Chronicle of a Failure Foretold: The Peace Process of Colombian President Andrés Pastrana / Edition 2

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Charts the progress and failure of Colombian President Andrés Pastrana’s efforts to bring an end to sixty years of civil war.

The civil war in Colombia has waxed and waned for almost sixty years with shifting goals, programs, and tactics among the contending parties and with bursts of appalling violence punctuated by uneasy truces, cease-fires, and attempts at reconciliation. Varieties of Marxism, the economics of narco-trafficking, peasant land hunger, poverty, and oppression mix together in a toxic stew that has claimed uncounted lives of (most often) peasants, conscript soldiers, and people who just got in the way.

Hope for resolution of this conflict is usually confined to dreamers and millenialists of various persuasions, but occasionally an attempt is made at a breakthrough in the military stalemate between the government and the Marxist groups. One of the most promising such attempts was made by new Colombian President Andrés Pastrana at a time when the main rebel groups seemed receptive to serious dialogue. This book is an account of that effort at peace, accompanied at the outset by domestic and international support and hope, and yet doomed like so many others to eventual failure.

Through interviews with many of the actors in this drama, as well as an understanding of the various interest groups and economic forces at work in Colombia, Dr. Kline charts the progress and ultimate failure of this effort, and thereby hopes to increase understanding of the causes of its lack of success. The importance of the resolution of the conflict to the region and to ordinary citizens of this troubled land cannot be overstated.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Since the early 1990s, the Colombian insurgency has been by far the most serious in Latin America. This book makes an original and significant contribution to the field by offering a detailed chronology of the Colombian peace process with both the FARC and the ELN. Kline is an informed analyst who has dedicated much of his professional life to the study of Colombian politics"
—Cynthia McClintock, author of Revolutionary Movements in Latin America: El Savador’s FMLN and Peru’s Shining Path
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780817354107
  • Publisher: University of Alabama Press
  • Publication date: 4/15/2007
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 248
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Harvey F. Kline is Professor of Political Science at The University of Alabama and author of State Building and Conflict Resolution in Colombia, 1986-1994.

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Chronicle of a Failure Foretold
The Peace Process of Colombian President Andrés Pastrana
By Harvey F. Kline
The University of Alabama Press
Copyright © 2007 The University of Alabama Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8173-5410-7

Chapter One
Colombia before the Presidency of Andrés Pastrana

The Context for Failure

Every chief executive makes his or her decisions within the context of the history of the nation and at least to a certain degree is restrained by it. In this chapter I introduce a number of major themes that served as limitations on the Pastrana peacemaking process, including the political patterns of the first 138 years of Colombia's history, the emergence thereafter of guerrilla, paramilitary, and drug groups to constrain decision-makers, and the peace processes of presidents before Andrés Pastrana. I conclude the chapter with an analysis of the themes seen both before and during the Pastrana presidency.

Decisions Made (or Not Made) in the First 138 Years of National History (1820-1958)

Colombia began with a weak central state. Nothing was done for most of the first 138 years of independence to change that sense of weakness. As a result a number of "political archipelagoes" emerged, with different control systems.

Spanish and Portuguese colonies in the New World brought a governmental system that appeared to be centralized, but that functioned poorly. In theory, political authority in the Iberian colonial fragment came from the king. The Council of the Indies issued rules for the colony, which were carried out by viceroys, audiencias (judicial administrative areas) and cabildos (town councils), none of whom were selected democratically. What on paper was an efficient, centralized bureaucracy, in practice functioned under the policy, "I obey, but do not comply." This phrase, John Phelan argued, reflected a centralization of authority among the viceroys and governors that was more apparent than rea1.

Studying what today is Ecuador, Phelan found that the coastal areas were never subjugated as intensively as the Sierra. In fact, many coastal areas remained unconquered until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Nor was the administration particularly centralized. Many administrative decisions were actually made in the Americas by several competing agencies; local conditions and local interest groups played a significant role.

There are no comparable studies of colonial Nueva Granada (as Colombia was called until 1852); the Spanish crown might have had substantial authority in Bogotá (as it did in Quito) but that did not mean that it had authority in Medellín (any more than it did in Esmeraldas). David Bushnell argues, "This political disunity was to some extent inevitable. Certainly no part of Spanish America had so many natural obstacles to unity-so many obstacles to transportation and communication per square kilometer-as New Granada, with a population scattered in isolated clusters in various Andean ranges, not to mention other settlements along the coast."

In Nueva Granada, the process of independence was regional, with Cartagena and Bogotá often going separate ways. If the fall of the Spanish crown led to the lack of a legitimate political regime, it also led to a more decentralized and weak state bureaucracy. Patrias chicas ("little fatherlands"-vast territories dominated by a local family) became stronger, as did individual large landholdings. Large numbers of landowners held power within their territories, in effect existing as private governments.

Three key clusters of decisions in the first years of the independent history of Colombia both reflected this decentralized power array and further produced a weak central state in the political regime. Although no specific individuals can be given credit or assigned blame for these decisions, they were the seeds from which the failing state was to germinate.

The Legal System

The first set of decisions had to do with the nature of the legal system: the decision not to construct a strong law enforcement branch of government, since it might be a threat to civilian government (1830 to the present) was one. The decision to allow private groups to take the place of official law enforcement (from the landowners of the nineteenth century to the paramilitary groups called on to fight the guerrillas along with the military in the period from the late 1960s to the late 1990s) was another.

The government never attempted to construct a large police force that would allow it to enforce its decisions. Nor were the national armed forces or the police allowed to have much power. As former president Alfonso López Michelsen pointed out in 1991, private landowners in the nineteenth century made the rules for the areas of their landholdings, chose some of their employees to enforce them, and imprisoned workers who misbehaved. López argued that the country had made a trade-off. Unlike many other Latin American countries, violence did not originate from the government, but rather from the lack of government. These decisions eventually resulted in powerful "self-defense" or "paramilitary" groups.

Although it is questionable whether a strong national police force was feasible in nineteenth-century Colombia, the basic reasons for this decision included the Colombian leaders' fear of the institutions of a strong state, especially the armed forces and the police. Many other Latin American countries had seen such institutions end elective governments. In addition, Colombian leaders, primarily from the upper economic groups, did not want to raise the taxes necessary to maintain a strong military and national police. Better to let those who needed a police force (i.e., the large landowners) do it themselves, and pay a sort of "users' fee." Not constructing a national police force left effective power in local hands, instead of delegating it to some distant national government.

The federalist period of nineteenth-century Colombia (1853-86) was one of even less central authority than the previous period. During this stage, law enforcement rights and duties reverted to the states, although most likely real legal power remained with the owners of large estates.

The Use of Violence in Politics

The second set of decisions had to do with the use of violence in politics, often in the name of party (from 1838 until at least 1965). It began when parties that lost elections took up arms to win power, almost always failing in that endeavor. The violence intensified when the Church became part of the partisan conflict, even though nearly all Colombians were Catholic. The Church sided with the Conservative Party, which favored the maintenance of its responsibilities for education and social programs, while the Liberals proposed that the government take over those responsibilities.

The consequences of using violence were made potentially less serious for individuals at certain times when partisan violence was amnestied (most recently in 1953 and 1958). It was also decided that, given the relatively closed nature of the political regime during the National Front (1958-74), even Marxist guerrilla violence was justified (late 1950s to the present) and might be amnestied.

As a result, political competition in Colombia was never limited to peaceful means. There were eight civil wars during the nineteenth century, six of which pitted all (or part) of one party against the other party. In the course of these civil wars, the peasant masses "participated" in national politics, and knew of the national political system. This participation did not mean that the masses had influence on the policies of the elites. Most of the mass participation was originally because of their affiliation with a large landowner, who instructed them when and against whom to fight. In those civil wars, thousands of campesinos (peasants) died.

The tradition continued into the twentieth century, with a short period of partisan violence in 1932 and then La Violencia. This period was so intense that Colombians refer to it as "La Violencia" (The Violence), even though the word in Spanish refers to any violence. It began in 1946, with the Conservative Party leaders initiating a campaign to eliminate Liberals. The Liberals reacted, leading to at least 200,000 deaths during the period which ended in about 1964. As a result of all this, Fabio Zambrano Pantoja interprets the history of his country as one in which "the real people, that is to say, the majority of the population, learned politics through the use of arms before they did through the exercise of the suffrage." Peasants learned to fight before they learned to vote, causing the exercise of politics to be conceptualized as a conflict before it was conceptualized as a place of concord. In this way, as Zambrano states it, most people were "applying the generalized idea that war is the continuation of politics by other means."

The frequency and intensity of violence in the nineteenth century had effects that lasted at least until the end of La Violencia. The numerous civil wars and the widespread participation in them of the campesinos led to a strict and intense partisan socialization of the masses. Many campesino families had "martyrs," family members who had been killed, disabled, or raped by members of the other political party. While original party identification of campesinos came from instructions of their patrons, at some point this identification developed a life of its own, based on the past. Eduardo Santa said that Colombians began to be born "with party identifications attached to their umbilical cords."

As a result of this system of violence, other cleavages, such as social class and regionalism, became secondary to the primary party one. Third parties were notably unsuccessful until the early 1990s. Violence became the normal way to handle things. As a Colombian sociologist said in an interview for a previous book, "We have no ways to channel conflicts. Probably because of the traditional, oligarchic set up of the Liberal and Conservative parties, we never developed peaceful ways to resolve conflict. If we have disagreements we only think of violence as the way to solve them."

The Elite Political Game

The final set of decisions had to do with the rules for the elite within Colombian democracy. While the members of the parties were allowed and even encouraged to take up arms against the members of the other party, the party leaders generally got along quite well with each other. They came from the same economic groups, belonged to the same exclusive social clubs, and at times entered into governing coalitions-most notably the National Front through which the two parties constitutionally shared power equally from 1958 to 1974.

There were twelve occasions between 1854 and 1949 when one political party at the elite level entered into a coalition with all or part of the other political party. These elite coalitions tended to take place when presidents assumed dictatorial powers, when party hegemonies shifted, and, especially in this century, when elite-instigated violence got out of control.

The longest, most formal coalition was the National Front (1958-74). In a consociational agreement first proposed by leaders of the Liberal and Conservative parties but later approved in a national referendum and as a constitutional amendment, power was shared equally. The presidency alternated between the two parties (no other was legal), while all legislative bodies were divided equally, as were executive cabinets at all levels, governors, mayors, and non-civil-service bureaucrats.

One might have expected the Colombian state to finally develop in a more modern way under the National Front, since the old party hatreds had been discarded. However, as Francisco Leal Buitrago argues, during the years of the National Front, Colombia lost that opportunity. Clientelism replaced sectarianism as the source of support for the political parties. While this change was important, "The long-lasting political weakness of the state was not significantly altered. The bureaucratization of the dual party system and the transformation of clientelism into the axis of the political system prevented the widening and modernization of the state from significantly increasing the extent of the state.

Rather than building a state that would have been better prepared to deal with current and future problems, Colombian policymakers were subjected to what Barbara Geddes has called the "Politician's Dilemma." Similar to politicians in other developing countries, when Colombian leaders had to choose between their need for political survival (clientelism) and longer-term interests in regime stability (building the state), they chose the former.

Background: Violence and the Origin of the Guerrilla Groups and Paramilitary Squads

While Marxist guerrilla groups emerged in most Latin American countries after Fidel Castro's 1959 victory in Cuba, the influence of Marxist revolutionary groups in the Colombian countryside goes back to the final years of La Violencia. After 1960 violence had different motivations, as Marxist revolutionary groups, paramilitary squads, and drug dealers used violent tactics. In the 1960s and 1970s, four main guerrilla groups were operating in Colombia: the Armed Forces of the Colombian Revolution (FARC), the Army of National Liberation (ELN), the Nineteenth of April Movement (M-19), and the Popular Army of Liberation (EPL). The latter two demobilized in 1990; the FARC and the ELN remain in combat today, sometimes collaborating but at other times fighting each other. The FARC, the largest, most militant, best-armed, and best-trained guerrilla group, had roughly 20,000 active combatants in 2003.

The Armed Forces of the Colombian Revolution (FARC)

In 1966, the Communist-dominated Armed Forces of the Colombian Revolution was founded, although Communist-oriented peasant defense groups predated it by more than fifteen years. As early as 1949, the Communist Party urged the proletariat and others to defend themselves. In 1964 the Colombian military tried to wipe out the insurgents who became FARC, based in the area called Maquetalia. The government termed this an "independent republic" and President Guillermo León Valencia was quoted on more than one occasion as saying "Tomorrow we are going to capture 'Tirofijo'" (Manuel Marulanda Vélez, the FARC leader). At this writing Tirofijo still leads FARC.

Since its origins in the self-defense forces of campesino villages during La Violencia, the FARC has had close ties with the Communist Party and remains dominated by Marxists today. FARC strongholds have tended to be frontier regions neglected by the national government and plagued by general lawlessness. FARC has acted as a de facto state in such areas and also served as a gendarmery for squatters and peasants growing illicit crops. Tirofijo, FARC's septuagenarian leader, is a former Liberal campesino who took up arms in the 1940s and has been fighting the government ever since.

During the 1990s, popular support for the FARC diminished for several reasons. The fall of the Soviet Union brought an end to some of the FARC's financing, and made its Marxist ideology seem anachronistic. The FARC increasingly relied on protection rents from the cocaine and heroin sectors, and intensified its longstanding practices of kidnapping for ransom and extorting ranches and businesses. These tactics financed the guerrillas' military expansion, but did not win them new sympathizers. In addition, the FARC faced greater pressure from paramilitary groups and the increasingly U.S.-fortified Colombian military. In response, the guerrillas grew more inclined to engage in actions that harmed civilians, such as using land mines and the notoriously inaccurate gas-cylinder bombs, hijacking commercial jets, assassinating elected officials, murdering peace activists, and attacking an upscale family recreation center in the heart of Bogotá. Despite losing whatever positive image the FARC had with the general public, the group continued to gain territory and combatants throughout the decade.

The Army of National Liberation (ELN)

The first guerrilla group to emerge, towards the end of La Violencia in 1962, was the pro-Castro Ejército de liberación nacional (ELN, Army of National Liberation). The ELN arose after a group of Colombian scholarship students went to Cuba at the height of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. Some of the group asked for and obtained military training and began a series of discussions about a foco (focus) strategy for Colombia. The ELN was officially born on July 4, 1964, and was initially comprised primarily of university students.

Originally based in Santander, for many years the ELN controlled large tracts of oil-rich lands in the eastern plains of the Orinoco river valley. In the early 1980s, the large sums that the ELN reportedly extorted from an oil pipeline construction operation allowed the guerrilla group, which had dwindled in size at that point, to rearm and expand its ranks dramatically. The coal and oil sectors were lucrative targets for the ELN's kidnapping and extortion activities until the mid-1990s, when the ELN lost territory to paramilitary challengers. Firms in the energy sector were more likely to pay protection money to security services with paramilitary links than be extorted by the ELN. Also, U.S. participation in the Colombian conflict increasingly prioritized the energy sector, which further placed the ELN on the defensive.


Excerpted from Chronicle of a Failure Foretold by Harvey F. Kline Copyright © 2007 by The University of Alabama Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Dedication     v
Preface     ix
The Context for Failure     1
Colombia before the Presidency of Andres Pastrana: The Context for Failure     5
The Immediate Context for the Pastrana Negotiations: The Government of Ernesto Samper (1994-1998)     27
The Negotiations between the Government and the Guerrilla Groups     47
The FARC Negotiations Begin: June 1998-January 1999     49
The First Agreements of the FARC Negotiations: January 1999-January 2001     67
The Negotiations in 2001: Agreements on Process but Not on Substance     90
The FARC Negotiations End: January-February 2002     112
The ELN Discussions through the Declaration of Geneva: September 1998-July 2000     126
The Failure of the ELN Discussions     147
Conclusions     167
Why the Pastrana Peace Process Failed     169
Notes     187
Bibliography     213
Index     223
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