Outline of Section Contents

A Technical Note on Accents and Tildes


References and Resources

Colombia Updates



A Colony Of Spain

Ethnicity In Colombia

The Struggle For Independence From Spain

Legacies Of Spanish Colonialism

Liberals And Conservatives

Struggles For Land And Labor

La Violencia, And The Origins Of Social Revolution In Colombia

The Alliance for Progress, and Nationalist Wounds



The Guerrilla Movement Takes Off: The FARC, the PCC, and Organized Labor

The ELN: Another Guerrilla Group

From And To Elections: The Story of the M-19

Yet Another Guerrilla Movement: The EPL

The Indigenous Movement in Colombia



Drugs, and the Changing Face of Conflict

Paramilitary Chronicles

Conspiracy Theory: Colombia







A Spanish Colony: Spanish Conquest of the indigenas. Enslavement, and later serfdom of the Indians: the encomienda. Resguardos (reservations) and the mita (labor tribute). Mining and la coca (from sacrament to drug). Introduction of African slave labor. Cimarrones (escaped slaves) and palenques (the free communities they formed).

Ethnicity in Colombia: Mestizaje (racial mixing). Indigenas (Native Americans), Africanos/Negros (Africans/Blacks), Blancos (Whites), Mestizos (part-white, part-Indian), Mulatos (part-white, part-black). Ethnic composition of contemporary Colombia: table.

Wars for Independence: Criollos and peninsulares. Mercantilist system. Power struggle between Spain and local elites. The Comunero Rebellion (led by Jose Antonio Galan): an abortive social revolt. The war for Latin American Independence (led by Simon Bolivar). La Gran Colombia (which will later break down into several nations, including Colombia) is created.

The Colonial Legacy: General Latin American features: lack of strong democratic tradition. Personalismo (politics centered on personalities rather than institutions) and caudillos (military strongmen). Semi-feudal conditions and the hacienda (great estate). Altered tradition of coca cultivation; new patterns of contraband trade.

Liberals and Conservatives: Emergence of the Liberal and Conservative Parties in Colombia. Exaggerated spoils system (electoral winners shut out losers), in addition to complicated Colombian geography, leads to many civil wars between these two parties. Party differences. Liberal reforms: abolish slavery, transform resguardo, advocate theories of Adam Smith and David Ricardo (participation in the global economy, free trade, the law of comparative advantage).

Struggles for Land and Labor: Conflicting claims of land ownership produced by a system of formal land grants (conferring deeds and titles) and a contradictory system of awarding ownership on the basis of actual occupation and use of the land by peasant families. Baldios (public lands). Demand for land rises with export booms (tobacco, quinine, coffee). Struggles between colonos (peasant settlers) and terratenientes (landlords). Many colonos driven from their lands into the Colombian frontier, many others become arrendatarios (tenant farmers). The Liberal-Conservative War of a Thousand Days. Radical labor movement comes to Colombia. Liberal Party injects social content into its program, provides national-level support to colonos, as it advocates "import substitution" strategy. President Alfonso Lopez Pumarejo’s "Revolution on the March." Conservative resistance. The PCC (Colombian Communist Party), organizes arrendatarios and jornaleros (day laborers) in the countryside. Viota. Sumapaz. Jorge Eliecer Gaitan (and UNIR).

La Violencia and the Origins of Social Revolution in Colombia: Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, Liberal populist. Assassination of Gaitan. The Bogotazo (rebellion in Bogota, and elsewhere) follows. La Violencia: a Liberal-Conservative Civil War which develops strong social aspects, as well as terribly brutal features. General Rojas Pinilla’s military coup seeks to put an end to the sectarian violence. Demobilized guerrillas and bandoleros (bandits). Peasant self-defense groups. Liberals and Conservatives finally regain control of Colombia with the Frente Nacional (National Front), a new 16-year power-sharing arrangement between the two elite parties.

The Alliance for Progress, and Nationalist Wounds: The Cold War. JFK and the "Alliance for Progress." Previous sources of tension between the US and Colombia: the seizure of Panama (1903) and the United Fruit Company Massacre (1928).

The Guerrillas Take Off: The FARC, the PCC, and Radical Labor: US counterinsurgency support for Colombia against "independent peasant republics" that emerged during La Violencia: "Operation Marquetalia." The emergence of the Colombian guerrillas. The FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). The PCC and the FARC. Brief summary of the Colombian labor movement: the PSR and early strikes; the CTC, UTC, CSTC, and CUT (labor federations). Revolutionary theorists: Marx, Lenin, Mao. Their influence on the FARC strategy. Limits of land reform in 1960s increase relevance of the FARC. FARC methods of finance: la vacuna (war taxes), el secuestro (kidnapping), el narcotrafico (the drug trade). Increased combat effectiveness and victories of the FARC. Setbacks. Current strategy and factors affecting the FARC’s performance.

The ELN: Another Guerrilla Group: Influence of the Cuban Revolution on the genesis of the ELN. The life of Che Guevara. Guevara’s doctrine of guerrilla warfare: el foquismo. Colombia’s revolutionary priest, Camilo Torres Restrepo. The Church in Latin America: its contradictory historical role. Syncretism, as an ideological tool for connecting with the conquered. "Biblical brainwashing." Radical attacks on the Church. Reforms within the Church. Liberation theology, and its Biblical foundations. The career and beliefs of Camilo Torres. The Frente Unido (United Front), Camilo Torres’ radical political coalition. Camilo joins the ELN. Camilo’s death. Rise and decline of the ELN. Manuel Perez and the resurrection of the ELN. Oil pipelines, and kidnapping. Temporary participation in the Simon Bolivar Guerrilla Coordinating Organization (with the FARC and EPL). Current status.

From and to Elections: The Story of the M-19: ANAPO (the Popular National Alliance) loses fraudulent elections in 1970. M-19, an urban guerrilla organization is formed as a result. Actions of the M-19: capture of weapons from the Colombian army, capture of Bolivar’s sword as a symbolic declaration of intent, distribution of free food to slum residents, capture of the Dominican Embassy, capture of the Palace of Justice (which is subsequently stormed by the army). Decline of the M-19 as a guerrilla force. Amnesty, and reintegration into civil society as a political party: Alianza Democratica M-19 (M-19 Democratic Alliance). Achievements and limits. Left-wing coalitions in contemporary Colombia: Via Alterna (principal party being the M-19) and FSP (principal party being the PCC), sometimes work together in a still broader coalition known as the Polo Democratico. The PCC and FARC have now formally broken, with the FARC’s political support needs being carried out by the PCCC (Clandestine Colombian Communist Party).

Yet Another Guerrilla Movement: the EPL: Origins. ANUC (national peasant association), aparceros (sharecroppers). Decline, changes, and renewed force. Enters the banana-growing zone of Uraba. Nature of the banana industry, and inherent social tensions. Army and paramilitaries inflict heavy damage on banana workers and guerrillas. FARC vs. EPL. Demobilization of EPL majority.

The Indigenous Movement in Colombia: Introduction. The Paez (los paeces, the Nasa). Martin Quintin Lame. CRIC. ONIC. Relation between the FARC and the Paez. Quintin Lame guerrilla group, and the M-19. The Indigenous Guards. Coca. Fumigation. "Coca Sek." The Chibchas, the Tairona, the Kogi. The mission of the "Elder Brothers." The Witoto. The intersection of anthropology and ecology with revolution and "war for the State". The U’wa people, Occidental Petroleum, and the FARC. "Survivors."

Drugs, and the Changing Face of Conflict: La coca: original indigenous uses, re-creation and harnessing by Spaniards. Colombian contraband heritage. Cocaine in Europe and the United States. The 1960s. Marijuana from Colombia. Beginnings of the Colombian cocaine trade. The Medellin Cartel. Pablo Escobar (his criminal background). Carlos Lehder. (The Bahamas and Lehder’s transport operations). Jose Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha ("el mejicano"). The Ochoa family. The Cali Cartel (the Orejuela brothers and Jose Santacruz London~o). Contrasting styles between the two cartels. Wars in Florida (between the Medellin Cartel and local gangsters). Peru, Bolivia, and the jungles of Colombia - sources of coca. "The atom bomb of Latin America." Cocaine as a Latin American response to failure of traditional economic models of development. Motivation for peasant growers. Basuco and "Crack." Escobar’s populism. Plata o plomo ("silver or lead") and los sicarios (assassins): intimidation of the Colombian government to get operating space and deter possibility of extradition to the US. Medellin Cartel’s importance to the Colombian economy, and its role in forming paramilitary death squads. Destruction of the Union Patriotica (UP), a leftist political coalition, by assassins. Social cleansing operations. The FARC and the drug trade. The reality and myth of the "narcoguerrilla." Lehder’s capture. The assassination of presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan by the Medellin Cartel. Total war versus the government. Escobar’s "surrender" to the Colombian government and "confinement" in his own luxury prison. Escobar’s flight from jail under the threat of "real imprisonment." Pursuit of Escobar by special Colombian units supported by the US and backed by "los Pepes" death squad. Killing of Escober, 1993. Heyday of the Cali Cartel. Crackdown on the Cali Cartel. "Baby cartels", and the continuation of the drug trade.

Chronicles of the Paramilitaries: Roots in La Violencia and Law 48 of 1968. Generated by various forces, including the Medellin Cartel. The Castan~o Brothers (Fidel and Carlos). MAS. The AUC. Human rights organizations critique Colombia. How the US is able to justify military aid to Colombia in spite of paramilitary atrocities. The War on Drugs. Terrorism. The School of the Americas, and questions regarding US role in Colombia’s "dirty war." Case studies of paramilitary episodes from the 1980s to present.

Conspiracy Theory: Colombia: Is the USA involved in drug trafficking? Laos and Vietnam; Afghanistan; Central America and the Contras. Allegations and testimony regarding US covert operations and the drug trade. Parry, Kerry, Lehder, Webb, et al. Invisible funds; US inner cities and the prison industrial complex. Subversion of the Constitution. The conspiracy theory described; no conclusions.

Prognosis: Summary of the roots of conflict. Economic causes and socialization and cultural processes. Peace by victory or peace through negotiation? Reasons why it is difficult for either side to win. Our duty to avoid ignorance. The War on Drugs and the Colombian Civil War intersect, but are not one and the same. What role should the US play? What role should US citizens play?

A Technical Note on Accents and Tildes: Software containing accents and tildes was not utilized in the production of this article, creating some important deficiencies in the presentation of Spanish names and terms.

Glossary: Terms and names in Spanish, with definitions and a guide to proper spelling.

References and Resources: Partial Bibliography. Relevant Films. Literature of Interest. Music. Relevant Web Sites. Web Sites For Those Who Want To Become Involved. Colombia Updates.

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A Technical Note on Accents and Tildes

Due to limitations in the software utilized to produce this article, accents have not been included. Many words and names in Spanish have, therefore, not been precisely rendered. For example, el Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional, Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, Simon Bolivar, and indigena all require accents which I have simply not been able to reproduce. The proper spelling of some (but not all) names and terms may be found in the Glossary, where accents are represented by apostrophes following the letter over which they belong. As in: el Eje’rcito Nacional de Liberacio’n (accents over the "e" and "o"), Jorge Elie’cer Gaita’n (accents over the "e" and "a"), Simo’n Boli’var (accents over the "o" and "i"), and indi’gena (accent over the "i"). In the case of tildes, they have been included in the text, and follow the letter "n" over which they belong. As in: antioquen~o and man~ana. Sincere apologies are made to readers for this inconvenience.

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Note: Due to software limitations, accents and tildes are indicated in the following ways: accents by an apostrophe after the letter which they belong over; and tildes, by a tilde following the letter which they belong over. Examples: Si’ ; Ame’rica. An~o ; Espan~a.


adjudicatario: A peasant who receives title to land on the basis of having occupied it and put it to productive use.

AD-M19 (Alianza Democra’tica M-19): "Democratic Alliance M-19", a political party created by former members of the M-19 guerrilla movement.

amapola: Poppy (the basis of heroin).

Ame’rica: America, both North and South. Latin Americans frequently refer to the US as "North America", or "los estados unidos, EEUU."

antioquen~o: A resident of the Colombian department of Antioquia.

Antioquia: A Colombian department, in which the city of Medelli’n is located.

ANUC (Asociacio’n Nacional de Usuarios Campesinos): The "National Association of Peasant Users", a national peasant association.

aparceros: Sharecroppers.

arrendatarios: Tenant farmers.

asesinato: Murder, killing.

AUC (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia): The "United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia", an organization which coordinates the actions of many local paramilitary units.

autodefensas: Self-defense forces. Originally, peasant self-defense groups of leftist leanings, but now the term is applied mainly to peasant groups organized by the military and paramilitaries to resist the guerrillas.

baldi’os: Public lands which are government-owned, and open to settlement by landless peasants.

bandolero: Bandit, outlaw, gunman.

basuco: A highly-addictive form of cocaine (semi-processed coca paste mixed with other ingredients) which is commonly rolled into cigarettes and smoked by many poor Colombians.

Bogota’: The capital of Colombia, located in the department of Cundinamarca.

Bogotano: A resident of Bogota’.

Bogotazo: A violent uprising which occurred largely in Bogota’, triggered by the assassination of Jorge Elie’cer Gaita’n in 1948.

Boli’var, Si’mon: The "Great Liberator" who led the Wars for Independence which freed much of South America from Spanish rule.

cacique: Chief within an indigenous group.

calen~o: A resident of Cali.

Cali: A major Colombian city located in the department of Valle del Cauca.

campesinado: The peasantry.

campesino: Peasant.

campo: The countryside.

Castan~o, Carlos: Founder of the AUC, a major paramilitary leader.

Caqueta’: A department of Colombia for many years dominated by the FARC.

Cauca: A department of Colombia, whose principal city is Popaya’n. It is the traditional homeland of the Paez Indians.

caudillo: A political strongman, a leader whose appeal is frequently greater than people’s allegiance to institutions.

cese de fuego: Ceasefire.

CGSB (Coordinadora Guerrillera Simo’n Boli’var): The Simon Bolivar Guerrilla Coordinating Organization, a unified "guerrilla command" for the FARC, ELN, and EPL which existed, for a time, during the 1980s.

Chibchas: An indigenous people who created an advanced pre-Columbian civilization in Colombia.

chulavitas: A Conservative police force which perpetrated particularly violent atrocities during La Violencia.

cimmarones: The term for "escaped slaves" utilized in the days when Colombia was part of the Spanish Colony of Nueva Granada.

coca: The coca plant from which cocaine is derived. "Coca" is sometimes also used to designate cocaine, which is also referred to as "cocai’na."

Cogui: The Kogi, an indigenous people of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

colonos: Peasant settlers.

Comuneros, Rebelio’n de los: The Comunero Rebellion, an abortive uprising of Colombians against Spain, a precursor of Bolivar’s War for Independence. Known for its ambitious social agenda.

concesionarios: Individuals whose land ownership is derived from the granting, inheritance, or purchase of formal titles to the land.

contras: The Nicaraguan "counterrevolutionaries", dedicated to the overthrow of the Sandinista regime, and supported by the US.

Conquista, La: "The Conquest", referring to Spain’s conquest of the indigenous peoples of the Americas.

Conservador: "Conservative", an individual belonging to the Conservative Party, traditionally one of Colombia’s two principal parties.

CRIC (Consejo Regional Indi’gena del Cauca): The Regional Indigenous Council of the Cauca, an organization of indigenous peoples of the department of Cauca.

criollos: Descendants of Spaniards born in the Americas, the social group which spearheaded the Wars for Independence against Spain.

CUT (Confederacio’n Unitaria de Trabajadores): The Unity Confederation of Workers, at the time of the writing of this article Colombia’s principal labor confederation, incorporating labor unions from across the political spectrum.

DAS (Departamento Adminstrativo de Seguridad): The Administrative Department of Security, Colombia’s version of the FBI.

delincuente: Delinquent, criminal. The term is sometimes purely descriptive, but sometimes used politically because of its pejorative impact.

departamento: "Department", or "State." Colombian "states" are known as "departments."

desaparecidos: The disappeared ones, people who have been kidnapped, most often by the military or paramilitaries, and are never heard from again.

dictador: Dictator.

dictadura: Dictatorship.

droga: Drug.

eje’rcito: Army.

ELN (Eje’rcito de Liberacio’n Nacional): The Army of National Liberation, a major Colombian guerrilla group.

encomendero: The recipient of an encomienda.

encomienda: A colonial land grant bestowed by the Spanish Crown upon Spanish nobles or military men, who received the right not only to administer the land which was granted to them, but also to rule over the indigenous inhabitants who lived on that land.

enganchadores: Labor recruiters.

EPL (Eje’rcito Popular de Liberacio’n): Popular (People’s) Army of Liberation, a Colombian guerrilla group especially active in the 1980s.

esclavo: Slave.

Escobar, Pablo: Famous drug lord, founder of the Medelli’n Cartel.

escuadrones de la muerte: Death squads.

Espan~a: Spain.

espan~ol: Spaniard.

Estado: State (referring to the entity of the national government).

FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia): The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the most powerful of Colombia’s guerrilla groups.

FMLN: Farabundo Marti’ National Liberation Front, a guerrilla group of El Salvador active in the 1980s.

foco: Center of activity and point of genesis of a revolutionary project, a concept especially linked to Che’ Guevara’s theories of guerrilla warfare.

foquismo: The philosophy of the insurrectional foco.

Frente Nacional: The National Front, a 16-year political alliance between the Liberal and Conservative Parties which emerged as a solution to La Violencia.

Frente Unido: The United Front, a political movement formed by Camilo Torres to challenge the supremacy of the National Front and promote revolutionary change in Colombia.

fu’tbol: Soccer.

Gaita’n, Jorge Elie’cer: Liberal populist leader, whose assassination in 1948 led to civil war.

Gala’n, Jose’ Antonio: Leader of the Comunero Rebellion.

Gala’n, Luis Carlos: Liberal politician and presidential candidate, assassinated in 1989 by the Medelli’n Cartel. His death led to a fierce escalation in the war between the drug dealers and the Colombian government.

gami’n: Street child. Homeless orphan, runaway or abandoned child who usually bonds with other kids in a street gang in order to survive. The gamines are often referred to as "throwaway children."

Garci’a Ma’rquez, Gabriel: Colombia’s famous, Nobel-Prize-winning author and exponent of "magical realism", known for his interest in social problems and his connections with the Left.

golpe de estado: Coup d’etat, military takeover of a civilian government.

gringos: A usually pejorative term for US Americans, first coined in Mexico, but now used throughout Latin America.

guerra: War.

guerra sucia: Dirty War.

guerrilla, la: The guerrillas.

guerrillero: A guerrilla fighter.

Guevara, Ernesto (Che’): Argentine revolutionary who played a key role in the Cuban Revolution, and later sought to export his revolutionary methods and vision to other lands.

hacendado: Owner of a hacienda.

hacienda: A large estate, usually agricultural in nature, which is often characterized by paternalistic relations between owner and workers. In many times and places the haciendas have been sites of tremendous exploitation.

huelga: Labor strike.

impunidad: Impunity, a term frequently used in Colombia to describe the lack of consequences for political killings carried out by the Right.

inconformes: Non-conformists, the discontented ones, people who are not satisfied with a certain social or political arrangement.

INCORA (Instituto Colombiano de la Reforma Agraria): The Colombian Institute of the Agrarian Reform, a government agency charged with implementing government policies of land reform.

indi’gena: An indigenous ("Native American" or "Indian") person.

indio: Another word for "indi’gena."

jornaleros: Day-laborers. They work temporarily or seasonally, as needed. They are frequently under-employed and economically vulnerable.

justicia: Justice.

latifundia: A technical term derived from the agricultural history of ancient Rome, referring to large and often under-utilized agricultural estates.

Lehder, Carlos: One of the founders of the Medelli’n Cartel.

Liberal: A member of the Liberal Party, traditionally one of Colombia’s two principal parties.

limpieza social: Social cleansing, a campaign of murders carried out by right-wing killers which aims to eliminate marginal or unwanted members of society.

llanos: Plains, savanna.

Lo’pez Pumarejo, Alfonso: A Liberal populist president associated with many reforms beneficial to the masses.

lucha armada: Armed struggle.

M-19 (Movimiento Diecinueve de Abril): The 19th of April Movement, a former Colombian guerrilla group especially active in the urban environment.

Marulanda, Manuel: One of the principal founders of the FARC.

MAS (Muerte A Secuestradores): "Death to Kidnappers", a paramilitary group created by the Medelli’n Cartel, right-wing landowners and members of the military.

masacre: Massacre.

matanza: Slaughter, a big killing.

mayordomo: Overseer, administrator of an estate, frequently employed by an absentee landlord.

Medelli’n: A major Colombian city located in the department of Antioquia.

mestizaje: The process of racial mixing.

mestizo: A person who has mixed indigenous (Native American) and white blood.

Meta: A department in Colombia which has for many years been dominated by the FARC.

militares: Military men, soldiers.

minifundia: The counterpart of the latifundia, a small plot of land worked by a peasant family.

mita: A form of tax levied by various pre-Columbian indigenous groups, which their people paid not with goods or money, but with labor which was provided to the greater society/empire to which they belonged, in order to help improve and maintain the well-being of all. It was later distorted by the Spaniards into a form of forced labor, and utilized to compel subjugated indi’genas to extract gold and silver from mines for the benefit of Spain.

miten~o: A worker conscripted by the mita.

montan~as: Mountains.

monte: Wilderness, forest, mountains.

MRTA: Movimiento Revolucionario Tupac Amaru (Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement), a Peruvian guerrilla group.

mula: Mule, drug carrier, especially one who ingests packets of cocaine or heroin to smuggle them into another country inside of their stomach/intestinal tract.

mulato: A person of mixed black-white blood.

narcoguerrilla: A guerrilla, or guerrilla force, involved in drug trafficking.

narcotraficante: Drug trafficker.

narcotra’fico: Drug traffic.

Nasa: Another name for the Paez Indians.

Navarro Wolff, Antonio: A former M-19 guerrilla, and prominent politician of the AD-M19.

obrero: Worker.

OEA (Organizacio’n de Estados Americanos): The Organization of American States (OAS).

ONIC (Organizacio’n Nacional Indi’gena de Colombia): The National Indigenous Organization of Colombia, a national organization representing Colombia’s indigenous peoples.

ONU (Organizacio’n de las Naciones Unidas): The United Nations (UN).

padre: Father, priest.

Paez: A Colombian indigenous group inhabiting the department of the Cauca.

paisa: An inhabitant of Medelli’n.

pa’jaro: Literally "bird", in Colombia frequently used to designate a paid assassin or killer, especially during the period of La Violencia.

palenque: A community of escaped slaves. Many came into being in the days when Colombia was still a Spanish colony.

pandilla: Gang.

paramilitares: Paramilitaries, groups of right-wing fighters often involved in atrocities and human rights violations, who sometimes act as auxiliaries for the Colombian military in their war against the guerrillas, and often target leftist sectors of society.

paro civi’l: Civil strike, joint action undertaken by labor unions and community groups to shut down entire areas and regions in response to unresolved grievances (such as political or military repression).

patria: The nation (nacio’n), fatherland.

paz: Peace.

PCC (Partido Comunista de Colombia): The Communist Party of Colombia.

PCCC (Partido Comunista Clandestino de Colombia): The Clandestine Communist Party of Colombia. An underground party formed to represent the interests of the FARC.

peninsulares: Spaniards who were born in Spain but lived in Latin America. They played an important role in the days when Colombia and other South American countries were still Spanish colonies.

pepes, los (Los Perseguidos por Pablo Escobar): People Persecuted by Pablo Escobar, a death squad created to hunt down Pablo Escobar and destroy the Medelli’n Cartel.

personalismo: "Personalism", the political-cultural phenomenon of people manifesting greater allegiance to leaders (personalities) than to political institutions (such as constitutions and laws).

pescas milagrosas: "Miracle fishing", kidnapping sweeps usually implemented by the guerrillas which enclose an area, which is then searched for "worthwhile" captives.

pistolero: Gunman.

Pizarro, Carlos: Former M-19 guerrilla, and AD-M19 presidential candidate, assassinated in 1990.

plata o plomo: "Silver" (money) or "lead" (bullet), the modus operandi of the Medelli’n Cartel, which would bribe political and security personnel who would cooperate with it, and kill those who would not.

pobre: Poor, a poor person.

polici’a: Police.

pueblo: The people.

Quinti’n Lame, Marti’n: A Paez activist, famous in the struggle of indigenous people to defend their land and to reclaim their dignity in the Cauca and Colombia.

raspachi’n: A seasonal coca picker.

reforma: Reform.

resguardo: Indigenous reserve, reservation.

revolucio’n: Revolution.

rico: Rich, a rich person.

Rojas Pinilla, Gustavo: Colombian general, carried out a military coup against the government in 1953 in an effort to put an end to La Violencia and restore order to the nation. He later founded the political party ANAPO (Alianza Nacional Popular), the Popular National Alliance.

sacerdote: A priest.

Salcedo, Guadalupe: A Liberal guerrilla during La Violencia, who was assassinated after being persuaded to accept a peace offer and demobilize his army.

Sandinistas: A revolutionary army, then the ruling socialist political party in Nicaragua after the defeat of the Somoza dictatorship. A major target of US foreign policy during the days of President Reagan.

sapo: Literally "toad", a term used to designate an "informer."

secuestro: Kidnapping.

selva: Jungle.

Sendero Luminoso: Shining Path, a guerrilla organization of Peru.

sicario: A paid assassin, hit man, killer.

sindicato: Labor union.

sobreviviente: Survivor.

soldado: Soldier.

subversivo: Subversive, a term which the Colombian government frequently applies to the guerrillas ("los subversivos").

Tairona: A pre-Columbian indigenous group, a division of the Chibchas.

terratenientes: Landowners, landlords (of rural property).

terrorismo: Terrorism.

Tiro Fijo: "Sure Shot", nickname of Manuel Marulanda, commander of the FARC.

Tolima: A department in Colombia, one of the points of origin of the FARC.

toque de queda: Curfew.

Torres, Camilo: Revolutionary priest, founder of the United Front. He joined the ELN and lost his life in combat (1966).

trabajador: Worker.

Tupamaros: An urban guerrilla force of Uruguay, prominent during the 1970s.

U wa: A Colombian indigenous group.

UP (Unio’n Patrio’tica): The Patriotic Union, a leftist political coalition of the 1980s which was devastated by a campaign of assassinations carried out by right-wing death squads.

Uraba’: The principal banana-growing region of Colombia, which has for many years been marred by high levels of political violence.

Uribe, Alvaro: President of Colombia, elected in 2002.

vacuna: Literally "vaccine", a "war tax" collected by the FARC from landowners who live in the areas in which it operates.

Valle: A department in Colombia, an important center of sugar production, and home to the major city of Cali.

vendidos: The "sold ones", people who have "sold out" and betrayed those who they should have supported/defended.

venganza: revenge

vereda: A hamlet, a small rural community.

Violenca, La: A period in Colombian history (1948-1957) dominated by a civil war between Liberals and Conservatives, in which many other forms of violence also proliferated. The origin of Colombia’s social revolution is often traced back to this period. (La violencia, not in capital letters, simply means "violence.")

Witoto: An indigenous group which inhabits the Amazonian regions of Colombia.

Yanqui: "Yankee", a term frequently applied to US Americans.

Zapatistas: A revolutionary group active in Chiapas, Mexico.

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The following bibliography contains a wide range of material, viewpoints, and approaches, encompassing both the scholarly and the polemic. As usual, truth is best discerned by examining a mosaic of contrasting perspectives. Innumerable periodicals, media reports, and personal contacts have also served to lay the basis for this article. - JRS

Americas Watch Committee. The Killings in Colombia: An Americas Watch Report. NY: Americas Watch Committee, 1989.

Amnesty International. Colombia: Una Crisis de Derechos Humanos. Madrid: Amnesty International Publications, April 1988.

Amnesty International. Colombia (report for 2004).

Arenas, Jacobo. Cese el fuego: una historia politica de las FARC. Bogota: Editorial Oveja Negra, 1985.

Behar, Olga. Las guerras de la paz. Bogota: Planeta, 1986.

Behar, Olga. Noches de humo: como se planeo y ejecuto la toma del Palacio de Justicia. Bogota: Planeta, 1988.

Bergquist, Charles. Coffee and Conflict in Colombia, 1886 - 1910. North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1978.

Blasier, Cole. The Hovering Giant: US Responses to Revolutionary Change in Latin America, 1910-1985. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1985.

Boorstein, Edward. Allende’s Chile: An Inside View. New York: International Publishers, 1977.

Botero, Fernando Herrera. Uraba: Colonizacion, violencia y crisis del Estado. Medellin: Editorial Universidad de Antioquia/Centro de Investigaciones Economicas (CIE), 1990.

Botero, Fernando Herrera and Alvaro Guzman. "El enclave agricola en la zona bananera de Santa Marta", Cuadernos Colombianos, #11, 1977.

Bowden, Mark. Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World’s Greatest Outlaw. Atlantic Monthly Press, 2001.

Castro Caycedo, German. La bruja, coca, politica y demonio. Bogota: Planeta, 1994.

Castro Caycedo, German El secreto. Bogota: Planeta, 1996.

Ereira, Alan. The Elder Brothers. NY: Vintage, 1993.

Fajardo M., Dario. Haciendas, Campesinos, y Politicas Agrarias en Colombia, 1920-1980. Bogota: Editorial Oveja Negra, 1983.

Findji, Maria Teresa and Jose Maria Rojas. Territorio, economia y sociedad Paez. Cali, Colombia: Universidad del Valle, 1985.

Furtado, Celso. Economic Development of Latin America: Historical Background and Contemporary Problems. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1970.

Galeano, Eduardo. Open Veins of Latin America. Translated by Cedric Belfrage. NY: Monthly Review Press, 1973.

Gaitan, Gloria. La lucha por la tierra en la decada del 30. Bogota: El Ancora Editores, 1984.

Gaitan, Jorge Eliecer. 1928: La masacre en las bananeras - documentos, testimonios. Bogota: Ediciones Los Comuneros.

Garcia Marquez, Gabriel. Noticia de un secuestro. 1996.

Gill, Lesley. The School of the Americas: Military Training and Political Violence in the Americas. North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2004.

Gott, Richard. Guerrilla Movements in Latin America. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Co., Inc. 1971.

Guevara, Che. Guerrilla Warfare. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998 (reprint of 1960s version).

Guzman, German. El Padre Camilo Torres. Mexico: Siglo XXI, 1968.

Guzman, German, Orlando Fals Borda and Eduardo Uman~a Luna. La violencia en Colombia (2 vols.) Bogota: Tercer Mundo, 1963, 1964.

IEPALA. Colombia: Imperialismo, Represion, Militarizacion, Historia, Luchas, Organizaciones.

James, Daniel. Che Guevara. NY: Stein & Day.

Kepner, Charles David. Social Aspects of the Banana Industry. New York: Columbia University Press, 1936.

Lara, Patricia. Siembra vientos y recogeras tempestades. Bogota: Planeta, 1986.

Larson, Brooke. Colonialism and Agrarian Transformation in Bolivia: Cochabamba, 1550-1900. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988.

LeGrand, Catherine. "Colombian Transformations: Peasants and Wage-Labourers in the Santa Marta Banana Zone", Journal of Peasant Studies, vol 11, #4, July 1984.

LeGrand, Catherine. Frontier Expansion and Peasant Protest in Colombia, 1850 - 1936. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1850 - 1936.

Livingstone, Grace. Inside Colombia: Drugs, Democracy and War. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2004.

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Marsh, Robin Ruth. Development Strategies in Rural Colombia: The Case of Caqueta. Los Angeles: UCLA Latin American Center publications, 1983.

McCoy, Alfred W. The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade. Lawrence Hill Books, 2003.

McGreevey, William. An Economic History of Colombia, 1845 - 1930. Great Britain: Cambridge University Press, 1971.

McKann, Thomas P. An American Company: The Tragedy of United Fruit. NY: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1976.

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Associated Press Wire Service

El Colombiano (Colombia)

El Diario La Prensa (NYC, USA)

El Espectador (Colombia)

The New York Times (USA)

Resistencia (Colombia)

Reuters Wire Service

Semana (Colombia)

Taipei Times (China/Formosa, May 3, 2005, article on the "Indigenous Guards" of the Nasa/Paez)

El Tiempo (Colombia)



Amor, mujeres y flores (Love, Women, and Flowers), 1988.

Maria Cano, 1990.

Rodrigo D: No Futuro, 1990.

Maria, llena de gracia (Mary, Full of Grace), 2004.



Garcia Marquez, Gabriel. Cien an~os de soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude), 1967.

Garcia Marquez, Gabriel. Cronica de una muerte anunciada (Chronicle of a Death Foretold), 1981.

Rivera, Jose Eustacio. La Voragine (The Whirlpool), 1924.



Colombia is a country rich in music, with outstanding traditions in cumbia, "salsa" and vallenato. Following are a couple of songs of both musical and social interest:

"Rebelion (No le pega la negra)" - Joe Arroyo. (The emotion behind a slave rebellion in Colombia, in the days when it was still a Spanish colony.)

"Etnia" - Grupo Niche (Jairo Varela). (Social nuances of ethnicity in modern-day Colombia.)



http://www.archaeolink.com  (Go to "Social Studies and History Index", and under "Country Studies", choose "Colombia Social Studies." A list of links to sites about Colombia, ranging from CIA and US Army information sites about Colombia to the Guardian’s Colombian pages, and travel-oriented sites.)

http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/colombia.html  (Maps of Colombia, many from official US sources such as the CIA and State Department. The site is maintained by the University of Texas.)

http://www.colostate.edu/Orgs/LASO/Colombia/colombia.html  (A site, maintained by Colorado State University’s Latin-American Student Organization, which features some information, Colombian recipes, and many good links to other sites, including Colombian periodicals and universities.)

http://www.prisonactivist.org/crisis/evans-goldberg.html  (A radical definition, and perspective on, the "Prison Industrial Complex", mentioned in the above article.)

http://www.filosofia.org/ave/001/a230.htm  (A page describing the life of Camilo Torres, with numerous passages of his own words. Very much pro-Camilo. In Spanish.)



The organizations mentioned here do have political orientations (how could they not?), and yet, unless otherwise noted, they are basically humanitarian and, relatively-speaking, non-partisan (but you may judge for yourself). These links are provided to give those who are interested in doing something concrete and positive to help improve conditions in Colombia a point from which to start. But there are many ways to help: the links provided here are merely the tip of the iceberg.

http://www.codhes.org.co  (The Consultaria para los Derechos Humanos y el Desplazamiento. This organization is dedicated to dealing with the humanitarian side of the phenomenon of "internal displacement" in Colombia, as thousands are uprooted by violence and the fear of violence, and driven to abandon their homes. It provides emergency humanitarian aid, long term economic assistance, and psychological support to displaced communities, families and individuals; advocates for human rights in Colombia; and generates analysis and provides statistics concerning the phenomenon of "internal displacement.")

http://www.unicef.org.co  (UNICEF’s Colombian branch, especially dedicated to improving the economic and social conditions in which Colombian children live, and to protecting the rights of children in a dangerous environment, where armed conflict frequently intrudes.)

http://www.letthechildrenlive.org  (A UK-based charity dedicated to helping los gamines: the street children, or "throwaway children" of Colombia.)

http://street-children.org.uk/colombia.htm  (Another UK-based charity which provides support to street children from various countries, including Colombia.)

http://www.amnestyusa.org/countries/colombia  (Amnesty International, the renowned human rights organization, has an active presence in Colombia.)

http://www.hrw.org/campaigns/colombia  (Human Rights Watch is another important international organization monitoring the human rights situation in Colombia.)

http://www.justiceforcolombia.org  (This site does have an explicit political orientation. It’s maintained by a group of British labor unions in solidarity with the Colombian labor movement. One of its best pages is a Memorial Gallery of some of the victims of political violence in Colombia. When one sees faces connected with the phenomenon of political violence, it suddenly becomes more real and more in need of action. http://www.justiceforcolombia.org/Images/Delegations%20pix/Memorialgallery/memorialgallery.htm )

http://www.tairona.org  (This site also has an explicit political program. It represents an organization of indigenous groups of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta who are dedicated to the recovery of their lands, and the defense of their culture and natural environment.)



The material which appears in this article was relatively up-to-date in April 2006, when it was completed. Since the purpose of this article has been to provide historical background relevant to the development of social conflict, violence, and drug trafficking in modern-day Colombia - and since much of what has been discussed is now "history", which the future cannot change, only emerge from - this article should remain a useful tool of self-education for years to come. Nonetheless, in case additional observations, comments or analyses are called for down the road, a special section of Colombia Updates, linked to this article, will be maintained. It is not my intention to intimately chronicle developments in Colombia in this section, only to provide space for the possibility of noting important changes, and keeping up with critical events. For those who are truly interested in following Colombia closely, there can be no substitute for consulting a wide variety of sources, including important Colombian newspapers such as El Tiempo and El Espectador, magazines such as Semana, news reports (in English) from the Associated Press and Reuters, human rights updates from Amnesty International, and web sites connected with the Colombian government, and opposing revolutionary groups.


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