Greed or Social Injustice? Competing Approaches to Conflict Resolution and Sustainable Peace in Colombia

Article excerpt


This article discusses the relationship between poverty and inequality on the one hand and insurgency and armed conflict on the other, against the recent historical background, the current political developments towards a negotiated settlement, and the prevailing internal armed conflict in Colombia. Particular attention will be given to the ongoing peace talks between the Colombian government and the ELN (Ejército de Liberación National) guerrilla movement since these conversations and earlier peace negotiation efforts, as well as earlier negotiations with PARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia), Colombia's major insurgent movement, may give insights with regard to the prospects and the social and political prerequisites for serious peace negotiations and sustainable peaceful development. The economicist approach to the study of relationships of inequality, rebellion, and internal conflict in terms of "greed" and "grievance" or similar dichotomies will also be critically examined with a view to Colombian evidence and experience. Analyzing the complete peace talk scenario in Colombia requires that the character, objectives, and policy of the Colombian government as well as the interests and influences of the Colombian establishment be taken into account. In this context, the main obstacles to and requirements for sincere and efficient peace negotiations and sustainable peace in Colombia will be put forward.


After the failure of the Pastrana administration's peace process with the FARC,1 Álvaro Uribe Vélez won the 2002 presidential elections in Colombia on a promise to take a hard line against the insurgent groups FARC and ELN. When Uribe took office, therefore, the so-called "democratic security" policy was introduced and this policy has since then been applied by the government. The policy involves, in essence, a strong effort to strengthen the military power and territorial control of the Colombian armed forces, and a sustained military offensive against the insurgent groups to bring them back to the negotiation table in a considerably debilitated and more acquiescent condition. As a complement to the strengthening of the regular armed forces, units of "peasant soldiers" and a nationwide network of informants were created.

In May 2006 Uribe was re-elected after having mobilized enough political support in Congress to impose necessary changes in the 1991 Constitution, which originally did not allow consecutive re-election of the president. Uribe won the election with 62 percent of the vote, followed by the moderate left coalition Polo Democratico Alternativo (22 percent). Participation in the elections was very low. The voter turnout reached only 45.1 percent. Mounting evidence and revelations of widespread paramilitary influence and intervention during the past (and the preceding) elections,2 however, as well as alliances between paramilitary leaders and numerous regional and local politicians aligned with Uribe, tend to cast very serious doubt on the legitimacy of Uribe as well as the present Colombian government and Congress.3

Well into Uribe's second term, progress in terms of peace, peace negotiations, or even a humanitarian agreement has been virtually absent, and the most important insurgent group, PARC, has not shown any signs of military weakness nor willingness to enter peace negotiations with the second Uribe administration. ELN entered into exploratory talks with the government in 2005, but so far the parties have not advanced beyond discussing the impending agenda for real peace negotiations.

In July 2003 the government initiated a highly controversial demobilization process with the paramilitary umbrella organization United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, AUC). The negotiation process was quite secretive, evolving, as it is still evolving, under constant paramilitary violations of the cessation of hostilities agreed with the government in December 2002. …