Inside Columbia / Edition 1

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Overview

"A great resource for students and scholars. Chock-full of up-to-date, reliable information, this book has practically everything you need to know about contemporary Colombia all in one package."
--Herbert Braun, author of Our Guerrillas, Our Sidewalks: A Journey into the Violence of Colombia

The South American nation of Colombia has seen more than forty years of unrest, conflict, and civil war. It is a country in which social violence and warfare are intricately intertwined. Colombia is also notorious for its drug trade, being one of the leading producers of cocaine in the world, and for its central role as a staging ground for the U.S. "war on drugs." Since 9/11 the Bush administration has sought to draw political links between the Colombian drug trade, guerrilla organizations, and terrorism.

Inside Colombia offers a valuable introduction and quick reference guide to this complex nation. With chapters devoted to history, human rights issues, the economy, drugs, the controversial antidrug intervention known as Plan Colombia, and relations with the United States, the book offers an easily accessible and comprehensive overview. Readers will learn about the major players in the conflicts, significant political figures, how Colombia's economy has fared in the twentieth century, how the country's geography influences its politics and economy, and how U.S. intervention shapes Colombia's political scene.

Grace Livingstone is a journalist who regularly contributes to a range of publications on Latin American current affairs and has reported for the BBC World Service. She is currently based in Venezuela where she is a correspondent for The Guardian.
Jenny Pearce is the coauthor of Civil Society and Development: A Critical Exploration.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813534435
  • Publisher: Rutgers University Press
  • Publication date: 6/16/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 284
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.64 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Excerpt from Inside Colombia: Drugs, Democracy, and War by Grace Livingstone

Copyright information: http://rutgerspress.rutgers.edu/press_copyright_and_disclaimer/default.html
Drugs are not the cause of Colombia's problems, whatever Hollywood or the news might have you think. The conflict began long before the trade in drugs started in Colombia and is rooted in longstanding social inequalities and political exclusion.
The first three chapters of the book look at the history of the war and its human cost. Chapters four and five explain why thousands of poor farmers have taken to growing illicit crops (coca, opium poppies and marijuana) and show the misery caused by the main response, fumigation. The final chapter looks at the United States' role in Colombia. Last but not least, a long section includes facts and figures on everyone who matters in the conflict, a quick reference to all those involved, past and present
This book is an attempt to draw together the most recent research on Colombia and provide a balanced introduction to a country that has suffered more than its fair share of stereotypes and clichés. We include interviews with Colombians on all sides of the conflict; and extracts and material from many sources including human rights organizations, the United Nations, the Colombian ombudsman's office, the Colombian government and security forces, non-governmental organizations and academic work. The aim was for the book to serve as a starting point for further investigation.
The first chapter highlights the grave humanitarian crisis occurring in Colombia. Political life is so polarised in Colombia that there is no agreement aboutthe number of victims, let alone who is responsible for the killings and abuses. We've included, a large amount of statistical data, even though no graph or chart can reflect the level of human suffering they point to. The second chapter provides an overview of Colombian history and, more than any other chapter, relies on other people's work. I owe a debt and an apology to the many historians whose work I have pillaged and ideas I have manhandled into a 30-page prècis. I would particularly like to mention the outstanding collections by Bergquist, Sánchez and Peñaranda, the relevant volumes of the unsurpassed Cambridge History of Latin America and, of course, Jenny Pearce. I encourage the reader to refer to the original works contained in the bibliography. The third chapter focuses on the economy, presenting a picture of inequality, poverty and land hunger, which puts the 40-year civil conflict in its social context.
While the book was being written, the political climate changed both in Colombia and internationally. In February 2002 Colombia's peace process collapsed. In April 2002 Alvaro Uribe Vélez, a man described as Colombia's Ariel Sharon, was elected President. Uribe appealed to the population's disillusion with the peace process and promised to crack down on the rebels, negotiating only from a position of strength. The ease with which Uribe has slotted Colombia's conflict into the global 'war on terror' is worrying, not least because it has allowed a state with the worst human rights record in Latin America to erode civil liberties even further without a murmur from foreign governments. The United Nations' concerns about Uribe's initial security measures are outlined in the first chapter.
Although it is too early to evaluate Uribe's administration (he took office in August 2002) human rights groups had good reason to view it with foreboding. Uribe first came to prominence as a state governor, when he advocated the creation of 'private security and vigilance cooperatives' (Convivir). So many of these armed groups evolved into death squads that they were outlawed by the national government in 1999. Uribe was therefore viewed by some as the 'paramilitary candidate' in the 2002 elections - indeed his Liberal opponent, Horacio Serpa, claimed paramilitaries were intimidating voters on his behalf (although not at his behest). Carlos Castaño, the leader of Colombia's largest paramilitary group, the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), has also written: 'The social base of the Autodefensas consider him their political candidate.'
However, while Uribe shares the paramilitaries' desire to cleanse Colombia of 'subversives', his broader mission is to assert the authority of the state over the whole of Colombia's national territory. Historically, the Colombian State has never controlled the whole country and this is one reason why the rich have so frequently resorted to private security. To defeat the insurgency, the military use the support of irregular forces, which penetrate deeper and instill terror into rural communities. Uribe has announced plans to recruit one million civilian informants and 20,000 rural part-time peasant soldiers, so one can be fairly certain that the problem of illegal paramilitarism, at a local level, will get worse. His ultimate aim is to give the state a monopoly of armed force, so he cannot tolerate (and in this political climate cannot be seen to tolerate) a 10,000- strong national paramilitary organization that is acting with ever-greater autonomy and whose self-aggrandizing leader appears regularly on TV. Uribe has started peace talks with Castaño and it will be no surprise if he and a handful of prominent leaders demobilize, while the rest of the AUC fragments return to being regional paramilitary forces.
To the outsider, the defining image of Colombia is not a paramilitary, but a guerrilla fighter. The book aims to expose the crude lies propagated about the guerrillas while remaining critical of their failings. Two of the most common fallacies about the guerrillas are that they control the drugs trade and are criminals with no political ideals. The guerrilla groups are political organizations formed in reaction to rural poverty, political exclusion and state repression. Nevertheless both main guerrilla groups routinely violate international humanitarian law, most often by kidnapping civilians. No other guerrilla groups in Latin America's history (with the possible exception of Peru's Shining Path) have so systematically violated the rights of the civilian population.
The second half of the book concentrates on the question of drugs. In 1999 I went to southern Colombia to meet coca growers. As I travelled on foot and boat through this remote Amazonian region, it became immediately obvious why it was so hard for these small farmers to make a living from any other crop. There are few roads, only makeshift harbours and no railways. It would cost more to transport a crop of vegetables to the nearest city than a farmer would earn from selling them. When one talks to these hardworking families, who are a bad harvest away from hunger, the rhetoric of waging a 'war' on drugs starts to grate. It becomes plain that the US-promoted solution of spraying farms with herbicides that kill food crops and animals is wholly inappropriate.
Unlike Bolivia and Peru, where the majority of the population is of indigenous descent and chewing coca leaves is a traditional practice, in Colombia most coca is grown by displaced families fleeing poverty and violence. The boom in the cultivation of illicit crops is rooted in rural poverty, land concentration and the globalisation of agriculture. Chapter four looks at the misery caused by chemical spraying and explains why it has failed to stem the flow of drugs. Chapter five traces the genesis of Plan Colombia, a five-year militarised fumigation programme, hailed as the most ambitious anti-drugs trafficking campaign in history. It presents evidence that in its first year of operation (2000-2001), Plan Colombia harmed the health of thousands of people, killed animals and destroyed food crops and pasture. It argues that by polluting Amazonian rivers with chemicals, Plan Colombia risks causing irreparable environmental damage to a region rich in biodiversity. It questions whether fumigation is the most effective and fairest way to tackle the drugs question when, as the drug appendix shows, the vast majority of cocaine users live in the US and Europe.
If Chapter five takes Plan Colombia at face value as an anti-narcotics initiative, Chapter six considers whether it was, in fact, designed as a counterinsurgency plan to defeat guerrillas in southern Colombia. It considers whether the 'war on drugs' was simply a pretext for continuing US intervention in Latin America from the end of the Cold War. During the Clinton years, Congress banned the government from granting counterinsurgency aid to Colombia and stipulated that military aid could only be used for anti-narcotics purposes. This move stemmed from a desire not to get bogged down in a Vietnam-style war or repeat Reagan's Central American atrocities. Since September 11th 2001 the climate has changed. Congress has approved the first counterinsurgency funds for Colombia since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Hardliners, many of whom were involved in the Iran Contra affair, are back in power at a time when the public seem willing to trade civil liberties for 'security'. Today's antiterrorist rhetoric is reminiscent of the Cold War, when anti-communism was used to justify support for dictatorships across the Southern Cone, an illegal war in Nicaragua and a scorched-earth campaign in Guatemala so murderous that a national truth commission has defined it as genocide against the Mayan people.
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Table of Contents

Foreword
Ch. 1 Human rights 5
Ch. 2 History 35
Ch. 3 The economy 71
Ch. 4 Drugs 99
Ch. 5 Plan Colombia 123
Ch. 6 The United States and Colombia 147
Ch. 7 Facts and figures 179
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