Washington has long helped fuel the devastating conflict in Colombia that goes back to the era of La Violencia in World War II
Colombia has been living with one of the longest armed conflicts in the world. A peace agreement to end the more than 50-year-old armed civil war was signed in Havana, Cuba, in 2016 between Colombia’s Military Forces and the insurgent’s group, The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (People’s Army or FARC).
Despite this historic event, violence continues in the country relentlessly. The New York Times reported in a front-page article on Saturday, March 27th, that “remote towns like Puerto Cachicamo have yet to see the schools, clinics, and jobs the government promised in the [peace] agreement. Thousands of dissident FARC combatants have returned to battle, or never laid down their arms, and are fighting rivals for control of illicit markets. Mass killings and forced displacement are again regular occurrences.”
The Times’s article went on to detail how the Colombian government had bombed a rebel camp in an effort to “take out a high-profile dissident FARC leader known by the alias Gentil Duarte.” The camp turned out to be full of young people and at least two children under the age of 16 were killed.
As a result of the rivalry between the Conservative and Liberal parties of Colombia, Liberal leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitan was assassinated on the streets of Bogotá on April 9, 1948.
In 1958 a new political structure was drawn up where political leaders from the parties agreed to rotate power as part of a coalition government known as the National Front. This agreement helped to bring some political stability to the country. 
One of the less positive aspects of having formed this National Front was that it closed the political system to new political forces and, as a result, many communities, particularly peasants, were excluded, giving birth to revolutionary groups and guerrillas.
The origin of guerrillas in Colombia is attributed, among other reasons, to socioeconomic exclusion and the lack of space for free political participation. Among the guerrillas that emerged in the middle of the 20th century, the most prominent in Colombia are the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP), as well as the National Liberation Army (ELN), People’s Liberation Army (EPL) and the April 10 Movement (M-19).
Each of these groups hold leftist ideals that were formed as a result of historical circumstances and have developed particular ways of operating.
In the early years, these guerrillas appeared as the result of political and socio-economic frustration, political corruption and huge social inequality.
The most notorious guerrilla organization in the country has been the FARC-EP, which was formed in 1964 as a peasant self-defense group with Marxist-Leninist ideology. Manuel Marulanda Veléz, aka “tirofijo,” initially led the guerrilla group in a territory of the Guaitania district in the department of Tolima known as the “Republic of Marquetalia.”
The FARC promoted land reform and a socialist economy modeled after Cuba that would nationalize industries and use the revenues to finance free education and health care for the masses.
Hostile to these policies, the Kennedy and Johnson administrations sent military and police advisers with experience combating the left-wing Hukbalahap in the Philippines to develop Colombia’s internal security infrastructure.
In the early 1960s, CIA advisers encouraged the launching of Plan Lazo and Operation Marquetelia, aggressive sweep operations directed against the FARC where the ratio of guerrillas to security forces killed was seven-to-two.
By the mid 1970s, the CIA had provided more than $7.8 million in police aid to Colombia, while many Colombian army officers were trained at the infamous U.S. Army School of the Americans (aka School of the Assassins) in advanced counter-insurgency methods. These helped to fuel greater human rights atrocities and intensified the conflict.
Paramilitaries are far-right groups that have their origin in the enactment of Law 48 of 1968, through which the Colombian State advanced the privatization of the armed struggle at the hands of civilians protected by the interests of the regional elites. The most representative group of paramilitarism in Colombia is the United Self-Defenses of Colombia (AUC).
The AUC was dissolved between 2003 and 2006 as a result of a demobilization process promoted by then-President Álvaro Uribe Vélez. However, some groups not attached to the demobilization process formed what is now known as the criminal gangs (BACRIM).
In the 1990s, Colombia became the first coca leaf producer on the planet. The participation of the FARC-EP in drug trafficking has to do with the production process of this drug.
The guerrillas financed themselves from the security fee for illicit crops, the tax on laboratories, and the use of clandestine tracks.
Therefore, in the midst of the armed conflict, drug trafficking has served as a means of financing for both the guerrillas and the self-defense forces.
The drug cartels, it should be noted, have long been allied with the political right in Colombia because they oppose the FARC’s political agenda, especially its promotion of land reform.
The U.S. government has in turn often been highly selective in its policing of the drug trade, and at times colluded with known drug trafficking groups such as the AUC, whose founder Carlos Castaño stated that 70 percent of the income for his group came from drugs.
Castaño was close with the powerful Henao-Montoya drug-trafficking cartel and was indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice in September 2002 and charged with trafficking more than 17 tons of cocaine.
The Colombian army has been one of the main actors in the armed conflict. Colombia’s so-called “False Positives” scandal saw civilians murdered by members of the army. The civilians were identified as guerrillas killed in combat in an effort to boost combat killing rates so soldiers could receive financial rewards.
The scandal broke after the bodies of unidentified rebel fighters were found in different locations of Colombia and had been reported missing in Soacha, a city located south of Bogotá. Most extrajudicial killings occurred from 2002 to 2008, under former President Uribe.
U.S. military assistance to Colombia has been criticized by human rights activists for assisting units that committed extrajudicial killings in Colombia.
In 2000, when the U.S. Congress approved the multi-billion dollar assistance package to Colombia known as Plan Colombia, it established human rights conditions that must be certified by the U.S. Secretary of State as being met by the Colombian government before a certain percentage of military assistance can be released.
However, the United States spent $5.7 billion on military assistance to Colombia from 2000 to 2010. Most of the extrajudicial killings happened from 2002 to 2008 and the U.S. played a key role in providing military training to top army officers who later led the army brigades that committed the killings.
Then-General Jaime Lasprilla had the largest number of executions reportedly committed by soldiers under his brigade command, and he received substantially more U.S training than his peers, according to a report by the Fellowship of Reconciliation and Colombia-Europe-USA.
Plan Colombia is a bilateral agreement between the United States and Colombia, aimed at combating drug cartels and left-wing insurgent groups in the country. The plan was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 2000. The official objectives of the plan were to end the Colombian armed conflict by increasing funding and training of Colombian military forces and to create an anti-cocaine strategy to eradicate coca cultivation.
The bilateral agreement has completely failed in its mission. Colombia is still the world’s biggest producer of cocaine, and Plan Colombia helped in the aerial fumigation of more than 1.4 million hectares of coca in the country.
The use of controversial herbicide glyphosate in aerial fumigations has been questioned by national and international human rights organizations — including the World Health Organization (WHO), which in 2015 said that the herbicide glyphosate might have put Colombia’s population in danger because it is “probably carcinogenic.”
U.S. security assistance has been linked to rising human rights abuses in Colombia.
After the so-called false positives scandal, a study of civilian killings by Amnesty International and Fellowship of Reconciliation, found that 47 percent of the cases reported in 2007 involved Colombian units financed by the United States.
What then is the real purpose of Plan Colombia?
Plan Colombia was just the name given to the agreement that allowed the U.S. to deploy its troops in Colombia. It was further granted access to seven military bases — Palanquero, Apiay, Malaga Bay, Tolemaida, Malambo, Larandia, Cartagena — in Colombia.
Colombia is a key point for the arms trade in the region due to its geographical position and is rich in natural resources such as oil, gold and carbon, among others.
In 1998, just over a year before the launching of Plan Colombia, Charles Wilhelm, head of the U.S. Southern Command, told Congress that the potential of oil in Colombia had “increased the country’s strategic importance.”
In 2012, the U.S. and Colombia signed a free-trade agreement—at a time Colombia continued to set hemispheric records for the number of trade union activists killed—that has benefitted U.S.-based multinational corporations and agribusiness at the expense of Colombian small farmers and businesses.
It became particularly important for the U.S. to make military agreements with Colombia after the U.S. withdrawal from military bases in Panama in December 1999.
The military presence of the U.S. on Colombian territory has increased tensions with Venezuela.
In 2019, National Security Adviser John Bolton appeared with a notepad containing the words, “5,000 troops to Colombia,” which borders Venezuela. The White House said “all options” are on the table to allegedly “restore” democracy to Venezuela—Venezuela’s president, Nicholas Maduro, has actually been elected by the Venezuelan people multiple times.
In 2016, a historic peace agreement between the Colombian state and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) was signed in Havana, putting an “end” to more than 50 years of armed conflict in Colombia.
In spite of the historic peace deal, violence continues relentlessly in Colombia. “Two guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia have been killed in combat with security forces just four days after a new peace deal was signed to end a half century of fighting,” said The Guardian headline four days after signing the peace agreement.
Colombia is the world’s most dangerous country for activists and human rights defenders, according to Global Witness and Front-Line Defenders.
As of 2020 more than 970 human rights defenders and social leaders have been murdered in Colombia according to the NGO documenting the assassination of social leaders in Colombia — INDEPAZ.
With such shocking figures, it is with great pain that we have to admit, Colombia is not a country at peace. Sadly, peace is not good news, it is a bad business for the ones who benefit from war. Who is responsible for the unacceptable deaths of more than 970 social leaders assassinated during the last four years? The heirs of the FARC, the ELN, the “Self-Defense Forces of Colombia” (AGC), the “Gulf Clan” or the so-called “Black Eagles.”
What is the frightening crime that these human beings (trade unionists, human rights defenders, afro-descendants, land defenders, indigenous people and peasants) have committed so that they are threatened and killed without any type of control? Opposing illegal mining, going against illicit crops, defending human rights, and denouncing corruption are the “crimes” they have been accused of by armed groups.
Iván Duque Márquez, from the Democratic Center Party, won the presidential elections in Colombia on August 7, 2018. His political party was one of the main campaigners against the 2016 peace agreement.
In 2019, as a first step to modify the accord, Duque proposed some changes to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP is its acronym in Spanish), a transitional justice system created as a result of the 2016 peace agreement through which members of the FARC, the Military Forces of Colombia, and paramilitary groups that have been involved in the Colombian armed conflict, are investigated and put on trial.
U.S. Ambassador Kevin Whitaker publicly supported Duque’s objections, and reportedly tried to pressure members of Congress to vote in favor of these—in a blatant example of U.S. political meddling in Colombian internal affairs.
President Duque’s six objections to the JEP could have substantially weakened the implementation of the Peace Agreement and potentially led the country back to war.
The reason Duque is advocating for the elimination of the JEP is because his political mentor, and head of political party, Álvaro Uribe Vélez, has been accused by jailed Colombian paramilitary chief Pablo Hernan Sierra of sponsoring the illegal militias responsible for most killings in Colombia’s long-running conflict.
The increasing number of “false positives” cases between 2002 and 2008 coincided with an incentives program created by the Uribe administration that incentivized combat kills with vacations, promotions, and military training abroad.
Also, a confidential report from the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) had Uribe, then a Senator, listed alongside Pablo Escobar as among the most important Colombian narco-traffickers.
The U.S has supplied Colombia’s security forces with military training, intelligence and equipment going back to the 1960s. The aid has cost the U.S. more than $7 billion, according to the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), and Colombia has become one of its major weapons buyers in the region.
Colombia’s military expenditures were the highest in the Latin American region in 2017 and 2018, according to the report of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
Colombia plays a key role in the military industry. The countries from which it buys weapons — predominantly the United States— would be greatly affected if peace were achieved in Colombia, as profits would go down for the “merchants of death.”
The U.S is undermining Colombia’s peace process through its War on Drugs. On November 8, 2020, the Colombian newspaper El Espectador exposed more than 24,000 audio recordings of a joint operation by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Colombian Attorney General’s office to entrap Iván Márquez, chief of the FARC’s peace negotiating team in Havana, and Jesús Santrich, also a member of FARC’s peace negotiating team and a sitting member of Congress for the FARC party.
Undercover DEA agents posed as members of the Sinaloa Cartel with connections to Rafael Caro Quintero. The undercover agents approached Marlon Marín, Iván Márquez’s nephew, with the aim of establishing contact with Márquez and Santrich.
The agents were eventually able to get a meeting with Jésus Santrich, a blind former FARC guerrilla, under the pretext that they were going to publish his book of poetry in Mexico.
The DEA agents then got him to agree to send over books in a meeting secretly recorded on camera by the two undercover agents and, together with the attorney general’s office, have tried to use this manufactured evidence to frame Santrich for drug trafficking and extradite him to the U.S. by claiming that he was referring to cocaine, not books.
The attacks on Santrich over the DEA-recorded video, coupled with the U.S. government’s insistence on extradition, eventually led both Santrich and Márquez to leave Congress and return to arms under the name FARC-Second Marquetalia.
This operation shows that the U.S. cannot be trusted as a peace ally for Colombia. On the contrary, the U.S. will ensure Colombia remains at war so that Bogotá continues to buy weapons, increase military expenditures, and allow the permanence of U.S. military personnel in the seven major bases of Colombia.
“Clarifying murders of social leaders in Colombia is one of the ‘highest priorities’ for Joe Biden,” said the spokesman for the United States Department of State, Edward Price, after reviewing the last report from Human Rights Watch.
While many are hopeful that the Biden administration will support the implementation of the peace agreement in Colombia, one has to realize who Joe Biden is and judge him according to his actions instead of his words.
Biden, as a CAM exclusive series on his background showed, was a key figure in the Senate promoting Plan Colombia, and staunch advocate for sustaining high levels of military assistance to the Colombian government.
On the campaign trail in 2020, he referred to Colombia as a “keystone of U.S. foreign policy in Latin America, and then invited a representative of Venezuelan renegade president Juan Guaidó to his inauguration.
The same Biden administration that seemed so “concerned” about the killing of social leaders and the implementation of the peace agreement in Colombia was the one that authorized the bombing of Syria on Thursday, February 25, 2021, killing at least 22 people, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The same Joe Biden voted in October 2002 for the Iraq War that killed thousands of people and brought hell to the Middle East.
If Colombia wants to get nearer to peace, it should request the end of Plan Colombia and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from its military bases. If the United States and those involved in the military-industrial complex would take their hands off Colombia, perhaps one day we will see peace.
“Colombia peace deal: Government and FARC reach new agreement,” BBC News, November 13, 2016, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-37965392 ↑
Alexander L Fattal, “Violence and killings haven’t stopped in Colombia despite landmark peace deal,” The conversation, February 6, 2019, https://theconversation.com/violence-and-killings-havent-stopped-in-colombia-despite-landmark-peace-deal-111232 ↑
Julie Turkewitz and Sofia Villamil, “Children Trapped in Crossfire as War Drags on in Colombia,” The New York Times, March 27, 2021, A1. ↑
Ibid. Defense Minister Diego Molano blamed the rebels for the deaths, pointing out that they were the ones turning adolescents into government targets by converting them into “machines of war.” ↑
Francesco Manetto, “The shots that split the history of Colombia in two,” El País, April 9, 2018 (Spanish), https://elpais.com/internacional/2018/04/08/colombia/1523216245_924526.html ↑
World Peace Foundation, “Colombia: La violencia,” Mass Atrocity Endings, December 14, 2016, https://sites.tufts.edu/atrocityendings/2016/12/14/colombia-la-violencia-2/ ↑
“La Violencia, dictatorship, and democratic restoration,” Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/place/Colombia/La-Violencia-dictatorship-and-democratic-restoration#ref19017 ↑
See Jeremy Kuzmarov, Modernizing Repression: Police Training and Nation Building in the American Century (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012), 212, 213. ↑
Kuzmarov, Modernizing Repression, 213; Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, School of Assassins, foreword by Roy Bourgeois (New York: Orbis Books, 2001). ↑
“Terrorismo, narcotráfico y conflicto en el caso colombiano,” Dialnet, https://dialnet.unirioja.es/servlet/articulo?codigo=1977933 ↑
Jeremy Kuzmarov, “The Forgotten Story of How Joe Biden Helped Ramp Up the War on Drugs in Colombia,” CovertAction Magazine, January 11, 2021, https://covertactionmagazine.com/2021/01/11/exclusive-series-bidens-foreign-policy-history-and-what-it-portends-for-his-presidency/ ↑
“Assisting Units that Commit Extrajudicial Killings: A Call to Investigate US Military Policy toward Colombia,” Amnesty, https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/52000/amr230162008eng.pdf ↑
John Lindsay-Poland, “‘Guerrillas Killed in Combat’ and the Colombian Military’s Persistent Impunity,” NACLA, https://nacla.org/article/guerrillas-killed-combat-and-colombian-military%27s-persistent-impunity ↑
“Colombia’s top army officers ‘knew of extrajudicial killings,’” BBC, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-33253853 ↑
“Colombia sets new record in eradicating coca production,” France 24, https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20201231-colombia-sets-new-record-in-eradicating-coca-production ↑
“The Costs of Restarting Aerial Coca Spraying in Colombia,” WOLA, https://www.wola.org/analysis/costs-restarting-aerial-spraying-coca-colombia/ ↑
“IARC Monograph on Glyphosate,” World Health Organization, https://www.iarc.who.int/featured-news/media-centre-iarc-news-glyphosate/ ↑
Simon Romero, “Colombia Lists Civilian Killings in Guerrilla Toll,” New York Times,https://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/30/world/americas/30colombia.html ↑
“Colombia: US military presence’s repercussions,” LatinAmerican Post, https://latinamericanpost.com/26186-colombia-us-military-presences-repercussions ↑
Vijay Prashad, Fat Cats and Running Dogs: The Enron Stage of Capitalism (Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 2003), 169. ↑
“U.S. Military Bases in Latin America and the Caribbean,” Institute for Policy Studies, https://ips-dc.org/us_military_bases_in_latin_america_and_the_caribbean/ ↑
“US’s Bolton appears to threaten Venezuela with: ‘5.000 troops to Colombia,” Deutsche Welle, https://www.dw.com/en/uss-bolton-appears-to-threaten-venezuela-with-5000-troops-to-colombia/a-47274634 ↑
“Colombia signs historic peace deal with Farc,” The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/24/colombia-signs-historic-peace-deal-with-farc-rebels ↑
“Farc guerrillas killed in combat days after new peace deal with government,” The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/16/colombia-farc-new-peace-deal-rebels-killed ↑
Rodrigo Sales, “We must protect those defending the land and environment in Colombia,” Amnesty International,https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/10/debemos-proteger-quienes-defienden-tierra-ambiente-colombia/#:~:text=According%20to%20the%20most%20recent,in%20peace%20in%20their%20home; José Fajardo, “Colombia is the deadliest country for human rights defenders, with one activist killed every three days since the 2016 peace agreement,” Equal Times, https://www.equaltimes.org/colombia-is-the-deadliest-country?lang=es#.YEmXoehKjDc ↑
“Indepaz: en Colombia 971 líderes han sido asesinados desde la firma del Acuerdo de Paz,” Agencia Anadolu,https://www.aa.com.tr/es/mundo/indepaz-en-colombia-971-líderes-han-sido-asesinados-desde-la-firma-del-acuerdo-de-paz/1924456 ↑
“Iván Duque: Colombia’s new president sworn into office,” BBC, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-45107063 ↑
“Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz,” JEP, https://www.jep.gov.co/JEP/Paginas/Jurisdiccion-Especial-para-la-Paz.aspx ↑
“US Ambassador lobbying against peace process,” Justice for Colombia, https://justiceforcolombia.org/news/us-ambassador-lobbying-against-peace-process/ ↑
“Alvaro Uribe accused of paramilitary ties,” The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/sep/08/alvaro-uribe-accused-paramilitary-ties; “Colombian army ‘false positives’ scandal: ‘No one listened to us’” Aljazeera, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/2/23/colombian-army-scandal-no-one-listened-to-us ↑
“U.S Arms Clients profiles-Colombia,” Federation of American Scientists, https://fas.org/asmp/profiles/colombia.htm; “Colombia’s military emerges as a global player in US-led alliance,” Colombia Reports, https://colombiareports.com/colombias-military-emerges-as-a-global-player-in-us-led-alliance/. ↑
“Colombia: País de Surámerica con mayor PIB en gasto mílitar,” Agencia Anadolu, https://www.aa.com.tr/es/mundo/colombia-el-país-suramericano-con-más-porcentaje-del-pib-en-gasto-militar-/1135306; “El gasto militar de Colombia es el más alto de la región, supera los US$10.000 millones,” La Repúbica, https://www.larepublica.co/globoeconomia/el-gasto-militar-de-colombia-es-el-mas-alto-de-la-region-supera-los-us10000-millones-2905034#:~:text=Comercio-,El%20gasto%20militar%20de%20Colombia%20es%20el%20m%C3%A1s%20alto%20de,supera%20los%20US%2410.000%20millones&text=EE.,alrededor%20del%20mundo%20durante%202018 ↑
“Los audios de la DEA y la fiscalia que se le negaron a la JEP sobre el caso ‘Santrich,’” El Espectador, https://www.elespectador.com/noticias/investigacion/los-audios-de-la-dea-y-la-fiscalia-que-le-negaron-a-la-jep-sobre-el-caso-santrich/ ↑
“Petro explica cómo habrían manipulado video de ‘Santrich’ y el negocio de cargamento de coca,” Blue Radio, https://www.bluradio.com/nacion/petro-explica-como-habrian-manipulado-video-en-el-que-santrich-negocia-cargamento-de-coca ↑
“Colombia ex-Farc rebel Iván Márquez issues call to arms,” BBC, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-49508411; Cruz Bonlarron Martínez and Evan King, “How the U.S. Is Quitely Undermining Colombia’s Fragile Peace Process,” In These Times, https://inthesetimes.com/article/colombia-war-on-drugs-peace-process-trump-biden-dea ↑
“Estados Unidos pide a Iván Duque aclarar asesinatos de líderes sociales,” Deutsche Welle, https://www.dw.com/es/estados-unidos-pide-a-iván-duque-aclarar-asesinatos-de-líderes-sociales/a-56542882 ↑
“Biden orders airstrikes in Syria, retaliating against Iran-backed militias,” NBC News, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/biden-airstrikes-syria-retaliating-against-iran-backed-militias-n1258912 ↑
“Joe Biden’s Vote for War,” The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/12/us/politics/joe-biden-iraq-war.html ↑
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About the Author
Peace activist and researcher from Colombia.