THE growing gap between rich and poor has sparked a new wave of
violence in Colombia.
Guerrilla attacks on oil pipelines and power lines were a factor
in President Cesar Gaviria's decision last month to ration
electricity. Businessmen and politicians are being kidnapped with
impunity and offices of United States companies, including Citicorp
and Texaco, have been bombed. Unlike neighboring Peru, which
suspended constitutional rule to fight the Shining Path, Colombia
has drawn no international outcry with its undeclared civil war.
Violence is endemic to Colombia's political system. For more
than a century, Conservative Party families tied to land and
capital battled the Liberals, whose urban outlook appealed to a
growing middle class. More than 300,000 people died in the 1948-56
civil war between the two parties, known as La Violencia (the
A 1958 truce brought two decades of power sharing that
legitimized the Liberal Party. But fighting erupted anew as
left-wing groups attempted to mobilize disenfranchised Colombians
who couldn't trade votes for food and jobs.
Formed in 1970 by followers of assassinated Liberal Caudillo
Jorge Gaitan, the April 19 Movement (M-19) quickly became
Colombia's largest guerrilla organization. Advocating a mix of
Gaitan's populism, social democracy, and Cuban-style communism,
M-19 abandoned the search for compromise, believing that violence
would secure its place in Colombian society.
Following a 20-year struggle, which included the seizure of the
Supreme Court building, M-19 won the respect of Colombia's
political class and, after negotiations, accepted an invitation
from Mr. Gaviria to join his government.
After two years of supporting the government, however, M-19
leader Antonio Navarro Wolff has announced that the movement will
resume its traditional opposition role in order to overturn
elements of Gaviria's economic program that affect the poor. Health
Minister Camilo Gonzalez, the sole M-19 representative in Gaviria's
Cabinet, has agreed to stay on in his post.
Gaviria, whose own career turned on Colombia's political
violence (he became the Liberal Party's presidential candidate
after front-runner Luis Galan was assassinated in 1988), may be
unable to avoid another episode of La Violencia. Pressed by his
Army, he has allocated $210 million to fight the guerrillas of the
Simon Bolivar National Guerrilla Coordinating Board (CNGSB).
Former allies of M-19, the CNGSB are a militarized confederation
that includes communists, Maoists, and practitioners of Roman
Catholic "liberation theology." They escalated their terror
campaign last month after peace talks between the organization and
the government, held in Mexico, were suspended.
Tenuous peace accords between the government and the CNGSB are a
feature of Colombian political life. …