State Building and Conflict Resolution in Colombia, 1986-1994

By Harvey F. Kline | Go to book overview

tency of the authorities, might be exercised after the 1990 mayoral elections by orders given from the office of the mayor. That is to say, the private violence might become state violence.52

In reaction to the appearance of MORENA, the Barco government issued a decree, partially changing the law of political parties. According to the decree, in order to get legal recognition a prospective political party would have to include in its bylaws an express statement that it would be governed by the Colombian constitution and laws. To this typical act of formalism from Bogotá (which assumed that national problems could be handled through formal governmental statements), MORENA leaders replied that if it were not approved as a political party, it would be a clandestine group.53


Conclusion

During the 1980s the self-defense groups that originally were informal and voluntary became institutionalized as small armies of men on salary. And when a man was paid for doing nothing more than going around with a machine gun and his efficacy could only be measured by the number of deaths, the dynamics of the situation could only lead to a bloodbath. The point was reached that the ranchers--the original supporters of the paramilitary groups--considered themselves the victims of their own invention. And by the end of the Barco government, it was difficult for anyone to establish with certainty exactly when the paramilitary groups were defending their rights and when they were violating the law.

Semana, written for the educated, urban Colombians editorialized:

For a bogotano [citizen of Bogotá] in El Chicó [an upper-income section in the north of Bogotá] the paramilitary actions may be violations of human rights, but for a soldier in the Magdalena Medio, Urabá or the Eastern Plains, the death of each guerrilla fighter is equivalent to ridding the place of an armed enemy that might in the end kill him. For this reason, although the top leaders of the Armed Forces never have been pro-paramilitary groups and there are no indications that they have ever participated in any of the activities of those groups, neither can it be affirmed that they have fought them. Now every one recognizes that the country is headed towards a bloody orgy.54

Another aspect of the dirty war was that crimes were either not reported or were not solved, and there was a general breakdown of law and order. According to the Colombian government itself, at least 80

-78-

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