State Building and Conflict Resolution in Colombia, 1986-1994

By Harvey F. Kline | Go to book overview

continue, MAS became converted into the "expression of a violent mentality," making the 1980s the decade of "death to everyone."

The two political scientists continue: "In this way the drug trade became the catalyst of violence in Colombia, by stimulating "the proliferation of armed groups that irrigate violence and terror in the cities, with the recourse of death as a form of just, settling of accounts, of a simple means of intimidation."52

So the rule of law in Colombia was lacking not only because of guerrillas and drug dealers but also because of paramilitary groups, at times set up by the armed forces to assist them in their struggle against guerrillas. These paramilitary groups, as chapters 5 and 8 will show, quite often became de facto governments in certain parts of the country, just as the guerrillas and the narcos had in others.


Conclusion

The preceding discussion makes it clear why any individual becoming president of Colombia in 1986 would have faced a difficult situation. When Virgilio Barco became president on August 7,1986, he inherited the problem that Gustavo Gorriti argues all countries with guerrilla challenges have:

The authorities in the threatened countries must confront the night- marish realities that any Third World democracy faces when battling a determined group of ruthless insurgents. A well-planned insurgency can severely test the basic assumptions of the democratic process. While they provoke and dare the elected regime to overstep its own laws in response to their aggression, the insurgents strive to paint the very process they are trying to destroy as a sham. If ensnared in such perverse dynamics, most Third World democracies will find their legitimacy eroding, and may eventually cease to be democracies altogether.53

Barco also encountered other effects of guerrilla wars, as noted by Peter Hakim and Abraham Lowenthal (although apparently El Salvador no longer fits, while Mexico perhaps does):

In four countries-- Colombia, Peru, Guatemala, and El Salvador--governments face insurgent threats to their effective control of national territory. Each of them confronts a vicious cycle of violence and counterviolence that, to varying degrees and in different ways, is undermining the institutions, procedures, and values essential to democracy. As long as the violence continues, democratic practice will

-28-

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