Chaos and violence in Iraq has strengthened the notion that insurgencies cannot be defeated and so must be appeased. Colombia’s experience shows that this is not the case. A combination of military force, political incentives, and economic growth that benefits the wider population can begin to bring an insurgency to heel.
Despite a democratic tradition dating to 1830, Colombia has suffered a bloody 40-year insurgency by the narco-terrorists of the so-called Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and the National Liberation Army (ELN). Over the last eight years, these narco-terrorists have murdered thousands of persons and kidnapped more than 6,000 hostages, including 140 foreigners. These innocents are often kept in grossly inhumane conditions without access to medical care.
This criminal insurgency is fueled not by popular support, but by the spoils of the cocaine trade. Yet, while some rural areas are under guerrilla influence, and despite the wealth that drug trafficking has brought them, FARC and the ELN have proven too weak and unpopular to mount a serious threat to bring down Colombia’s government. Theirs is not a revolution; it is cocaine-crazed nihilism.
Given the murderousness of the FARC and ELN campaigns, it is no surprise that sinister forces arose to counter them. Some 13,000 paramilitaries such as the United Self-Defense Groups of Colombia (AUC), Bloque Central Bolivar, Alianza Oriente, and Vencedores de Arauca now challenge the cocaine Marxists for political control of rural areas. On the principle that you become what you hate, these paramilitary groups have also captured a slice of the lucrative drug trade.