Updated: March 2012
Type of Conflict
Parties to the Conflict
Status of the Fighting
Number of Deaths
2011 Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) leader Alfonso Cano was killed in November in a battle with government troops and immediately replaced by Timoleon Jimenez. Contributing to the ongoing “para-politics” scandal, the Supreme Court sentenced Mario Uribe Escobar, the cousin of former President Alvaro Uribe, to seven years and six months in prison in February for his dealings with paramilitaries. In April, Colombia, Chile, Mexico and Peru increased economic ties by signing the Pacific Accord. In June, the government enacted the controversial Victims’ Law, which seeks to restore millions of hectares of stolen land to its rightful owners. In the same month, high-profile lands rights activist Ana Fabricia Cordoba was shot dead. In October, despite heightened security during nation-wide municipal elections, 41 candidates, including two mayoral candidates, were killed.
2010 The number of internally displaced people rose this year and the number of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels decreased. In February, the constitutional courts rejected a referendum that would have allowed Alvaro Uribe to run for a third term as president. In June, former defence minister Juan Manuel Santos won the presidential elections, vowing to continue Uribe’s Democratic Security Policy to tackle the FARC. Santos put forward a bill that would restore land to internally displaced people and compensate victims that have suffered from abuses committed by state agents. In July, FARC leader Alfonso Cano offered to open dialogue with Santos. As a precondition to talks, Santos demanded the release of all hostages. Venezuela broke diplomatic ties with Colombia after Bogota accused it of harbouring FARC rebels; diplomatic ties were restored in August. In September, the Colombian army killed FARC top commander Jorge Briceno, also known as Mono Jojoy, in an air strike.
2009 FARC’s continued campaign of kidnapping and its assaults on indigenous people led to a backlash from the Colombian population. FARC and ELN continued talks to unite; but government officials remained skeptical about an alliance. Though were reports of higher numbers of FARC rebel deaths, the army was accused of killing civilians and dressing them in FARC uniforms.
Colombia prepared for elections to be held in May 2010. The constitutional court said it would not rule on whether to hold a referendum to extend presidential term limits until January 2010.
2008 Negotiations between FARC rebels and the government continued throughout 2008. In a blow to FARC, the government rescued high-profile hostage Ingrid Betancourt and 14 other hostages in mid-2008. Sporadic fighting between the government and the rebel groups continued throughout the year, with approximately 70 civilians, rebels and police officers killed. After the death of three top FARC officials in 2008, ELN and FARC initiated talks about a guerilla alliance. A Colombian air strike in Ecuador sparked a regional crisis, but by August, relations, although strained, were back to normal. The United States pledged to assist the Colombian government with a campaign against ELN in 2009.
2007 The two main rebel groups, FARC and ENL, continued to fight a brutal turf war, killing more than 100 people and displacing thousands. The Uribe government was mired in scandal by the discovery of numerous links between murderous paramilitary groups and high-ranking government officials. Despite a fifth round of peacekeeping talks between the ENL and the government, prospects for sustainable peace remained poor. FARC released video footage of kidnapped 2002 presidential candidate Ingrid Betantcourt, the first footage to have been released in years. The government claimed the footage proved Betancourt had been tortured and confirmed that three prominent U.S. hostages were sill alive.
2006 Levels of violence came down, although periodic attacks and military clashes continued throughout the year, mainly between FARC and the government, resulting in the deaths of 160 people and the displacement of more than 2,500. President Alvaro Uribe was re-elected to a second term in May. The ENL agreed to a formal peace process, while negotiations for a hostage exchange between FARC and the government collapsed after an incident of violence blamed on the FARC. The process to demobilize paramilitary fighters continued, and early in the year, Uribe declared that the AUC ceased to exist. Uribe’s government came under criticism later in the year for alleged connections to paramilitary warlords.
2005 Fighting between FARC rebels and the Colombian government escalated following a government offensive early in the year. After four years, the UN ended its mediation efforts between FARC and the government. The umbrella paramilitary group, AUC, continued to disarm as the Colombian congress approved a demobilization framework that reduces sentences for paramilitaries that voluntarily disarm. Preliminary talks began in Cuba for peace negotiation in early 2006 between the Colombian government and the ELN.
2004 Fighting between rebels, paramilitaries and government security forces and attacks on civilian targets continued as estimated conflict deaths totalled between 3,000 and 4,000, the majority civilian. FARC rebels fought under a new leader, known as Alfonso Cano and U.S. involvement in Colombia increased substantially in 2004. The AUC paramilitaries demobilized nearly 3,000 troops by year’s end, and the government set aside two “safe havens” for other AUC troops while they awaited demobilization
2003 Fighting between rebels and government security forces continued unabated in spite of promising developments, including the initiation of disarmament efforts by the umbrella paramilitary group, the United Self-Defence Forces (AUC). Intensified government counterinsurgency, assisted by U.S. military equipment and training, led the two largest rebel groups, FARC and ELN, to announce their intention to join forces to fight the government. As many as 4,000 people were reported killed in the conflict in 2003, most of them civilians.
2002 The new government of President Alvaro Uribe was elected in May and vowed to intensify its military response to the conflict. The conflict killed approximately 3,500 people this year, many of them civilians.
2001 Fighting intensified again in 2001 among all sides of the conflict—government troops, rebel guerrillas and paramilitaries—and combatant and civilian deaths increased to at least 1,400. Analysts suggested an August law, which gave the military sweeping new powers, was behind the spike in violence. Prospects for peace were dim by the end of 2001.
2000 Fighting between government forces and rebels and paramilitary killings of civilians intensified following U.S. President Bill Clinton’s visit to Colombia in August. An independent group reported 1,200 deaths by the end of the year.
1999 Conflict violence increased as government forces clashed with rebel groups, while failing to halt—and even supporting—the operations of paramilitary groups. Most of the year’s 2,000 to 3,000 conflict deaths were at the hands of non-state agents.
1998 After a July meeting between president-elect Andres Pastrana and FARC and meetings between ELN and Colombian civil leaders in Germany a week later, a major rebel offensive in August renewed violence. Major clashes between rebels and government troops and paramilitary attacks on civilians killed between 2,000 and 4,000 people during 1998. Estimates of the death toll since 1964 are not available, but as many as 40,000 people have died in the fighting and related political violence since 1986.
1. Colombian Government: The government is currently led by President Juan Manuel Santos who was elected to office in August 2010 with the largest majority in Colombia’s history in elections generally considered free and fair. Santos was defence minister under former president Alvaro Uribe. He is the great-nephew of Eduardo Santos, president from 1938 to 1942. The Colombian constitution was written in 1991. The government consists of three branches: the executive, the legislative and the judiciary.
2. Fuerzas Militares de Colombia/Military Forces of Colombia: The Colombian army, which is responsible for implementing the government’s strategies. However, they themselves have been accused of co-operating with paramilitary groups by carrying out extrajudicial killings. . In November 2011, government forces are killed FARC leader Guillermo Leon Saenz (Alfonso Cano) in a military operation called Operation Odyssey.
3. Paramilitary groups: formed in the 1980s to protect landowners from the leftist rebel fighters who often extracted “revolutionary taxes” from local populations. The paramilitaries received funding and arms from government security forces in their fight against the rebels. In order to finance their activities, paramilitary groups became involved in Colombia’s lucrative drug trade. In 2002, then-president Alvaro Uribe declared the groups illegal and undertook efforts to defeat or disarm them.
a. Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia/United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC): The umbrella organization for right-wing paramilitaries, the AUC is led by Carlos Castaño and has more than 10,000 combatants. It was formed in 1997 by landowners and drug-traffickers to respond to rebel kidnappings and extortion. Following the AUC’s decision to enter into peace talks with the government in 2002, several militant factions separated from the main group and continued their armed campaign against rebels. In April 2006, the government announced that the AUC no longer existed. The organization continues to be referenced in discussions about paramilitary groups and the demobilization process.
b. Águilas Negras/Black Eagles: This is a group of remobilized fighters from AUC. According to Colombian police, the Black Eagles are not a single group. Many groups, including local gangs, used the label to generate fear.
4. The United States: Ninety per cent of the cocaine in the United States originates in Colombia. Since 2000, the United States has spent over $6-billion (U.S) on Plan Colombia to aid the Military Forces of Colombia with training, equipment and intelligence in order to combat the drug traffickers. In 2009, the United States and Colombia signed a deal to allow the U.S. military to use several Colombian air bases in order to counter drug-trafficking and terrorism. In 2010 alone, the United States gave Colombia $673-million (U.S.) for military and police aid.
Leftist Guerilla Groups
5. Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia/Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC): The oldest and largest of Colombia’s left-wing rebel groups, FARC has 8,000 fighters. FARC’s longtime leader Manuel Marulanda was replaced by former head of FARC ideology Guillermo Sáenz, also known as Alfonso Cano, in 2004. FARC was formed in 1964 with a mission to overthrow the government and install a Marxist regime through armed struggle. However, when paramilitary forces attacked the group in the 1990s, FARC became involved in the drug trade in order to raise money for its campaign. According to a U.S. Justice Department indictment in 2006, FARC generates more than 50 per cent of the world’s cocaine and more than 60 per cent of the cocaine that enters the United States. FARC wields power in the country’s southwest (Cauca, Narino and Putumayo departments) and northeast (Arauca department). While it has significantly weakened, FARC remains on U.S. and European lists of terrorist organizations. In November 2011, Alfonso Cano was killed by Colombian military forces in Operation Odyssey. He was replaced by Timoleon Jimenez.
6. Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional/National Liberation Army (ELN): This left-wing group, inspired by the Cuban Revolution and Marxist ideology, was formed in 1965 and currently has 1,500 fighters. ELN initially stayed out of the illegal drugs trade but has more recently turned to drug trafficking as a source of funding; previously, the group generated funds through ransom and extortion payments. ELN remains on U.S. and European lists of terrorist organizations.
2011 Alfonso Cano, leader of FARC, was killed on Nov. 4 in a battle with government troops as part of a military operation the government called Operation Odyssey. He was immediately replaced by Timoleon Jimenez (better known as Timochenko). In May, according to Colombian police, FARC guerrillas killed a police officer and three civilians in two attacks in the remote town of Bete, in the province of Choco. The embattled region has numerous waterways leading to the Pacific Ocean, making it a hotbed for narco-traffickers and criminal gangs. Later in May in Choco, FARC maintained a blockade of the Atrato River, holding up to 200 civilians hostage for two days. According to Human Rights Watch: from January to August, 16 civilians were killed and more than 100 injured by landmines and unexploded devices; in July, FARC set off a car bomb, killing three civilians and injuring more than 100. In October, FARC killed ten soldiers in a military unit in southwestern Colombia, the worst attack on Colombian forces in 2011. In November, FARC executed three police officers and a soldier, as well as four Colombian security forces who had been held captive for more than 10 years. The rebel group blamed the government for the deaths of the four security forces, insisting they had planned to release them as a goodwill gesture but the government killed them in a failed rescue attempt. In December, FARC announced it would release six hostages that had been held captive for over a decade, while still holding onto sixteen soldiers and a police officer. There were reports of multiple incidents between FARC rebels and government forces in 2011, leaving dozens dead from each side.
In June, high-profile lands rights activist Ana Fabricia Cordoba was shot dead. In October, despite heightened security during nation-wide municipal elections, 41 candidates, including two mayoral candidates in the municipality of Campamento in the Antioquia department were killed.
2010 In February, five people were killed and four wounded after FARC tried to kidnap a candidate running for governor in the southern province of Guaviare. Also in February, 20 people were arrested across several Colombian cities after a two-year anti-drugs investigation supported by U.S. agents. In March, FARC released Colombian soldier Josue Daniel Calvo, held captive for more than a year. In August, newly elected President Juan Manuel Santos said he would agree to an offer of talks with FARC only if the group released all its hostages. Between August and September, FARC killed 30 police officers in attempted kidnappings. In September, FARC increased its attacks. On Sept. 23, the Colombian army killed FARC top commander Jorge Briceno, also known as Mono Jojoy, in an air strike in Macarena Region. During these air strikes, which included the use of 30 war planes and 27 helicopters, 20 other FARC rebels were reported killed. In October, the Colombian army killed three children, one of whom was raped. A bomb placed on a bicycle exploded, killing four soldiers and three civilians. Also in October, the Colombian army killed two FARC commanders near Tame. According to Amnesty International, paramilitaries continued to threaten the civilian population. On Dec. 2, two paramilitaries killed peasant farmer Milton Díaz Cabezas.
2009 An army crackdown killed a disproportionate number of rebels in 2009. FARC’s continued campaign of kidnapping and its assaults on indigenous people led to a backlash from the Colombian population. Rebels used bombings and small ambushes in urban areas to avoid direct confrontation with the army. FARC and ELN continued talks to unite; but government officials remained skeptical about an alliance. FARC held 22 hostages for a prisoner swap and 700 for extortion purposes. FARC released six hostages in early 2009 in what it called an act of goodwill.
2008 Fighting between FARC and the government and ELN and the government killed approximately 70 people in Colombia in 2008. An uprising of farmers and indigenous people killed a number of people, as did FARC attacks on civilians. FARC commander Raul Reyes and another high-profile FARC commander were killed in 2008. ELN approached FARC with a guerrilla-alliance proposal.
2007 Fighting between FARC and ELN throughout the year resulted in the death of more than 100 civilians and the displacement of thousands. Despite a fifth round of peace talks with the government, ELN continued to wage a brutal turf war with FARC over control of key cocaine export channels. A local community leader, Yolanda Izquierda was murdered by Colombian gunmen. Reports from the Uribe government that violence was beginning to subside were met with skepticism.
2006 Periodic fighting continued throughout the year between the Colombian army and leftist guerrilla groups, primarily FARC. Conflict erupted between FARC and ELN. Fighting resulted in more than 150 deaths, hundreds of kidnappings and the displacement of more than 2,500 people.
2005 Heavy fighting between FARC rebels and government forces took place throughout the year involving both large clashes and guerrilla-style attacks. Colombian forces also fought with paramilitary forces despite continuing disarmament talks. Bombings and kidnappings in urban and rural areas continued.
2004 Government clashes with rebel groups and paramilitaries, fighting between paramilitaries and rebels and attacks on civilians continued through the year, killing hundreds of combatants and civilians. FARC rebel attacks on coca fields resulted in significant civilian casualties, including 34 in one incident alone. There were some indications of a reduction on the intensity of violence, however, including an off-and-on ceasefire declared by AUC paramilitaries.
2003 Fighting between FARC and ELN, the government security forces and the paramilitary fighters remained intense for much of the year. Most violence was attributed to rebel fighters, primarily FARC. In addition to clashing with government security forces and paramilitary fighters, rebels stepped up their attacks against political figures. Thousands of civilians were killed in 2003, many as a result of more than a dozen bombs set throughout the country, the most destructive killing 33 people in Bogota in February. Meanwhile, peace talks between the paramilitary umbrella group, United Self-Defense Forces (AUC), and the government reduced violence somewhat. The conflict also threatened to escalate beyond Colombia’s borders when relations between Colombia and Venezuela were strained after an attack by the Venezuelan air force on paramilitaries operating along the shared border. Both major rebel groups and the paramilitaries continued to use children to fight.
2001 There was a dramatic increase in the fighting in 2001 between government and rebel groups, government and paramilitaries, and rebels and paramilitaries. In August, the Colombian government enacted a law giving the military sweeping powers over civilian authorities, new powers of detention and the right to set up martial law in certain areas.
2000 Clashes between government forces and rebels intensified following U.S. President Bill Clinton’s visit to Colombia in August. Fierce fighting was reported in southern Colombia, where 50 per cent of the country’s coca is produced, and which is increasingly becoming a target of U.S. counternarcotics operations. Paramilitary groups staged attacks on civilians suspected to be sympathetic to the left-wing guerrillas.
1999 Violence increased as government forces clashed with rebel groups while failing to halt—and even supporting—the operations of paramilitary groups responsible for civilian massacres. Throughout the country, civilians were subjected to kidnapping and execution by paramilitary and guerrilla groups.
1998 A secret July meeting between president-elect Andres Pastrana and FARC and meetings between ELN and Colombian civil leaders in Germany a week later raised hopes of peace negotiations. But a major rebel offensive in August, including major clashes between rebels and government troops, and paramilitary attacks on civilians soon dashed them.
Total: Between 50,000 and 200,000 people are estimated to have died in the conflict since 1964, including 40,000 since 1990. When fatality figures are expanded to include all firearm-related deaths, the number reaches 475,000 since 1979 alone. Between three and five million people are Internally Displaced Persons. This figure does not include unregistered internally displaced people; it is likely very conservative. The majority of displaced people are rural, indigenous or of African descendant. Land mines are posing an increasingly greater danger to the civilian population, killing 1,000 in 2006. In 2005, Colombia overtook Cambodia as the country with the highest land-mine casualty rate.
2011 An estimated 130 to 155 people were killed this year, according to various media reports. FARC rebels killed 10 to 20 civilians, 40 to 50 security forces, and 10 police officers. Forty-one candidates were killed while campaigning in nationwide municipal elections. Twenty-six trade unionists were killed. Sixteen civilians were killed by landmines and unexploded devices. Dozens of police and military forces were killed in clashes with FARC and other rebel forces. An attack on a Colombian military camp killed ten military personnel.
2010 According to various media reports, an estimated 100 to 115 people were killed this year in conflict-related incidents, including about 50 civilians. The army killed an estimated 23 FARC rebels, including top commander Jorge Briceno. The army was accused of killing three children. FARC killed an estimated 30 police officers and five others during attempted kidnappings. Paramilitaries killed three people. According to Human Rights Watch, 36 trade-union activists and five human-rights activists were killed between January and September. A bomb placed on a bicycle killed three soldiers and four civilians. According to the United Nations Human Rights Council, by mid-2010, Colombia had 3.4 million internally displaced people, giving it the highest rate of internal displacement in the world.
2009 This year saw approximately 221 deaths, including the massacre of 27 Awa indigenous peoples by FARC rebels in February. Though were reports of higher numbers of FARC rebel deaths, the army was accused of killing civilians and dressing them in FARC uniforms.
2008 There were approximately 70 deaths in 2008.
2007 There were more than 100 combat-related deaths in 2006, many civilian deaths caused by the turf war between FARC and ELN. Land mines killed more than 1,000 civilians and emerged as one of the most pressing issues facing the country.
2006 There were 160 combat-related deaths reported deaths this year, including the deaths of 28 civilians. More than 17,000 people were reported to have suffered violent death in 2006, though few of these deaths were directly related to the conflict.
2005 At least 1,000 civilians and combatants were killed this year as fighting intensified. Precise fatality figures were difficult to obtain; figures may be two to three times higher.
2004 According to the U.S. State Department, between 3,000 and 4,000 people were killed in 2004. Much of the fighting took place in remote regions and many deaths are unreported, making it difficult to obtain precise fatality figures.
2003 As many as 4,000 people were killed in 2003. Much of the fighting took place in remote regions, making it difficult to obtain precise fatality figures. As well, it is impossible to determine how many of the 22,000 homicides that occurred in 2003 were directly related to the conflict. Thousands of people were abducted for ransom throughout the year, many of them by rebel groups to fund their activities.
2002 An estimated 3,500 were killed this year, many of them civilians.
2001 The year saw a total of more than 2,500 conflict-related deaths. At least 1,400 civilian deaths were reported in 2001, with one report citing more than 9,000 civilian deaths between January and August alone. In December, the Colombian military issued a report stating it had killed 1,000 rebels and 100 paramilitaries in 2001. The report did not mention the number of civilians killed.
2000 According to the Colombian Commission of Jurists, 1,200 people were killed, the vast majority at the hands of paramilitaries.
1999 The year saw between 2,000 and 3,000 political and extrajudicial killings.
1998 Between 2,000 and 4,000 people were killed this year.
2011 Contributing to the ongoing “para-politics” scandal, the Supreme Court sentenced Mario Uribe Escobar, the cousin of former President Alvaro Uribe, to seven years and six months in prison in February for his dealings with paramilitaries. Uribe, a former Senate president was arrested in 2010 after accusations that he had garnered the support of paramilitaries for his senatorial election run in 2002. Since 2007 more than 120 former Congress members have been investigated for their ties to paramilitaries and 40 have been convicted.
In April, Colombia, Chile, Mexico and Peru increased economic ties by signing the Pacific Accord, an agreement with the goal of creating an integrated market to compete against larger economies and trade groups, including the Asian market.
In June, the government enacted the Victims’ Law, which seeks to restore millions of hectares of stolen land to its rightful owners. Analysts say enacting the controversial law would be extremely expensive and could take a decade.
In October, an estimated 130,000 candidates vied for 13,000 positions in nationwide municipal elections, including governors, mayors, assemblymen and council members. To secure the safety of the candidates and estimated 30 million voters, President Santos deployed 300,000 troops across the country.
2010 In February, the constitutional courts rejected a referendum that would have allowed President Alvaro Uribe to run for a third term. In June, Juan Manuel Santos won the presidential elections, promising to carry on the Democratic Security Policy, including tackling the drug trade and the FARC, put in place by Uribe. The Santos government vowed to address the plight of 3.4 million internally displaced people by giving priority to land issues and displacement. In July, Venezuela broke diplomatic ties with Colombia after Bogota accused it of harbouring FARC rebels; diplomatic ties were restored in August. In October, Colombia adopted the Convention on Enforced Disappearances, which states that no one is to be subjected to forced disappearances and acts considered crimes against humanity as defined under international law. Also in October, Spanish police arrested 41 people for allegedly financing FARC with money laundered from drug-trafficking. Since coming to office, Santos has introduced draft legislation that would return land to displaced people. On Jan. 1 2011, Colombia was to begin a two-year term as a non-permanent member of the Security Council.
2009 Colombia prepared for elections to be held in May 2010. The constitutional court said it would not rule on whether to hold a referendum to extend presidential term limits until January 2010. President Alvaro Uribe did not indicate if he would run again if the limits were extended. FARC freed governor Alan Jara, held by the rebel group for eight years, in what it called an act of “goodwill.”
2008 Colombia launched an air strike on FARC rebels in Ecuador, sparking a regional crisis. Ecuador immediately expelled Colombia’s ambassador and mobilized its forces on the border. Leftist leaders in the region, including Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez led the charge to break diplomatic ties to the U.S.-backed Colombia. President Alvaro Uribe apologized for the strikes in Ecuador, defusing tensions. Tensions again increased when documents on the computer of dead FARC commander Raul Reyes (who was killed in the cross-border attack) appeared to show links between Venezuela and FARC. In July, the Colombian army rescued high-profile hostage Ingrid Betancourt and fourteen others, dealing a blow to FARC. In response to the 2007 “parapolitics” scandal, in which high-ranking political officials were linked to various paramilitary groups, 29 political officers were detained and 38 remained under investigation by the end of 2008. The government dismissed two generals and 24 soldiers suspected of killing 11 civilians and dressing the bodies in FARC uniforms to inflate numbers. The incident led to the resignation of the army’s commander. The attorney-general was investigating more than 1,550 cases of extrajudicial killings by the army. Protests occurred throughout the year in Colombia. A 45-day strike by judicial workers put a halt on legal proceedings. A petition to change the constitution to allow Uribe to run for a third term was launched. Parliament took preliminary steps to allow Uribe to run for a third term in 2014, after four years away from the presidency.
2007 The government was mired in scandal in 2007 when a computer seized from a high-ranking paramilitary leader revealed that many top-ranking officials of the Uribe government had links to various paramilitary groups. The ELN entered a fifth round of peace talks with the government, resulting in the declaration of a temporary ceasefire; but Peace Commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo stated that a ceasefire would take place only when the ELN ended its campaign. The government released 56 FARC rebels into demobilization programs, a “goodwill gesture” by President Alvaro Uribe, who was looking for the release of prominent hostages being held by the group. Towards the end of the year, FARC released video footage of French-Colombian hostage Ingrid Betancourt and three other prominent U.S. hostages. The video is the first footage of Betancourt released in years.
2006 President Alvaro Uribe was re-elected to a second term in May. In 2006, 17,560 paramilitary fighters were disarmed, bringing the total number demobilized since 2003 to more than 32,000. The Uribe administration announced that AUC had officially ceased to exist, and the demobilization process came to a close, raising concerns that without peace talks these demobilized groups would transform into gangs. Uribe held peace talks with the ELN prior to his re-election in May, and later in the year ELN commander Antonio Gracia declared that he was in favour of an amnesty agreement for imprisoned rebels. The ELN agreed to move towards full-fledged peace negotiations. A prisoner-hostage exchange between the government and FARC was called off after a car-bomb explosion. Accusations that Uribe and other political elites had connections to paramilitary groups, responsible for fighting guerillas and massacring civilians, surfaced in 2006.
2005 Demobilization of AUC fighters continued after Colombia’s congress passed a law that grants reduced sentences to paramilitaries in exchange for disarmament, drawing criticism from Colombia’s civil society and international rights groups. FARC held 60 hostages, including foreign citizens, in a prisoner-hostage exchange deal. The government began preliminary talks on future peace negotiations with ELN after Francisco Galan, one of ELN’s top commanders, was temporarily released from prison. The United Nations suspended efforts at mediation between FARC and the Colombian government. Colombia’s constitutional court lifted the limit on presidential terms, clearing the way for President Alvaro Uribe to run for re-election in May, 2006.
2004 The AUC demobilized nearly 3,000 troops by year’s end in the latest step toward full demobilization by the end of 2005. The government set aside two safe havens for AUC soldiers before they are demobilized. FARC’s longtime leader Manuel Marulanry, presumed dead or dying of cancer, was replaced by Guillermo Saenz, known as Alfanso Cano. Ricardo Palmera, the public face of FARC during recent failed peace negotiations, was captured and sentenced to 35 years. The head of a unit of FARC suicide bombers, Luis Ospina, was captured and awaiting trial. The government continued peace negotiations with the AUC and ELN; no progress was made with FARC. The United States increased its commitment to Colombia significantly, doubling its troops and boosting aid. The Colombian government signed a deal with Brazil and Peru to combat arms and drug smuggling over their borders. According to the government, the number of kidnappings dropped in 2004 as a result of their hard-line policies. With three million people internally displaced, Colombia boasted the world’s third-worst refugee crisis. Reports of mass rapes of women in Colombia emerged in 2004.
2003 The paramilitary umbrella group, United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), began negotiations with the government, leading to the disarmament of almost 1,000 paramilitary fighters by year’s end—the first stage towards full disarmament of AUC fighters by 2005. Several paramilitary groups refused to adhere to a ceasefire before the rebels were defeated, and the amnesty granted to disarmed fighters, some of whom had committed grave human-rights violations, drew heavy criticism. The two main rebel groups, the FARC and the ELN, united forces against the government. In response, President Alvaro Uribe intensified counterinsurgency operations.
2002 In February, the government broke off peace talks with the ELN. In May, Alvaro Uribe replaced Andrés Pastrana as President, promising a new security strategy aimed at bringing about the military defeat of rebel forces and paramilitaries. The Uribe government enacted emergency legislation to increase military spending by $210-million (U.S.) and to create a network of civilian informants, some of whom would be armed. The United States branded the AUC, ELN and the FARC terrorist groups, increasing its military aid to Colombia, and agreed for the first time to allow this aid to be used directly against rebel groups. In December, the AUC and a number of other paramilitary groups agreed to a unilateral ceasefire.
2001 A number of government attempts at peace negotiations with Colombia’s largest rebel group, FARC, failed in 2001. Negotiations with the second-largest rebel group, ELN, ended in August, with the rebels refusing to negotiate with Colombia’s President Andrés Pastrana. Under Plan Colombia, the United States gave Colombia $256-million (U.S.) in 2001, mostly for the purchase of military equipment.
2000 FARC formed a political party in March—the Bolivarian Movement. In June, the United States approved $1.3-billion (U.S.) in aid to Colombia, a package that would see 60 helicopters delivered and three anti-narcotic battalions trained.
1999 In October, the government and FARC officially launched peace talks based on a 12-point agenda in the town of La Uribe in southeastern Colombia. By year’s end, no significant progress had been achieved.
1998 Early in the year, a guerrilla group and the main paramilitary alliance signalled a willingness to begin talks with the government. In June, rebel leaders held a brief meeting with President Andrés Pastrana at a secret location. By year’s end there was no ebb in the fighting, nor did the rebels or paramilitaries appear willing to engage in direct talks.
Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, Colombian politics was dominated by the Liberal and the Conservative parties. Both included fiercely loyal factions made up of both peasant and elite members. In the early 20th century, communist labour and agrarian reform movements developed alongside the Liberal Party, and by the 1940s they had produced a leading Liberal presidential candidate, Jorge Eliécer Gaitán. The assassination of Gaitán in 1948 triggered rioting in Bogota and uprisings throughout the country, marking the beginning of La Violencia, a conflict between Liberal and Conservative supporters that killed an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 people over the next ten years.
In 1958, elite members of the two major parties implemented a power-sharing agreement. This arrangement, called the National Front, mandated that the parties hold the presidency in alternating four-year terms, and distributed all other public positions evenly between the parties.
During the years of the National Front, from 1958 to 1974, poverty rates increased, particularly in rural areas. In the mid-1960s, the struggle of peasants to acquire land, a sense of being excluded from the “limited democracy” partisan power-sharing of the National Front and the influence of Cuban revolutionaries all added impetus to peasant insurgencies. Increasingly centralized, armed self-defense movements, such as Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), the Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional (ELN), the Ejercito Popular de Liberacion and others, took control of wide areas of the country, taxing the population and establishing schools, health care and other social services.
Beginning in the 1970s, Colombian drug traffickers, who had previously dealt mainly in marijuana, became increasingly involved in transshipping and processing cocaine from other parts of South America, dominating the trade by the end of the decade. Rebel groups such as the FARC took advantage of the opportunity to increase their forces and improve their arms by levying taxes on coca grown within the areas they controlled. But this partnership eroded as wealthy narco-traffickers were increasingly targeted for kidnapping by guerillas as an additional source of income. In response, the drug cartels created paramilitary groups to protect themselves.
In the 1980s, the Colombian drug trade came to be dominated by a small number of large, highly centralized drug cartels, the most prominent of which were based in Cali and Medellin. Drug lords themselves became immensely influential, even in political circles, symbolized by the election of Medellin boss Pablo Escobar to the Colombian congress. Their influence over the nation’s politics culminated with “narco-democracy” under president Ernesto Samper, whose election was supported largely by drug lords.
In the 1990s, as coca plantings were eradicated in Peru and Bolivia, coca cultivation expanded radically in Colombia. The countryside was transformed as thousands of small farmers — hard hit by falling coffee prices — began to change over to the lucrative illicit crop. Meanwhile, narco-trafficking became increasingly intertwined with Colombian armed groups, such as leftist guerillas and rightist paramilitaries. This linked drug trafficking to the international arms trade, further fueling Colombia’s violent conflict.
During the 1990s, Colombia was one of the most violent places on earth, with 3,500 kidnappings a year. Drug cartel leaders killed three presidential candidates during the 1990 election campaign. In 1991, a new constitution was created, which led to the development of the constitutional court and the human rights ombudsman. After Colombian security forces killed Medellin cartel leader Pablo Escobar in 1993, several smaller trafficking organizations were formed. By 1998, neither the Medellin nor the Cali, the two major drug cartels, existed.
President Andres Pastrana Arango launched peace talks with the guerrillas in 1998. He offered FARC a safe haven that was off-limits to the Colombian army in the southeast in order to benefit the peace talks. However, the peace process failed; the rebels continued their attacks while seizing towns. In 2001, Pastrana implemented Plan Colombia, which received $1-billion (U.S.) in aid from the United States. Plan Colombia was a six-year plan begun in 1999 to end Colombia’s conflict by eliminating drug trafficking while promoting other economic and social development strategies.
The United States has been closely aligned with Colombia, given that the vast majority of cocaine arriving in the United States stems from Colombia. By providing the Colombian government with aid money, the United States seeks to fight drug gangs and curtail coca production. Currently, Colombia is the world’s largest recipient of U.S. aid.
But under President Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia began in 2011 to shift its foreign policy towards Asia as well as repairing ties with its neighbours in Latin America.
Latin America’s largest arms-trafficking network is based in Colombia, fuelling the battle between paramilitaries, left-wing guerillas and citizens. Small arms arrive in Central America through sea routes and are then carried through Panama, which is the largest single transit hub for Colombian weapons. According to a RAND study, there are 37 arms trade routes from Panama to Colombia, 26 from Ecuador, 21 from Venezuela and 14 from Brazil. According to the UN, the use of weapons in Colombia is not indiscriminate; the use is strictly controlled and regulated by the state and illegal organizations. Since the flow of illegal weapons entering Colombia is limited, weapons are recycled internally and efficiently used. FARC, however, has been producing its own weapons, namely 9 mm submachine guns which resemble the U.S.-produced Intratec 9. Often, weapons are smuggled in return for drugs. Gun violence costs Colombia $40-million (U.S.) a year in health expenses.
In 2009, the country’s military expenditure was $10,055 (U.S.), 3.7 per cent of its GDP.
The Colombian government implemented a demobilization process between 2003 and 2006 for the 37 armed groups that comprise the paramilitary umbrella group, United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC). The government says it has demobilized 30,000 people through this process, concluding that the paramilitaries no longer exist. However, successive groups are growing strong with estimates of between 4,000 and 10,200 members.
The great disparity of wealth between impoverished peasants and the land-owning elite is at the heart of the conflict that has ravaged Colombia for generations. For the past half-century, this social tension has combined with other powerful domestic and international factors—such as the international drug trade, the Cold War and now the war on terror—to fuel a civil war seemingly without end.
The conflict has been prolonged by fighting over control of Colombia’s cocaine and crude oil resources; both the paramilitary fighters and the rebel groups fund themselves through the drug trade and the government relies upon its oil exports to finance its war against insurgents. This reliance has led to rebel attacks on oil pipelines. Oil pipelines are also a major source of income for paramilitaries. A reported 7,000 barrels of oil a day are siphoned from Colombia’s oil pipelines by right-wing groups who then sell the fuel at cheap prices to fund their activities. Attacks on the oil pipelines by FARC militias have continued, forcing the shutdown of one pipeline periodically throughout 2008.
Colombia remains the third-largest exporter of oil to the United States. At the end of 2008, president Alvaro Uribe announced the failure of Plan Colombia to reduce coca production in the country. However, according to a UN report, there were 68,000 hectares of coca cultivation in 2010. Due to initiatives of Plan Colombia, this is less than one-third the amount in 1999, 1998 and 1997. More than 400 tons of cocaine is exported from Colombia every year. It is the largest illegal export and amounts to 25 per cent of foreign-exchange earnings. A significant portion of the narcotics trade is either laundered or invested in Colombia through the black market peso exchange. In 2010, Colombia’s economy grew 4.5 per cent.
A controversial law was enacted in 2011 seeking to restore millions of hectares of stolen land by compensating an estimated four million victims. Over the last 25 years, land owners have lost seven million hectares through various conflicts, primarily with rebel forces. The Victims Law is expected to take up to a decade to implement.
The presidents of Chili, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru signed an agreement in 2011 creating one of the biggest trading blocs in Latin America. The Pacific Accord not only increases economic ties between Latin American countries, but it also creates a large competitor against dominating economies, such as Brazil. This trading bloc could include more countries, such as Ecuador, and will work on creating a strategy to access the Asian market.
Gold mines have been emerging throughout Colombia at a rapid pace. New mines are being created on a weekly basis and gold futures are climbing with limited inflation. As the number and size of the gold mines heightens, the environmental impact drastically increases due to land abuses and mercury poisoning. The result of the discovery of gold has been a shift from the drug war, a primary illegal revenue for rebel groups, to a gold rush, a legal resource at the hands of the violent rebel groups, increasing tensions with military forces. As gold resources in Colombia increase, so does oil production, giving incentive to the international community to invest, particularly from Europe and China, who are currently brokering a deal with Colombia to build a city for 250,000 people south of Cartagena.
map: CIA Factbook