University
Roy Eidelson
The 1%’s Mind Games: Psychology Gone Bad
John Steppling
The Sleep of Civilization
Patrick Cockburn
Syria Bombing Reveals Weakness of Theresa May
Dave Lindorff
No Indication in the US That the Country is at War Again
W. T. Whitney
Colombia and Cuba:  a Tale of Two Countries
Dean Baker
Why Isn’t the Median Wage for Black Workers Rising?
Linn Washington Jr.
Philadelphia’s Top Cop Defends Indefensible Prejudice in Starbucks Arrest Incident
C. L. Cook
Man in the Glass
Kary Love
“The Mob Boss Orders a Hit and a Pardon”
Lawrence Wittner
Which Nations Are the Happiest―and Why
Dr. Hakim
Where on Earth is the Just Economy that Works for All, Including Afghan Children?
April 16, 2018
Dave Lindorff
President Trump’s War Crime is Worse than the One He Accuses Assad of
Ron Jacobs
War is Just F**kin’ Wrong
John Laforge
Nuclear Keeps on Polluting, Long After Shutdown
Norman Solomon
Missile Attack on Syria Is a Salute to “Russiagate” Enthusiasts, Whether They Like It or Not
Uri Avnery
Eyeless in Gaza   
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraq Then, Syria Now
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail