4
Colombia: Persuading
Belligerents to Comply
with International Norms
Pierre Gassmann

Reducir lo sucio a solamente lo irregular en el caso de los insurgentes y de los paramilitares, someterse estrictamente a las leyes en el caso del gobierno.

[Restrict the dirty to only the irregular with insurgents and self-defense groups; in the case of the government, submit it strictly to the law.] 1

Since the struggle for its independence in 1830, Colombia has suffered from periodic eruptions of political violence. This has been largely for two reasons. The first concerns the distribution of power between the central state structure and the regions and larger cities, between the Conservative Party, claiming the heritage of the centralist “liberator” Simón Bolívar, and the Liberal Party, beholden to the ideas of Bolívar's companion—later federalist political adversary and successor—Francisco de Paula Santander. The second reason is that Colombians, often forgetful of the political content of their strong traditional allegiances to these political parties, are accustomed to violent disputes over the control of the country's vast natural resources, including arable land, and over the revenue from recurring bonanzas of gold, coal, emeralds, coffee, oil, and, lately, illicit drugs. It is characteristic of Colombia that until very recently, these conflicts played out without any major regional impact, and that warring parties did not depend on outside military or financial support.

Colombians are also extremely wary of attempts to promote a more federalist structure that would give regions a greater autonomy, and of meddling by foreign powers in their internal affairs. Their history is marked by the successive peeling-off of territories that were once part of “Gran Colombia”— Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, and finally Panama in 1903. The latest faction-

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