Colombia, the country where violence never leaves

Colombia’s serious security concerns, armed conflicts and – for some time now – drug trafficking have historically affected Ecuador since the beginning of the Republic. Then, when crises hit the headlines, the question arises as to why Colombia cannot overcome this recurring problem.

Ecuador was involved in four of the eight civil wars that began in Colombia in the 19th century. And, in recent times, violent attacks have hit the country frequently. Witness the former incursions of the M19, the constant guerrilla presence of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) on Ecuadorian territory, including the case of its leader Raúl Reyes – who was killed in the province of Sucumbíos -, the fumigations with glyphosate and, finally, the murder of the three members of the journalistic team of EL COMERCIO.

Colombia has a historical tendency to reconvert the phenomena of violence, because it has not only overcome the sine qua non condition which facilitates them: the insufficiency of the State, expressed by the absence of public institutions on a large scale. part of the territory, and the absence of a monopoly of force.

But behind this condition, which has served as a backdrop to the succession of conflicts and violence since 1810, the causes of the outbreak of conflagrations are linked to more complex reasons. For example, during the 19th century and much of the 20th century, the exclusionary character of liberal and conservative elites led to a bitter struggle for control of power in the fragmented country, giving way to civil wars and, more late, at his retraining. in a peasant war agitated by the conciliations of the liberal and conservative parties, in the period known as La Violencia (1946-1962).

In the twentieth century, when the sectarian liberal-conservative confrontation declined but not the exclusionary character of the political elites, the National Front – resulting from the bipartite agreement – leaving no room in the political system for movements of opposition which emerged in reaction to the serious conditions of socio-economic inequalities, caused a third reconversion, with the effervescence of the guerrillas which ended up starting the armed conflict, from 1964.

On November 6, 1985, at 11:30 am, an M-19 command seized the courthouse, which resulted in destruction and death. Photo: Radio Nacional Colombia

A weakness that begins in the colony

The colonial state that ruled New Grenada was already a weak state with no significant presence in the territory. Indeed, saving the vital port of Cartagena, it lacked sufficient military force inside, a situation to which the ruling classes have become accustomed, seeing it as a necessary condition to guarantee its undisputed domination.

When independence took place in 1810 and the problem of power was elucidated, no longer because of the overall decision of the Spanish monarch but because of the fragmentation of the Colombian elites, the weakness of the state opened up space for resolution. violent political disputes. Thus broke out, a few months after the proclamation of the first independence, the civil war which opposed the local leaders, who did not succeed in concluding in peace a form of national government.

Years later, from 1830, after the dissolution of Gran Colombia, the poverty resulting from the destruction and the costs of the wars of independence mortgaged the country – already one of the most modest in Latin America – and the condemned to a fate of misery in the tax coffers, with the consequent stagnation of state structures which, for lack of military force, left open the way of war as a mechanism for gaining power, which, in a vicious circle, has generated more destruction and poverty. Colombia will maintain an average economic growth of 0.1% per capita between 1810 and 1900.

And worst of all was the human cost. The successive civil wars from 1810 to 1903 left nearly 140,000 dead, in a country that has grown from 1.7 million to 4.2 million inhabitants.

From 1903, with the pain of the loss of Panama and the capture of some force by the central state, civil wars had to be exhausted as a mechanism for gaining power, but clashes in the countryside were not. that at the time of La Violencia, they would have 200,000 dead.

However, this orgy of blood would only serve as a preamble to a new confrontation: the armed conflict, still not defeated to this day.

Endless violence

With a weak state, only seeing its dominance severely questioned at the start of the 21st century, Colombian elites gave way to the design of a security policy, under the regime of Alvaro Uribe. However, even so, the Colombian state remained insufficient and, for practical purposes, absent in more than a third of the territory. And what is just as serious: with a police and an army devoid of a monopoly of force, so that even – and despite the good intentions of the peace agreement signed with the FARC in 2016 – the violence remains on the ground . Colombia, this time exacerbated by criminal gangs, FARC dissidents and the forces of the National Liberation Army.

Worse still, the space is still open for the development of drug production, especially when the Colombian Government has not made a determined attempt to carry out the comprehensive land reform, foreseen in the peace accords, or a effective substitution of leaf crops. of coca.

All this allows us to conclude that by not overcoming the context and the causes of violence and crime, it is foreseeable that Colombia – including the border areas – will continue in its permanent reconversion of violence, only modified by the renewal of influencing factors in them.
* Ecuadorian diplomat, journalist and writer.