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September 16th, 2004
An Honest Citizen
Data: Political, Drugs, and Columbia
1849-1948 100 years of two-party rule: Colombian politics are dominated by the Liberal and Conservative parties, with periodic violence between them.
1948-1958 La Violencia: The 1948 assassination of a key leftist presidential candidate instigates ten years of violence, costs hundreds of thousands of Colombian lives, and deepens tensions that will lead to future conflict.
1960s The Rise of the Guerrilla Groups: Peasants’ struggle for land and rights under the “limited democracy” of the National Front leads to the rise of the armed groups. In 1966, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), led by Pedro Marín, is formed.
1970s The Coca Boom: Drug traffickers abandon marijuana in favor of cocaine; profits surge by the late 1970s and traffickers gain immense economic power — and, eventually, significant political influence.
1970s Rise of the Cartels: Large, highly centralized drug trafficking organizations based in Cali and Medellín come to dominate the Colombian drug trade, and much of the country’s politics, culminating with the “narco-democracy” under President Ernesto Samper.
1980s The Rise of the Paramilitaries: Paramilitary units form in response to kidnappings of drug lords by FARC guerillas. In coming decades — with support from the military, drug cartels, and rightists — the paramilitaries grow more powerful and conduct attacks on rebels, peasants and even government officials.
1990s Transformation of the Colombian Drug Trade: With the death or capture of many drug lords, the Colombian drug trade fragments. Meanwhile, coca cultivation within Colombia itself expands rapidly. Some of the responsibility for distribution moves abroad, particularly to Mexico. Narco-trafficking becomes increasingly linked to guerrilla and paramilitary groups — who move from “taxing” cultivators and traffickers to direct involvement — and the international arms trade, further fueling Colombia’s violent conflict.
2000s The Potential for Change: In 2002, the Uribe government is brought to power with a strong mandate to strike hard against the armed groups. Following the outgoing Pastrana government’s failed attempt to negotiate a peace agreement with the FARC, Uribe takes a hard line against the left-wing, with some success in limiting guerrilla activity; he is far more successful in demobilizing right-wing paramilitaries. In June 2005 a new law — the Peace and Justice Law — is established, allowing members of paramilitary groups to claim reduced jail sentences and protection from extradition as compensation for disarmament.

Sources: BBC News Country Profiles: Colombia and MORE TERRIBLE THAN DEATH: VIOLENCE, DRUGS AND AMERICA’S WAR IN COLOMBIA, Robin Kirk, 2003.

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