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University of Alabama Press
Showing Teeth to the Dragons: State-building by Colombian President Alvaro Uribe Velez 2002-2006 / Edition 2

Showing Teeth to the Dragons: State-building by Colombian President Alvaro Uribe Velez 2002-2006 / Edition 2

by Harvey F. Kline
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The civil War in Colombia has waxed and waned for sixty years, with shifting goals, programs, and tactics among the contending parties. Bursts of appalling violence are 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 the lives of uncounted peasants, conscript soldiers, and those who simply got in the way.

Kline argues that the first administration of Colombian President Álvaro Uribe Vélez marked a decisive break in this seemingly endless cycle. Not only were the levels of homicide and kidnapping dramatically reduced, but the state took the offensive against the insurgents, strengthening the armed forces, which in turn demonstrated clear support for the president's policy. However, Kline believes that these changes although dramatic, are not necessarily permanent, and discusses what challenges must be overcome for the permanent reduction of organized violence in this war-torn nation.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780817355593
Publisher: University of Alabama Press
Publication date: 10/11/2009
Edition description: 1
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Harvey F. Kline is a professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Alabama. He is the author of Chronicle of a Failure Foretold: The Peace Process of Colombian President Andres Pastraña and State Building and Conflict Resolution in Colombia, 1986–1994, which was awarded a Choice Outstanding Academic Book Award.

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Showing Teeth to the Dragons

State-building by Colombian President Álvaro Uribe Vélez, 2002â"2006

By Harvey F. Kline

The University of Alabama Press

Copyright © 2009 The University of Alabama Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8173-8455-5


State-building in the Twenty-first Century

The Government of Álvaro Uribe Vélez, 2002–2006

When Álvaro Uribe Vélez became the Colombian president on August 7, 2002, violence was rampant in the country. Bombs set by the country's largest Marxist guerrilla group exploded near the inaugural site, killing sixteen people. Although some scholars argue that the Colombian state had been at its lowest point in the early 1990s, table 1.1 shows that violence was still worsening during the presidency of Andrés Pastrana (1998–2002). Comparing the averages during Pastrana's four years with the averages of three years of his predecessor, Ernesto Samper, every single measure of violent behavior increased. The mayors of 420 of the 1,120 municipalities had been forced to flee because of the violence, and 157 municipalities had no police officers, because guerrillas had expelled them. In addition, poor areas of large cities were not effectively protected under the national justice system.

The Colombian people elected Uribe on a "law and order" platform. Pastrana had attempted to be the "good cop" by giving concessions to the two major guerrilla groups to encourage peace negotiations, but his efforts produced no real results. In a previous book I argued that the failure was because of the lack of an effective state, although there were numerous other problems in the Pastrana negotiations.

During the 2002 presidential campaign, Uribe promised that he would be the "bad cop" and negotiate only with insurgents who had entered cease-fires. He also proposed a major expansion of security forces to combat widespread crime and loosen the hold of two rebel groups and paramilitary squads in rural areas, troubling some human rights groups but offering others the hope that the Colombian people would elect a stronger leader. In good part, this was because of the failed Pastrana peace process. As the weekly magazine Semana put it, "The Uribe phenomenon exploded at the national level in January 2002. The date coincided with the unpopular decision to extend the demilitarized zone. The country no longer believed in this."

In this chapter, I place the Uribe government within the context of Colombian history and the literature on state-building. My argument is that Colombian history is one of "political archipelagoes," that is to say, regions of the country in which the government does not make the rules and enforce them. Rather, private individuals or groups perform those functions. I begin with decisions about the system of law enforcement, followed by the complications that arose with guerrilla groups, paramilitary squads, and drug dealers. I conclude the chapter by showing how the political archipelagoes prevented the success of peace processes before Álvaro Uribe.

The Development of Colombia as a Weak State with Political Archipelagoes

The nation-state is not an automatic phenomenon. Just declaring that a nation exists does not mean that all people who live within its frontiers will accept the decisions of the central leadership. This truism led to a great deal of political science literature in the 1960s and 1970s as colonialism disappeared in Africa and Asia and new countries appeared. However, this state-building problem existed in Europe in earlier centuries and later in Latin America. As Charles Tilly describes this and the violence in state-making: "At least for the European experience of the past centuries, a portrait of war makers and state makers as coercive and self-seeking entrepreneurs bears a far greater resemblance to the facts than do its chief alternatives: the idea of a social contract, the idea of an open market in which operators of armies and states offer services to willing consumers, the idea of a society whose shared norms and expectations call forth a certain kind of government." In similar terms, Francis Fukuyama argued, "The essence of stateness is, in other words, enforcement: the ultimate ability to send someone with a uniform and a gun to force people to comply with the state's laws."

During the first year of his presidency, Álvaro Uribe alluded to this weak Colombian state when he said, "Sometimes I close my eyes and ask myself where my country is going. And I see that the country is tearing itself apart, everyone pulling on a little piece, stealing a shred. Anyone who has two guns, three coca plants, and four kilograms of explosives sets up a feudal state, changing Colombia into a collection of rags, something that cannot be allowed." In this study I define a political archipelago as an area in which more than one family resides and in which someone other than the national government makes and enforces the rules by which the people live. Every country has such areas (organized crime regions in large cities in the United States, for example). Yet rule making and enforcement can be based on tradition or legitimacy rather than force. In the Colombian case, neither tradition nor legitimacy was an advantage for the central state. The local archipelago had the advantage in both factors.

The history of the unsuccessful attempts to build a state in Colombia in the 172 years before Álvaro Uribe became president can be broken down into four periods: (1) the colonial period, during which the Spanish presence was weak and divided; (2) the early independence period, during which the challenges of topography were simply too great for there to be an effective state; (3) the sectarian period, during which law enforcement became a way for the dominant party to repress the other party; and (4) the post–National Front period, during which the Colombian state attempted to contain the latest sources of political archipelagoes. The state negotiated with leftist guerilla groups and drug dealers, and founded "self-defense" groups, organizations that in turn became powerful political archipelagoes in their own right. In this book I argue that during the Uribe government a fifth period began, during which the patterns of the past began to be broken and, finally, the national government began to have effective control of the entire nation.

Throughout Colombian history the country has had a number of political archipelagoes, with different control systems, based on the economic systems and social structures of the areas. I base the term on one used by Frank Safford, who argued that "economic archipelagoes" existed because all necessary products could be purchased close to major cities, due to the variations of altitudes. My argument is that political archipelagoes became common in the country because its geographic complexity caused the economic bases of the regions to be different. Without using the term "political archipelagoes," Philip Mauceri in effect suggests them when he stresses that Colombian elites come from a heterogeneous economic base, which is a reflection of economic diversity. The economic groups based on mining, coffee, ranching, and petroleum are separate. Second, regionalism reinforces those economic differences and leads to different perceptions of society, politics, and economics. Third, this diversity has made it difficult for the economic elites to agree on a common political project and has prevented the development of a single hegemonic class. The Mauceri reference was to legal economic elites. The position that Colombia assumed in the world drug trade after the 1970s led to another group of elites: those connected with illicit narcotics.

However, the political archipelagoes argument is more complex. They originated in the complex topology of the country. Colombian scholars have suggested that their country is either the second or the third most topographically challenged country in the world. This is not to suggest that the topology of the country was the only cause of the violence. Very seldom, if ever, do social phenomena have a single cause. Later variations came from economic differences, partisan loyalty variations, and drug, guerrilla, and paramilitary occupations. Since typology was first in a chronological sense, it was a background characteristic that allowed other features to enter.

Vanessa Gray agrees that there are other important characteristics when she says, "the main causes of organized conflict in Colombia are state weakness, unique landscape features, and powerful economic forces." In a similar fashion, Alfredo Rangel Suárez argues: "Neither the guerrillas nor the paramilitaries arose in a vacuum. They were born and grew in determined historical conditions. In a country with the third most complex geography of the world, yes, but they were not a product of geography. In addition to being a product of our history, of social conditions, and very special political dynamics, it is necessary to recognize that the state did not do the necessary things to prevent their emergence and during decades; neither did it do enough to avoid their growth." Rangel continues to argue that the Colombian state, during the first administration of Álvaro Uribe, started taking actions to reduce guerrilla and paramilitary violence, "All with the positive consequences of better security in the country and the recuperation of state sovereignty in many regions." In effect, Rangel is contending that Uribe was able to decrease the number of independent political archipelagoes. The extent to which this was the case is the subject of this book.

The implications of these archipelagoes are seen in the case of a president's peace process. Any president is within his constitutional rights when he states official peace policy; however, that does not necessarily mean the national military or regional governmental leaders will follow his course of action. Rather, the military might ignore his policy while regional groups maintain de facto power in diverse parts of the country, the political archipelagos.

Before Álvaro Uribe became president, these archipelagoes became increasingly common and powerful. They already existed at the time of Spanish colonization and increased during the colonial period. They grew during the weak governments of the consolidation period, strengthened during the sectarian period, and were impossible to eliminate during the contemporary period, instead becoming stronger because of the emergence of Marxist revolutionary groups, paramilitary squads, and drug dealers.

The Colonial Period

As a Spanish colony, New Granada (comprising modern-day Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama), like all the others, had a governmental system that appeared to be centralized but functioned poorly. In theory, political authority in the Iberian colonial tradition came from the king. The Council of the Indies issued rules for the colony, which viceroys, audiencias (courts), and cabildos (nonelected town councils made up of rich, powerful citizens) were supposed to carry out. None of these were selected democratically. What on paper was an efficient, centralized bureaucracy, in practice functioned under the guiding principle, "I obey, but do not comply." This phrase, John Phelan says, reflected a centralization of authority among the viceroys and governors that was more apparent than real.

Likewise, the Spanish crown might have had substantial authority in Bogotá, but that did not mean it had authority in Medellín or anywhere else. 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." Marco Palacios and Frank Safford contend that Colombia was different from other Latin American countries because of the three major regional divisions, and that as a result, the country had neither one dominant city nor a dominant region.

During the colonial period the three major areas developed different economic bases, as well as ethnic and cultural characteristics. On the Atlantic coast and in the western Andes, large numbers of slaves arrived as the indigenous population died out; in the eastern Andes the indigenous groups were larger and remained. In Santander and Antioquia, colonizing movements led to new settlements in the numerous slopes of the mountains — seventy in Santander and many more in the Antioquian colonization. The result was small and dispersed communities. Given the lack of effective political integration of the colony and the need for someone to make and enforce rules, the task fell to local elites.

The Additional Development of Archipelagoes, 1830–2002

Nothing was done for most of the first 172 years of Colombian independence to fortify the state and to decrease the strength of the political archipelagoes. Indeed, governmental actions, or the lack thereof, generally increased the power of the subunits while leaving the national government weak. This can be seen through the consideration of the sectarian period (with a subperiod of federalism) and the post–National Front period.

The Sectarian Period, 1830–1958

By the mid-nineteenth century, Colombia had become a country of many cities, with rivalries that characterized the country. These rivalries were not only between the major cities (Bogotá and Medellín) but also between smaller ones (Cartagena and Mompoz, Popayán and Cali, Cali and Buga, Medellín and Rionegro), and even between towns (Rionegro and Marinilla). Census figures at mid-century showed the dispersion: only one city (Bogotá) had more than thirty thousand people; 30 municipalities had between eight thousand and fifteen thousand, while almost 150 had between four thousand and eight thousand; 230 between two thousand and four thousand; and 300 with less than two thousand. Rivalries among these settlements began during the colonial era and have continued since.

The seminal event of the period was the entrenchment of two political parties, the Colombian Liberal Party and the Colombian Conservative Party, both established in 1838. After losing elections, the respective parties took up arms, almost always failing in their endeavor to prevail using force. The violence intensified when religion became part of the partisan conflict, even though nearly all Colombians were Catholic. The practice of granting amnesty for partisan violence began, making the consequences of using violence less serious for individuals at certain times (most recently in 1953 and 1958).

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 campesinos (rural people) "participated" in national politics and knew of the national political system. This participation did not mean the masses had influence on the policies of the elites. Most of the mass participation originally occurred because of their affiliation with a large landowner, who instructed them when and against whom to fight. In those civil wars, thousands of poor campesinos died.

In that context political leaders made three key clusters of decisions in the first years of the independence of Colombia, both reflecting this decentralized power array and further producing a weak central state in the political regime. Although we can neither give credit nor assign blame to specific individuals for these decisions, they were the nourishment that allowed the political archipelagoes to flourish.

The first decisions had to do with the nature of the legal system: the decision not to attempt to construct a strong law enforcement branch of government, since it might be a threat to civilian government, and the decision to allow private groups to take the place of official law enforcement. Although it is questionable whether a strong national police force was feasible in nineteenth-century Colombia given the challenges of topology, 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 that a strong military and national police would necessitate. Better to let those who needed a police force (the large landowners) do it themselves and pay a sort of "user's fee." Not constructing a national police force left effective power in local hands instead of delegating it to some distant national government.


Excerpted from Showing Teeth to the Dragons by Harvey F. Kline. Copyright © 2009 The University of Alabama Press. Excerpted by permission of The University of Alabama Press.
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Table of Contents

Illustrations ix

Abbreviations xi

Preface xiii

Part I Álvaro Uribe Vélez and Moving a Traditional State 1

1 State-building in the Twenty-first Century: The Government of Álvaro Uribe Vélez, 2002-2006 3

Part II Rewards and Punishments 33

2 The Policies of Democratic Security 35

3 The Law of Justice and Peace 49

Part III The Peace Processes with the Paramilitary and Guerrilla Groups 75

4 The Paramilitary Demobilization 77

5 The Beginning of Progress with the Army of National Liberation (ELN) 101

6 The Failure with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) 130

7 A Comparison of the Three Negotiation Processes 152

Part IV Conclusions 165

8 Conclusions: Changes in the Colombian Political System during the First Term of Álvaro Uribe 167

Epilogue 195

Notes 201

Selected Bibiography 235

Index 241

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