Insecurity and Violence in Colombia

By Ramsey, Russell W. | Military Review, July/August 1999 | Go to article overview

Insecurity and Violence in Colombia


Ramsey, Russell W., Military Review


Some would argue that the drug war in Colombia is the greatest national security challenge in the Western Hemisphere. General Alvaro Valencia Tovar's 1997 book Inseguridad y Violencia en Colombia [Insecurity and Violence in Colombia] is an effort to diagnose the problem and prescribe a solution.1 Had Tovar, considered to be Colombia's preeminent soldier-statesman, been born elsewhere, his career would have followed trajectories etched by such World War II figures as Generals Dwight D. Eisenhower, George C. Marshall and Douglas MacArthur or diplomat-historian George F. Kennan. Tovar's long postmilitary career as historian, strategic analyst and civil-military affairs commentator invites career comparisons to retired US Army General Colin Powell's public leadership role; historians Donald Kagan's, Martin van Creveld's and Paul Kennedy's literary works; and Charles Moskos' and Samuel P. Huntington's landmark studies in civil-military relations.

Having regularly reviewed other books and publications concerning the drug war and written articles for such journals as Parameters, Strategic Review and the Journal of Comparative Strategy, I am aware that this melancholy literature can be divided etiologically into two categories: works whose authors identify the supply side-the makers and distributors of illegal narcotics-as the cause of the drug plague and those whose authors point to the demand side-the drug consumers-as being the true villains. I expected Tovar to assign at least part of the blame-not with rancor but with his customary objectivity and candor--to the demand side (essentially the United States), which provides the shower of money that buys corruption, murder, economic convolution, political havoc and destruction of the family within Colombia US drug users sent $1.2 billion to Colombia in exchange for cocaine products in 1990 and over $6 billion in 1997. While this flood of cash corrupts Latin America's oldest two-party democracy in fundamental ways, the Colombian army and national police suffer 300 battle deaths per year, more in sum since 1985 than the US Army and police forces suffered during all postVietnam Cold War events. US Congress discussions over the pittance of security assistance and drug-war training funds accorded to Colombia does little more than debate ways to shift the moral blame from Washington to Bogota.

Given that Tovar has worked closely with the US Army throughout his long career, one might well expect him at least to discuss the US role in the Colombian drug war as at least part of his analysis. But just as Colombian historians refrain from Yankee-bashing in school texts that present the well-known US intervention into Colombian sovereignty to create the Republic of Panama in 1903, so too does Tovar refrain from criticizing or even mentioning the incalculably destructive US role in causing the narcotics plague within Colombia.

In his book, Tovar shows Colombia as a divided country-simultaneously a modern political democracy and a narcotrafficking-driven society in near-anarchical condition. His linking of the second Colombia to the first is excellent. He traces Colombia's lamentable history of civic violence, which I described in the 1946-1965 section of the 1981 book Guerrilleros y Soldados [Guerrillas and Soldiers].2

The Enemy Inside

Tovar shows how both domestic and Cuban-exported communism penetrated the Colombian culture erupting into rural violence during the Cold War and leaving structures in place that today are fully integrated with the narcotraffickers. Tovar gives a factual description of the armed subversive groups operating in Colombia since the 1970s and traces the diabolical union of communist guerrillas with rural bandit groups and their subsequent complete integration with criminal groups. The US news media regularly-and wrongly-portray these groups as narcotraffickers. In reality, narcoguerrillas consist of a loose coalition of murderous, pseudo-revolutionary criminals, who receive billions of illegal dollars from producing and selling drugs.

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