The Problem of Parcellized Sovereignty

Revolution and Counterrevolution in Colombia, 1946-2014

Policía Antinarcóticos
The Problem of Parcellized Sovereignty : Revolution and Counterrevolution in Colombia, 1946-2014 - Evan Pheiffer


A vast and beautiful country rich in natural resources, Colombia suffers from a chronic social, political, and agrarian imbalance. Though many praise it for having eluded the path of military dictatorship taken by practically all of its continental neighbors in the mid-to-late 20th century, this acclaim masks an underlying truth behind Colombia’s democratic façade. While other South American republics fell to military dictatorship, Colombia’s elites were often too divided or jealous of their power to hand the reigns of the State over to a cast of battle-hardened Cold and Korean War veterans – as many of the country’s top generals between the 1950s-1980s were. Or almost just as bad, the elites were too geographically removed from the majority of the population to be concerned. While Colombia is democratic today, it remains mired by guerrilla and drug-related violence, especially in its interior regions, far from the urban haunches of the country’s upper classes.


I discovered a country in which the failure to make a social revolution had made violence the constant, universal, and omnipresent core of public life.[1] 
- Eric Hobsbawm


This is what many political scientists and historians refer to as the problem of “Parcellized Sovereignty”: from the vantage point of Bogotá’s chicer districts, who could care less if some remote, impoverished hamlet was in thrall to a gang of aging, bearded guerrillas? Provided the State or its proxies controlled lucrative oil, coffee, banana, flower, and mining districts, it was not so much a matter of the State’s inability to combat the contemporary guerrilla threat as its unwillingness to do so. After all, for decades the guerillas were the only thing remotely close to any semblance of a State in many communities in the south and southeastern frontiers only settled for the first time in the mid to late 20th century.

Others make a similarly damning critique: peace has never been in the interest of the Armed Forces. Protectors of a divided realm and guardians of a fragile stalemate, the military presents itself as a band of selfless, disinterested heroes demanding nothing more than a ¢5 contribution when you check out at the grocery store. Apart from the Catholic Church, the military constantly ranks above the media, the national government, the comptroller and the inspector general as the most – if not only – trusted institution in the country.[1]  And trust and dependence have their perks.

With a 12.2 percent increase between 2012 and 2013, Colombia’s defense spending now accounts for 19 percent of the national budget – compared to 17.7 percent for the United States in the same year.[2]  At 26.3 trillion pesos ($14.6 billion USD), Colombia’s spending on defense tops that of education (24.9 trillion pesos) and dwarfs that of health (11.6 trillion) and transport infrastructure (6.3 trillion)[3] – some of the more pressing concerns for the 75 percent of Colombians that live in cities.[4] Any peace settlement would permanently alter this institutional arrangement, so the Colombian Armed Forces have a perverse incentive to maintain the status quo.

Furthermore, many scholars are amazed that Colombia has not broken into at least four separate countries: the northern Atlantic coast, the central valley, the eastern plains, and the southern Amazonian jungle. Indeed, rarely have politicians in Bogotá been able to command the true centers of agrarian and political power in Colombia; regional patriarchs in Antioquia, the Valle del Cauca and Cauca have proven far too resilient for the capital to force a political or agrarian solution to the country’s chronic inequality in its most prosperous regions – not to mention its poorest residents, the bread and butter of guerrillas. How did this situation come to be?

The Bogotazo: Beginning of the End or End of the Beginning?

For many in Colombia, 9 April 1948 was the day the world came to the edge of a dark and fragile precipice and enthusiastically jumped. Six days after President Truman signed the Marshall Plan into law and a week before the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) was founded, riots erupted in Bogotá that would claim the lives of 5,000 people in ten hours.[5] In what ominously became known as the Bogotazo, entire downtown sections of the Andean capital were burnt to the ground. The spark? The assassination of left-wing populist and Liberal party presidential hopeful Jorge Eliecer Gaitán – a man whose rapid political ascendance was feared by Liberal and Conservative party elites in equal measure.

Though the violence began in the city, it took a much deadlier toll on the countryside. Before the blood could dry on the pavements of the capital, Liberal partisans across the country began reprisal attacks against Conservatives for what they saw as a dark plot against their Wunderkind. In one notorious encounter, the Puerto Tejadazo,[6] infuriated Liberals decapitated leading Conservatives and played soccer with their severed heads in the middle of the town square.[7] Never to be outdone, Conservatives struck back with equal verve, a much better arsenal and the tacit backing of the State. The rest, they often say, is history. But is it?

The Bogotazo was merely the first great act in La Violencia – a tit-for-tat war of attrition between Liberals and Conservatives in the Colombian countryside that began in 1946 when Conservatives retook the presidency and began to politicize the State and many of its institutions. At the beginning of the Cold War and amidst the backdrop of the international “Red Menace,” political tensions were already very high. And though Communists would never come close to taking power in any of the country’s principal cities, La Violencia did not officially end until 1958, when elites in each party formed a coalition government to quell the worst of the bloodletting.

A Temporary Peace to Prolong the Bloodshed?

That said, the truce at the center of political power guaranteed no one’s safety on the periphery: by the late 1940s, ragtag self-defense groups of Liberal and Communist peasants had already begun to carve out autonomous “republics” in the remote countryside to protect themselves from state-backed Conservative militias intent on eradicating “subversion,” in addition to reversing agrarian reforms implemented by Liberals in the 1930s and 1940s.[8] As many historians have noted, the pattern of Colombian history in the 20th century has generally followed a revolutionary-counterrevolutionary pattern that is more or less intact to this day. In terms of agrarian reform, Liberals take one tepid step forward while Conservatives take two enthusiastic steps backward.

While the longstanding rivalry between Liberals and Conservatives died out at the end of the 20th century, the diarchic pattern continues to this day. On one side, former President Uribe and demobilized paramilitaries back “Democratic Security”; on the other, broad (and largely disorganized) leftwing coalitions of peasants’ land movements, Afro-Colombian and indigenous groups and various NGOs and human rights organizations fight for land reform. To give but one example: amidst the backdrop of fighting increasingly powerful guerilla insurgencies, between 1998-2003 more than 5 million hectares were seized by right-wing paramilitary groups from mostly indigenous and Afro-Colombian groups on the Pacific coast – the largest change of ownership in Colombia’s history.

It’s the land, stupid

Though ideologically motivated on paper, La Violencia was just as often about land. Of the estimated 200,000[9] killed between 1946 and 1958, the vast majority were rural peasants – often partisans of one of the two parties but hardly leaders of agriculture, industry, or politics. Rarely were urbanites, elites, merchants, or the middle class affected by what is arguably the third bloodiest conflict in South American history.[10]  But if it was, then why were only peasants dying?

It is an old truism that (civil) war is a perfect cover for amassing wealth and settling non-political scores. And while it is impossible to quantify how many acts of political violence were attributable to greed alone, there is consensus amongst historians that a great deal of La Violencia was motivated by the prospect of easy land grabs.[11]  Within the backdrop of widespread political violence, chaos, and ideological suspicion, often no more than an accusation of fealty to the wrong political party was needed to murder a specious political foe and seize his fields. Add to this violent cocktail the rising fears generated by the Cold War, and almost anything became permissible: for much of 20th century Latin American history, the Red Menace was the gift that kept on giving to counter-reformers of every stripe.

David Bushnell, the most respected English-language historian of Colombia, has argued that La Violencia was most pronounced in areas already awash in land disputes and ambiguous land titles.[12]  Indeed, the violence was the worst in areas such as Antioquia or Tolima that had only been colonized at the end of the 19thor beginning of the 20th centuries. For those without clout or political connections, property rights were far from secure. 

Almost equally important, however, was the struggle for land to accommodate the exploding international coffee market. Between 1940 and 1954, a pound of Colombian coffee on the US market soared from ¢6.20 to ¢65.70 – while a pound on the world market went from ¢13.87 to ¢146.98 in the same period.[13] A compelling reason to butcher thy neighbor in the name of politics. As historian Forrest Hylton argues in Evil Hour in Colombia, “the aim was not to achieve victory on the battlefield, but to expel the enemy from the region. Conquest of territory – the accumulation of land, livestock and coffee – was the goal.”[14] If one had to paint others with a broad ideological brush, then was the time to do so. To take up an old theme, La Violencia was as much a counter-revolution as anything else. 

On the other hand, Paul Collier, Director of Development Research at the World Bank, has argued that internal conflict is less the product of rampant poverty or inequality than it is of certain structural trends: heavy reliance on (taxable) exports, a young and uneducated population, dispersed settlement patterns, and a history of previous conflict.[15] These conditions were certainly present in the middle of the century – but is there a political element that is missing in this assessment?

While class was almost always a factor in La Violencia, Bushnell notes that rarely if ever did a Liberal peasant come to spear with a Liberal landowner or Conservative peasant with Conservative landowner. Rather, nearly all casualties were the result politically opposed peasant-on-peasant violence. Divide and conquer – or indoctrinate and command? In the vast majority of cases, those who acquired cattle, land, and labor during La Violencia were either pulling the trigger or financing the sale and distribution of bullets: almost never were they wielding the plow.

Marshall, Castro, and the Failed Revolution of 1948

Somewhat ironically, both George Marshall and Fidel Castro were in the capital at the time of the Bogotazo – albeit for very different reasons. While the former was attending the Ninth Pan-American Conference in the run up to the creation of the Organization of American States (OAS), the latter was attending an anti-imperial Latin American Youth Conference paid for by Argentina’s President Juan Perón. The future Cuban revolutionary was scheduled to meet with presidential hopeful Jorge Eliecer Gaitán the very afternoon he was shot and killed.[16] 

Marshall, conversely, was in Bogotá that April to strengthen Washington’s ties to anti-communist governments in Latin America. Though Pan-American conferences had been held throughout the Western Hemisphere since 1890, the OAS was the brainchild of Cold War politicking – the NATO of the Western Hemisphere, if you will. And not without some cause: two months before the OAS was created on 30 April 1948, the Soviet Union marched into Prague without firing a shot. Further east, Mao Zedong’s People’s Liberation Army was wresting city after city from the US-backed Kuomintang. Everywhere they looked, communism was on the march. Washington and its allies in Colombia were not taking any chances.

Letting off Steam or the March of the Swinish Multitude?

Given the atmosphere, no one was surprised when a “slightly unbalanced free-lance assassin” shot and killed the most persuasive left-wing presidential candidate in the country’s history.[17] That Bogotá was equally flush with angry, downtrodden mobs and frightened foreign dignitaries did not make the situation any easier: as the city burned in the wake of Gaitán’s assassination, Cold War conspiracies bubbled to the surface as quickly as storefronts could be ransacked and the homes of local notables pillaged. While Conservatives saw a Red Plot designed to inspire the lower orders to riot in preparation of a Communist seizure of power, the Liberals saw a clumsy Conservative-led coup against their most promising son in generations. In the ensuing chaos, it scarcely mattered they were both wrong: for a time, each of their greatest fears would manifest themselves.

In the hours after Gaitán’s death, arsonists torched Churches, government buildings, and the headquarters of Conservative newspapers such as El Siglo. Gaitanistas and students from the National University seized the airwaves and called for the creation of revolutionary juntas, while labor unions actually set up revolutionary juntas in Bogotá, Cali, Zaragoza, Barrancabermeja, Puerto Berrío, and dozens of other municipalities.[18] To many, revolution – like the ones then sweeping through Central and Eastern Europe, China, Korea, Vietnam, and Indonesia – seemed nigh.

Though these developments were unsynchronized, they sent shock waves through the Conservative establishment – particularly since US Secretary of State George Marshall happened to be there himself to witness the total collapse of political order, at the same time that communists were toppling governments from Prague to Peking. But the revolution was not meant to be. With neither leadership nor organization, the fever pitch of 9 April petered out by nightfall. The army remained loyal to the Conservative presidency of Mariano Ospina Pérez and within days, Conservative militias from the countryside had put paid to any radical notions still lingering in the embers of the capital. The revolution was stillborn. As Castro said of his (non) involvement many years later, “No one can claim to have organized what happened on April 9 because what was lacking on April 9 was precisely that, organization.”[19]

La Revanche

The next decade witnessed a murderous collapse of the country’s social and political fabric. In a “holy war” to cleanse the country of communists, masons, and atheists (i.e. Liberals), Conservative militias backed by the State and the clergy began to “conservatize” entire municipalities. This process entailed intimidating Liberals and their supporters in the run-up to elections and, after winning them, replacing civilian police with vigilante Conservative operatives. Mercenaries known as pajaritos (little birds) would then come in and terrorize communities suspected of Liberal sympathies, murdering and displacing entire populations with impunity. Once the more desirable lands were emptied of their original inhabitants, coffee and cattle ranchers with the right political credentials were not far behind.[20]

Meanwhile, Gaitanistas and Liberal partisans began forming self-defense militias in places like Tolima, the heart of Colombia’s coffee-country, in conjunction with fighters from the Social Democratic Party (PSD) – as the Colombian Communist Party was known until the early 1950s. Originally devoted to land reform, many of these soon-to-be guerilla outfits banded together to protect disparate and often Liberal or Communist peasant communities from state-backed Conservative militias and the army. Many of these would be incredibly difficult to disband. The Tolima force, for example, was led by the Loayza clan – one of whose members was Pedro Antonio Marín, aka Manuel Marulanda, and later known to the world as “Tirofijo” (Sureshot). Achieving near mythical status amongst his followers, he would lead the FARC from its inception in 1964 to his death from cancer in 2008.[21]

Any further account of La Violencia is only likely to confuse the reader. So what is the point of this gruesome tale? Gaitán’s death in 1948 was a turning point in Colombian history: a chance assassination whose effects are still felt in much of the country to this day. But just as the Cubans did not turn to the Soviet Union until 1960,[22] many of Colombia’s fiercest Marxist-Leninists got their start as Liberal peasants fighting a far more powerful rural oligarchy backed by the State and eager to reverse agrarian reforms enacted by Liberal governments in the 1930s and 1940s. Only after the Liberal party proved a fickle partner in the late 1950s did they turn to cruder ideologies.

Cuius est solum, eius est usque ad coelum et ad inferos[xxiii]

The adventures of Pablo Escobar aside, in the latter half of the 20th century, the Colombian conflict was still inextricably linked to land. During the National Front[24] of the 1960s, Liberal President Carlos Lleras Restrepo initiated a number of important agrarian reforms intended to check the gains made by rural guerillas since the beginning of the decade.[25] In creating the National Association of Peasant Smallholders (ANUC), Lleras hoped to bring the rebellious countryside back into the political mainstream – if ever it had been there to begin with – by promoting direct peasant involvement in the delivery of state services and agrarian reform.[26] For a time, it seemed it would.

Before long, however, the ANUC outgrewits Liberal britches and had become a powerful social and political movement of its own. Challenging prevailing patterns of rural ownership and capitalist development and militating for a free peasant economy, they soon took over significant tracks of land that had previously been incorporated into large, private estates. Within five years of Lleras’ experiment with social justice and land reform, the ANUC had reclaimed communal lands (resguardos) in Boyacá, Valle del Cauca, Huila, Tolima, the eastern plains, the Magdalena Medio, and the Atlantic coast.[27] Needless to say, these developments would not go unnoticed.

It was not long before Lleras’ successor, President Misael Pastrana, colluded with both landowners and leaders of each party to reverse this frightening trend in the “Pact of Chicoral”, a tragicomic but explicit declaration of counter-reform. In exchange for paying taxes, landowners were promised cheap loans, easy credit and the cessation of further land (re) distribution. They were also given carte blanche to target peasant and leftwing leaders with the tacit backing of the armed forces: little wonder that one of Latin America’s most powerful social movements in 20th century history became functionally irrelevant by the end of the decade. Moreover, only 1 percent of lands benchmarked by President Lleras for expropriation had ever changed hands. The counter-revolution prevailed again.[28]

The Creative Destruction of Cocaine

While mid-century struggles between Liberal, Conservative, and Communist peasants and their paymasters were over cattle ranching, municipal elections, and access to coffee plantations in recently settled lands, the latter half of the century was poised for a dangerously potent addition: the introduction of the immensely profitable coca crop. Who would have guessed that just as the fractious political class in Bogotá was reconciling in the 1960s, a commodity far more valuable than coffee, oil, emeralds, or gold would take the country – and its many factions – by storm. 

With the rise of coca came the decline of traditional elites and technocrats: it would take a new breed of operative to navigate the field of narco-politics – or an old one to radically change its ways; hence the decline of the Conservatives, the old coffee and manufacturing elites and the isolated peasant armies dispersed throughout the countryside. With the rise of cocaine and an incredibly profitable export-enclave economy, the struggle for land in Colombia was on the verge of becoming internationalized.

By the early 1980s, cocaine had replaced coffee and oil as the single most valuable Colombian export. But it also created an entirely new political dynamic – one that would siphon even more power from the technocratic halls of Bogotá into the hands of drug traffickers and their hitmen in Cali and Medellín. As Colombia’s productive base moved “away from manufacturing and coffee exports [and] toward extractive export enclaves and coca frontiers,” multi-nationals and the narco-bourgeoisie came to dominate Colombia’s political discourse and national direction.[29] That being said, export commodities are the brick and mortar of rent-seeking – and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were not one to miss a party. Harassed by the State and army and pushed to the fringes of Colombia’s settler frontiers, the FARC began by taxing coca cultivation, but before long was administering its exportation to the US and Europe in order to fund its ever-growing war machine against a seemingly indecisive State.

The Rule of Law or the Law of the Jungle?

This does not mean that today’s conflict is a civil war in the classic sense of the term: the civilian population is almost entirely opposed to the FARC and the National Liberation Army[30] (ELN) in equal measure. As almost every analyst of the country’s conflict has shown, the more powerful the rebels grow in firepower, men, and money, the more their popular support plunges (due to brutal but lucrative tactics such as kidnapping and heavily taxing local populations). Each guerrilla attack on a provincial police outpost further marginalizes discussions of land reform, as public discourse comes to revolve around the problem of “terrorism”, rather than local destitution, grinding inequities, or despair. In turn, the real questions that public policy makers should be debating –sovereignty, the rule of law, the consolidation of the State, and the nature of representative democratic politics – are left at the door of the classroom or on the shelves of underfunded NGOs.

It is no secret that, whatever its democratic credentials, Colombia is still by and large run by a small and exclusive oligarchy that, with the exception of narco-elites, has scarcely changed in two centuries. With almost predictable frequency, the national papers run stories on the “dauphins” of the political class who come up for election each congressional term (hint: they are on again this spring).[31]Juan Manuel Santos, the current president, is the great-grandnephew of President Eduardo Santos (1938-1942) and the first-cousin (on both sides) of Vice-President Francisco Santos Calderón (2002-2010). His family has owned a controlling stake in the country’s largest newspaper, El Tiempo, for seven decades.

Meanwhile, in Havana, FARC representatives have been negotiating a peace settlement with the Santos government since November 2012. Despite modest gains,[32] in early February the press revealed the army had been illegally taping not only FARC representatives in Havana, but the government’s very own emissaries as well – among them respected former generals credited with making crucial advances toward an eventual peace.[33] On 19 February, the chief of Colombia’s armed forces was sacked for his involvement in the scandal.[34] None of this bodes well for reaching a settlement before presidential elections in May 2014 – what many analysts say was Santos’ primary reason for pursuing the peace talks to begin with.

That being said, the rampant kidnapping, extortion, and murder that formed the basis of much of the FARC’s wealth at the height of its power (1999-2003) has starkly declined in the past decade. Whatever his clear and present faults, its decline is by and large thanks to former President Alvaro Uribe’s policy of “Democratic Security” from 2002-2010. Though now widely criticized for his heavy-handed policies and extensive ties to both drug-traffickers[35] and right-wing death squads, when Uribe left the presidency he did so with the highest approval ratings in Colombian history.[36] But his “peace dividend” was not without its costs. After Uribe left office, the “false positives” scandal sent shockwaves throughout the country when it was revealed that under his watch, thousands of young, innocent, and often mentally disabled men from underprivileged backgrounds were being rounded up, dressed up as guerrillas, and then summarily executed by the armed forces in order to increase that organ’s “body count” in return for perks such as cash bonuses and extra vacation days.[37]

A Diamond in the Rough?

Which brings us to the present. Recent devaluation of the peso aside, Colombia’s economy is one of the healthiest in Latin America. And if recent reports are to be believed, it has just become the region’s third largest economic power after Brazil and Mexico.[38] Though the price of coffee has collapsed in recent years, its sugar, oil, banana, beef, coal, gold, emerald, and flower exports are all booming – and powerhouses like Bogotá and Medellín have seen a renaissance in construction and tourism, as well as and crime reduction in recent years. But what about those on whose behalf the FARC claim to be fighting?

Between 1998 and 2013, an annual average of 300,000[39] Colombians were forcibly displaced from their land by paramilitaries, guerillas, and the Armed Forces alike – ostensibly as part of military maneuvers, but more often than not as part of land grabs in areas ripe for the cultivation of African palm, bananas, and flowers, in addition to areas rich in minerals, oil and emeralds.[40] These displacements bring the country’s total number of forced internal migrants to 5.2 million – the highest in the world and larger than that of Sudan, the Congo, Iraq, and even Syria. Though the administration of President Santos has taken unprecedented steps in recognizing the human toll of the Colombian conflict with the 2011 Law of Victims and Restitution of Lands and the creation of the first National Victims Registry, these organs have little to no teeth: less than 1 percent of land earmarked for restitution has been given back to the most recent collateral victims of Colombia’s armed conflict. So what is to be done?

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Private Property

As President Santos’ administration has proved over the past four years, discourse does matter. In addition to support from the Colombian government, the victims of Colombia’s 60-year conflict have benefitted from an outpouring of civil society organizations devoted to documenting human rights violations, restoring land, increasing public services, and fighting for an eventual peace accord with the country’s varying guerilla factions. The recently created National Center for Historical Memory, De Justicia, the Conflict Analysis Resource Center, the Center for Popular Education and Research and Program for Peace (CINEP), and the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement are but a few such examples.

As almost every party agrees, however, real peace cannot begin until Colombia’s chronic problem of “parcellized sovereignty” has been addressed. Only once the State effectively – and even more importantly –equitably governs the entirety of the national territory can the real issues of war and peace be resolved: agrarian reform, democratic representation, and the restitution of (illegally seized) land. Since the latter in particular is not likely to happen any time soon, the immediate concern of municipal governments in Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, Buenaventura, and Barranquilla needs to be the incorporation of displaced persons currently amassed in peripheral slums into the larger body politic. This process has already begun in Medellín and should be pursued with equal vigor in the rest of Colombia’s major cities.[41]

In the meantime, Colombia’s left-wing guerilla units should be disbanded along the same lines as its right-wing paramilitaries were between 2003-2006. While the aforementioned agreement was justifiably criticized as a blanket amnesty for those who committed mass atrocities in the 1990s and early 2000s, it has seen some success in demobilizing a force of more than 30,000 – many of whom have now entered electoral politics in critical regions such as Antioquia. Neither forgiving nor forgetting their crimes, the guerrillas should also be given an equal shot at entering electoral politics: if leading analysts such as Jorge Restrepo at the Conflict Analysis Resource Center (CERAC) are to be believed, their current unpopularity will not do them many favors at the election booth.[42]

That being said, the above remedies are only placeholders until the government can effectively and equitably govern the entirety of Colombia’s territory. For this to happen, the country’s governing elites need to make real priorities of agrarian reform and democratic accountability to Afro-Colombian, indigenous, and displaced populations, in particular. For it to function in the 21st century, the State must serve more than its lightest-skinned constituents. It must also extend its protection far more rigorously to (mostly left-wing) political movements vulnerable to attack.[43] Encouragement along these lines from the international community and the United States in particular is essential: only with pressure from above and below will Colombia’s haves and have-nots bury the ghosts of La Violencia and come to an agreement on the future of their country.

Notes & References

  1. Forrest Hylton. Evil Hour in Colombia. New York: Verso, 2006. p.xv
  2. “Colombia Opina: La Gran Encuesta, Medición 1: Primer año del Gobierno Santos, pp.21-22
  3. "Fiscal Year 2013 Budget of the U.S. Government". United States Office of Management and Budget. Retrieved February 13, 2012.
  4. Matthew Bristow, “Colombia Increases 2013 Budget 12.2% to 185.5 Trillion Pesos,” Bloomberg News, 27 July 2012
  6. Somewhat paradoxically, both George Marshall and the young Fidel Castro happened to be in Bogotá at the time. See Bushnell, David. The Making of Modern Colombia: A Nation in Spite of Itself. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. pp.201-222.
  7. Puerto Tejada, a small riverside town south of Cali in the Cauca province
  8. Germán Guzmán Campos, Orlando Fals Borda, and Eduardo Umaña Luna, La Violencia en Colombia, 2d ed., 2 vols. Bogotá: 1962-1964. pp.370
  9. Catherine LeGrand, “Agrarian Antecedents of the Violence,” in Bergquist et al., eds.,Violence in Colombia: Historical Perspective, pp.31-50.
  10. CIA World Factbook,
  11. After the War of the Triple Alliance against Paraguay from 1865-1870 and the Mexican Revolution from 1910-1920
  12. SeeBushnell, p.206
  13. Ibid.
  14. Grupo de estudios de crecimiento económico colombiano (GRECO), Banco de la República (2000)
  15. Hylton, p.44
  16. Malcolm Deas, “Plan Colombia,” London Review of Books, 5 April 2001
  17. See Hylton, p.40
  18. Bushnell, p.204
  19. Gonzalo Sánchez, Los Días de la RevoluciónGaitanismo y 9 de abril en la provincial (Bogotá 1993).
  20. Robin Kirk, More Terrible than Death: Massacre, Drugs and America’s War in Colombia (New York 2003), p.21
  21. Betancourt and García, Matones y cuadrilleros: Origen y evolucion de la violencia en el occidente colombiano,1946-1965, pp.76-127.
  22. Medófilo Medina, “La resistencia campesina en el sur de Tolima,” in Sánchez and Peñaranda, comps, Pasado y presente de la Violencia en Colombia, pp.233-65, as cited in Hylton, 43
  23. After seizing power on 1 January 1959
  24. “Whoever owns the soil, it is theirs to command – all the way up to Heaven and down to Hell”
  25. The period between 1958-1974 when Conservative and Liberal elites agreed to alternate the presidency every four years
  26. See Hylton, p.59
  27. Léon Zamosc, The Agrarian Question and the Peasant Movement in Colombia: Struggles of the National Peasant Association, 1967-1981 (Cambridge Latin American Studies 1986), p.102
  28. Hylton, p.60
  29. Ibid, p.61
  30. Hylton, 65
  31. The country’s second most powerful guerrilla force and one that currently boasts between 1,300-3,000 members and specializes in kidnapping and attacks on Colombia’s infrastructure
  32. SeeSemana, “Todo un acuario de hijos de politicos!” 26 October 2013
  33. For example, the FARC was largely faithful to a unilateral ceasefire from 15 December 2013 – 15 January 2014, during which time the government still pummeled their positions throughout the country
  34. Adam Isacson, “New Wiretapping Scandal Casts Doubt on Colombian Military’s Support for Peace Talks,” Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), 5 February 2014
  35. “Colombian Military Chief Gen. Barrero replaced amid scandals,” BBC,, 19 February 2014
  36. He is the first-cousin of Colombia’s most notorious narco-terrorist in history, Pablo Escobar
  37. Though originally Santos’ mentor, the two have since then fallen out over the latter’s efforts to negotiate a settlement with the FARC in what has become the most famous political punch-up in recent Colombian history.
  38. AdriaanAlsema, “False Positives,” Colombia Reports, 14 August 2012
  39. “Colombia to Argentina: We’re Bigger than You Again,” Financial Times, 10 February 2014
  40. “Displacement Continues Despite Hopes for Peace,” Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, 16 January 2014
  41. See Hylton, pp.129-136
  42. “Colombia’s Medellín named ‘most innovative city,’” BBC,, 1 March 2013
  43. “The FARC in Colombia: make politics, not war,” The Economist, 7 November 2013
  44. See Evan Pheiffer, “Colombia’s Marcha Patriótica: a politics of amnesia or apocalypse?” Le Monde diplomatique, 6 February 2014 
Evan Pheiffer holds undergraduate degrees from the University of Missouri and Sciences Po Paris and graduate degrees from Columbia University and the London School of Economics, all in history. After working in New York, London and Hong Kong, he moved to Colombia in 2013 to work as a visiting researcher for the Conflict Analysis Resource Center Bogota, where he is currently based.