Democracy in Latin America: Colombia and Venezuela

By Donald L. Herman | Go to book overview

11
Coping with Insurgency: The Politics of Pacification in Colombia and Venezuela

Daniel L. Premo

A recent work on liberal democracy in Latin America lists Venezuela, Colombia, and Costa Rica in its subtitle, currently the three countries in the region with the longest tradition of continuous democratic rule. 1 Prior to 1973 Venezuela and Colombia undoubtedly would have been preempted by Uruguay and Chile in any ranking of democracies in the region, a not so subtle reminder that even the most democratic societies in Latin America are subject to relatively sudden, radical shifts in their civil -- military relations.

Colombia and Venezuela themselves emerged from a period of highly personalistic, repressive military dictatorship as recently as 1957 and 1958; the former to resume a tradition of civilian authority spanning most of the twentieth century, and the latter to renew the struggle to establish the first precedent of civilian supremacy in its national history.

Both Colombia and Venezuela found their efforts to establish democratic government threatened in the 1960s by insurgency movements. By 1970 Venezuela had for all practical purposes resolved its guerrilla problem. Colombia, on the other hand, has only recently engaged in a pacification program that holds forth some promise of bringing an end to over two decades of almost continuous guerrilla activity.

This study examines the origin of guerrilla violence in each country and the respective government's political and military response to the threat of insurgency. Special attention is given to the "politics of pacification," which culminated in the resolution of Venezuela's guerrilla problem and which characterize the Colombian government's present efforts to achieve a negotiated settlement with various guerrilla organizations. Throughout the study the role of counterinsurgency is examined as a military concern and as a source of friction between the armed forces and civilian authorities. The chapter concludes with an as-

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